Why are MEDEVAC helicopters (commonly called "Dustoffs"), carrying our wounded troops to safety in Afghanistan, being put at enormous risk by the U.S. Army? Why is the Geneva Convention cited by them for their actions? With every second precious when soldiers are wounded, it is a travesty that the Army will not change its policy concerning these choppers.
First, a little background about what the Army is doing to make evacuations more dangerous. Michael Yon is a freelance combat photojournalist who has been embedded in Iraq and Afghanistan over the last six years. In his latest dispatches from Afghanistan, he has alerted the world about the Army's refusal to arm their MEDEVAC helicopters with machine guns and to get rid of the red crosses on them. Since every minute counts, it is ridiculous that these helicopters are delayed waiting for armed choppers to accompany them. In addition, the MEDEVACs are sitting ducks for the enemy to fire on once they get to the battlefield. The ironic and baffling part of this recalcitrance on the part of the Army is that the Marines, Air Force, and the British do not subscribe to the Army's procedure. These armed services have removed the red crosses and have equipped their MEDEVAC helicopters with machine guns to save lives.
It is an old cliché that bureaucracy kills. Sadly, this has literally come true. The U.S. Army insists on keeping red crosses on their rescue helicopters and refuses to arm them, despite desperate calls for the modification by Michael Yon and others, because they claim it is a violation of the U.S. endorsed Geneva Convention. As Michael Yon revealed in his December 5th dispatch, the Army, ironically, is violating that treaty by flying with the red crosses rather than without them:
"The US Army is today in flagrant violation of the Geneva Conventions in Afghanistan. This was first pointed out to me by a very smart, highly experienced senior military person. Though he has never steered me wrong, this seemed a bit much. And so over the past month I looked into it.
"He was right. We are in violation of the Geneva Conventions in Afghanistan. The explanation is straightforward.
"Our forces take casualties every day. US Army "Dustoff" helicopters evacuate wounded troopers seven days per week. The Dustoff crews courageously fly over enemy territory to rescue our wounded. Our Dustoff helicopters fly straight over enemy heads. The Dustoff helicopters are clearly marked by the Red Cross and are unarmed.
"The various enemies in Afghanistan are not signatory to the Geneva Conventions. We have no expectation that they know or will follow the Conventions, and in any case the Taliban and others have not obligated themselves by agreeing to uphold the Conventions.
"But our Army says that we are following the Geneva Conventions by sending unarmed helicopters marked with Red Crosses into enemy territory, flying straight over the heads of the enemy. We say the enemy is in violation when they fire upon the clearly marked helicopters.
"In fact, the enemy is within the law to shoot down the Dustoffs. Importantly, the enemy is not signatory to the Conventions. Most importantly, Dustoff helicopters violate Geneva Conventions in Afghanistan and behave as combatants.
"Dustoff helicopters behave as combatants by flying over routes not agreed [to] between all the parties to the conflict. Dustoffs further violate the Conventions by flying over the enemy and over enemy terrain, and thus behave as combatants. Dustoffs will never obey a summons to land to be inspected by the Taliban, and thus are behaving as combatants.
"And so there it is. We are in violation of the Geneva Conventions in Afghanistan and are deceptively using the Red Cross. Is this prosecutable as a war crime? I do not know. Is it a violation of the Conventions? Yes. (snip)
"The Army has publicly communicated in writing that the Dustoffs wear Red Crosses in Afghanistan to abide by Geneva Conventions. This could obligate Dustoff crews to disobey unlawful orders, or put themselves at risk of violating the Conventions."
As a former Military Police Officer during the Vietnam era working at a U.S. Army burn hospital in Yokohama, Japan, I saw first-hand how time is of the essence when you have to treat the battlefield wounds of our troops. Any delay may mean a life. It is crucial, therefore, that Americans contact their senators and representatives as soon as possible to force the Army to scrap its disastrous policy.
People have begun to take action about this critical situation. Here is part of a heartfelt letter to Senator Chuck Grassley, with a copy to Senator Tom Harkin, from Jordan Schneider, founder and secretary of the Gunnery Sergeant John Basilone Scholarship Fund. In that letter, Ms. Schneider requests:
"As your constituent and as the wife of a Marine who was at the Pentagon on 911, I implore you to support Senator Kyle and to bring together all your colleagues from the Senate in resolving this matter post haste.
"Moreover, I encourage you not to listen to the Officer desk jockeys at the DOD who have no knowledge of the situation on the ground in Afghanistan; but instead to directly contact Senior Officers on the ground in Afghanistan, their NCOs and Michael Yon [a very well respected former member of the Army and international photo journalist] to clarify any questions that you may have.
"America's military does not leave its wounded or dead behind, and we should not let our wounded die due to DOD bureaucracy and ego
"This is critical situation with a simple fix."
Indeed, it is critical, and it is simple to fix with the help of those in Congress. Americans should contact their senators and representatives to ask them to demand that the Army do the right thing and modify their MEDEVAC choppers immediately. In that same communication, constituents should solicit their representatives and senators to alert their colleagues in the House and Senate to do the same. Our wounded and their families await Congressional action. We can't let Army bureaucracy kill any more of our young men and women.