ISAF Responds to Irresponsible, Agenda-Driven Journalism

Sgt. Robert Cowdrey, a flight medic in Company C., 3rd Battalion, 82nd Airborne Division Combat Aviation Brigade, prepares a casualty in a rescue sled to be hoisted hundreds of feet into a Black Hawk helicopter during a training exercise on Forward Operating Base Salerno, Afghanistan. Brian was killed on 13 Oct in spite of have superior covering fire support while loading casualties onto a MEDEVAC chopper. There is no way to protect 100% of the troops 100% of the time. Unfortunately, in war Soldiers are sometimes asked to lay down their lives for others. Brian happened to be a good friend so I take a personal interest in the inaccuracies and agenda of the original story.

In response to a typical post-disembed Michael Yon rant, ISAF released the following statement:

Michael Yon’s blog article of October 12, “Red Air: America’s Medevac Failure,” contains numerous omissions of key information and errors in fact.

For starters, Yon says the Army lacks the political will to configure its MEDEVAC aircraft like the Air Force’s Combat Search and Rescue “Pedros” (Pedros are armed and do not have the red cross markings on the side of the aircraft). Yon is comparing apples to oranges. The primary mission of the Pedros is to rescue downed aircrews and other isolated personnel; their secondary mission is to support special operations forces. Both of these missions require them to be armed. If available, Pedros do also perform MEDEVAC missions – again, if available. Pedros can’t carry as many litter patients as the Army Dustoffs and there are seven times the numbers of Dustoff helicopters compared to Pedros in
Afghanistan. Yon never mentions these critical points.

Yon’s point that the Army should arm and remove the red cross from its MEDEVAC aircraft fails to acknowledge larger issues. Doing so would place the US outside its commitment to conducting MEDEVACs under the guidelines of the Geneva Conventions and moral norm for how Western nations identify their aircraft dedicated to medical evacuation.

Furthermore, the Pedro’s 7.62 mm or .50 cal. machine gun does provide a level of self-protection but it is not on the level of an accompanying AH-64 Apache carrying 30mm cannon and rockets. The Apache escorts give the MEDEVAC aircraft a much higher level of firepower and protection; something our Soldiers take confidence from when scrambling under fire to evacuate wounded comrades.

As for factual inaccuracies, Yon states that it took 65 minutes to evacuate the Soldier who subsequently died. Not true, the official operational logs show that the mission was wheels down (WD) at the medical treatment facility in 59 minutes; and the MEDEVAC aircraft didn’t come from Kandahar, the Dustoff was launched from nearby FOB Pasab and linked up with its armed Apache escort from Kandahar enroute to the Point of Injury (POI). The fact is that despite extended distances and enemy forces in the area, this evacuation was accomplished under the US standard of one hour. Of the 2240 MEDEVAC missions conducted in the RC-S area of operations since 1 Nov 2010 only 1.5% were Out of Standard and 0% of those were assessed to having a clinical impact on the patient.

Yon also states that commanders on the ground have no discretion to call for a Pedro over an Army medevac – an insinuation that they would if given the choice. Yon fails to mention that all requests for air evacuation are called into a central point in each Regional Command called a Patient Evacuation Coordination Cell (PECC). The PECC receives a MEDEVAC request, then determines the quickest way to get the Category A (CAT A) casualty from the Point of Injury (POI) to a Medical Treatment Facility (MTF) that can provide the appropriate level of medical care for the injuries suffered. The ground force commander does not have the capacity to make this call while in the close fight. The system is designed to allow for the most efficient response across the battle space with the assets of not only our MEDEVAC aircraft, but all rotary wing assets. Commanders understand the requirement for rapid evacuation of our wounded Soldiers and every effort is made to execute the MEDEVAC mission safely and effectively. The highest survival rates in the history of armed conflict bears out this fact. In the RC-S area of operations there have been 2240 MEDEVAC missions since 1 Nov 2010 with a 98% survival rate.

Michael Yon’s omissions of key information and factual errors have done a disservice to our Soldiers and all those who care about them. These inaccuracies may unnecessarily cause some to doubt the US medical evacuation system in Afghanistan. Further, it could undermine Soldier confidence in what should most certainly be described as the world’s finest battlefield evacuation system.

4 Comments on “ISAF Responds to Irresponsible, Agenda-Driven Journalism

  1. We did not always have Apache escort sometimes it was another Blackhawk with 7.62 door gunner and at certain times after picking up casualties we would not stay with the escort as they were not as a fast as our aircraft. Secondly it states in the sorry ass Geneva convention that our aircraft can not carry crew served weapons. Weapons such as the Squad Assault Weapon (SAW) are not crew served weapons on should be on all medevac aircraft. We are the only nation I know of that Flys around with the big red cross painted on the aircraft that says shoot here. Since the transition of medevac companies to a single standing unit to being brought into the fold of the general service aviation brigade (GSAB) the powers that be are as is normal operating procedure to stupid, or just don’t care figuring that if an unarmed medevac big gets shot down it would outrage the country and help the propaganda arm of the military. I knew, worked with and lived with Bryan for many years on Deployments and can say without any hesitation or doubt he was and still is in my mind a true HERO and the best Flightmedic I ever had the luck to work with.

  2. This article shows how much mass media will twist and leave out information and details to make their story sound realistic, and how ever they want it too. This is disappointing seeing as they are basically disrespecting the people who are trying to protect us.

  3. This article shows how mass media can change whatever in a story to make it what they want, its disrespectful to the soldiers and the MEDEVAC system, the reporter should be ashamed.

  4. Mass media changes too much to make the story more hard hitting, the way the reporter left out very important information that showed the MEDEVAC system working as it should makes you think what else they change.

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