It is not a movie. It could be labeled a comedy, a farce, even a Greek tragedy, except that people really are dying. It is, in fact, an absolutely abhorrent, disgraceful and unacceptable demonstration of the hidebound, self-serving attitude omnipresent throughout the federal bureaucracy and among many in our political establishment–that my agency, my mission, my job is more important than anyone or anything else.
It is called protecting turf, and the ugly fact, as any government analyst can tell you, is that the federal government spends more time doing it than practically anything else (And Obama wants to give our medical care over to them, no less!). It is bad enough that these petty turf battles squander agency time and resources, but when they dictate policies regulating combat operations, they can become deadly.
Last month, we brought you the story about Specialist Chazray Clark, the soldier wounded in Afghanistan by an IED, who died due to delays because an unarmed medevac helicopter but a few miles away could not launch without armed escort. This story first came to light through the intrepid front-lines reporting of Michael Yon. And yes, he did provide a video tape. No sex, only the agonizing moments waiting for the helicopter to arrive, while Chazray’s life slipped away.
Army policy claim, incomprehensibly, that medevac helicopters must be unarmed and must be marked with the Red Cross to satisfy the Geneva Convention. However, the Convention specifically allows for an exclusion when the enemy does not abide by it–not even a joke question with al Qaeda and the Taliban.
But even if the enemy abides by the Convention, no signatory is obligated to wear the Red Cross. Doing so only affords protection when the wearer also follows specific guidelines such as not flying over the enemy, or getting their permission to do so beforehand. Imagine what the Taliban would say to that! We fly over the enemy in Red Cross-marked helicopters all the time, in clear violation of these Geneva Convention guidelines, making a mockery of the Army’s claim they are abiding by it.
Those red crosses are irrelevant at best, a nice target at worst. None of the other services use them, and all their rescue choppers are armed. But the Army foolishly persists in a policy that requires the ubiquitous Red Cross markings on medevacs, and demands they go unarmed, in supposed adherence to a Convention that assumes the enemy will play by Queensbury rules. But then they plainly ignore the spirit of the Convention by requiring that unarmed medevacs be escorted by helicopter gunships. At least they have that much sense!
Following a devastating piece in Soldier of Fortune by Dalton Fury, former Delta Force officer and author of Killing Bin Laden, our column in the Washington Times, unrelenting pressure from Yon–even CBS weighed in–and finally, a letter from Congressman Todd Akin (R-MO) demanding some answers, the Joint Chiefs of Staff produced a response.
That is, they sent a response to Akin disputing our assertions but said it wasn’t from them, and though they didn’t disagree with the conclusions in the response, they really couldn’t say who wrote it or where it came from, even though Akin’s staff said it originated with the JCS…
Michael Yon produced a devastating point-counterpoint analysis of DoD’s assertions. And as DoD dithers, more and more military helicopter pilots, both active duty and retired, are weighing in. All agree; the policy is wrong.
Yet, as the policy looks more inane by the moment, the Army becomes, if anything, more obstinate. Why? Why so much obfuscation? Why so many lies? Are they so petty that they can’t admit they’re wrong over something so simple? Or is there something we’ve overlooked?
When people persist in irrational behavior to the point of absurdity, when they stubbornly continue to demand their way, however ridiculous, then there is almost certainly something else at work. Their behavior may not be irrational at all.
The Geneva Convention is a straw man argument. It purposely poses as an inanely PC policy that everyone can complain about, but in fact provides cover for the real truth, which is much more embarrassing. The real reason we have unarmed, red cross-marked helicopters plying the dangerous skies of Afghanistan is due to an Army internal bureaucratic turf battle about who controls those helicopters! Those helos require maintenance and manpower, and lots of tax dollars to go with it. There is also lots of prestige in having your own fleet–plenty of exclusive transportation for the top brass too.
If they arm helos and strip off the red crosses, then presto, they are just regular Army helos–no special gig, though they can easily still be reserved for medevac. American troops are dying just so one Army bureaucracy can have its own designated fleet. We have suspected as much for a while, but our worst fears were confirmed when we received the following message from an active-duty Army officer very close to the action:
I am an active-duty Army officer, and would prefer my name and email address not be used, if that is at all possible… Mr. Yon is only receiving pushback on the issue because the Army Medical Department is scared that removing the Red Cross from their helicopters will result in them being repurposed for general-use…[They] would rather put soldiers’ lives in danger than chance losing control over ‘their’ birds. This doesn’t seem to be a rational argument, especially considering that every other branch of service, as well as our allied partners, manage to have armed yet still-dedicated …aircraft, but that’s the argument the upper echelons [are] expressing…
Shortly after that, we received another message:
…When I went through the MEDEVAC Doctrine course two years ago I asked the question, why not arm DUSTOFF [medical evacuation helos]? I was told, “because then the army would lose its dedicated medical platform…”
So there you have it. The Red Cross has nothing to do with the Geneva Convention but rather provides a convenient way for certain members of the top brass to remain relevant. Taxpayer dollars, scarce Army resources and most importantly, the precious lives of our front line forces are being crucified on a Red Cross–a cross which in this case symbolizes not the Geneva Convention, not stoic dedication to the Hippocratic Oath, but rather a blood sacrifice to the self-serving priorities of the high command. And in house, away from prying eyes, they’re even admitting it.
One can never underestimate the determination of some bureaucrats to get their way, so if even this revelation won’t shame them, perhaps a plea from Chazray Clark’s mother will (edited due to space constraints):
Hello to all American Citizens at home and abroad. My name is Keyko Clark-Davis and I am a military parent whose first-born son, Army SPC Chazray Clark was killed in Kandahar, Afghanistan on 18 Sept 2011.
The fact that my son decided to risk his own life to protect the basic freedoms so many of us take for granted makes me extremely proud in spite of the devastation and sadness that his untimely death has caused us as a family…
I am having a very difficult time dealing with his death and his four siblings are as well… My difficulty coping is compounded by the fact that the US Army has failed to provide me with honest, full disclosure of ALL the facts that caused the death of my son….
An elite crew of trained military medical professionals known as “PEDROS” [Air Force helicopter rescue team] may have been able to save my son within moments of his multiple injuries, but [were] not allowed to respond because of policies and/or politics within the US Army.
…I feel that the US Armed Forces, as a whole, has an obligation to every soldier, every family and every US citizen to re-evaluate current protocol and implement WHATEVER CHANGES are needed to save the lives of wounded soldiers by whatever means necessary.
In these dangerous war zones around the world, our enemies could care less about a Red Cross or the Geneva Convention agreements with the United States of America!
Not one more family should have to suffer the devastating loss of a loved one while high ranking policy makers continue to turn a blind eye to the inherent failures in existing policies. With vivid images of my son’s final moments of life FOREVER BURNED into my mind, closure can only be made possible by doing everything in my power to bring about these much needed changes in current policy.
I am making a personal appeal to ALL military personnel, from the lowest ranking cadet all the way to the Commander-in-Chief to please come together and do whatever is necessary to help bring an immediate end to the senseless deaths of our brave soldiers and the excruciating pain & suffering to their respective families/friends.
I’m also appealing and offer my personal plea, in the name of my fallen hero, SPC Chazray Clark, to everyone who enjoys the freedoms for which he unselfishly gave his life, to join me in this crusade to get these current flawed policies changed NOW!
If Chazray’s own mother can’t convince them, I simply don’t know what to say.
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