The U.S. military has developed the best system in the world for dealing with combat casualties. As medical technology has advanced, new methods of treatment have been developed, and the speed and efficiency of transport from the battlefield to essential medical services has greatly increased chances for combat wounded to survive. So it is particularly galling that with all these improvements, the U.S. Army has not similarly adjusted its regulations regarding deployment of medical evacuation (medevac) helicopters in combat zones to reflect the realities of modern warfare. It is bad enough that the Obama administration has imposed deadly rules of engagement to hobble the military. The U.S. Army has been racking up its own body count.
A new article in Soldier of Fortune magazine by Dalton Fury, former Delta Force commander and best-selling author of “Kill Bin Laden,” has explained the problem. Army regulations require that medevac helicopters follow the Geneva Convention, which specifies that they must be unarmed and display prominent red cross markings.
Our popular press has instilled in us the view that, as a signatory nation, we must follow the Geneva Convention in all situations, but this is utterly false. The convention only applies when all parties to the conflict are either signatories, or if not signatories, have nonetheless agreed to follow its tenets.
Given that very specific precondition, the convention requires warring parties to agree regarding aircraft markings, flight routes, altitudes and schedules and that “medical personnel and equipment shall not be attacked, but shall be respected by the belligerents. …” It goes so far as to require medical helicopters to land when the enemy orders them to and even evacuate enemy wounded.
Plainly, the convention speaks to engagements between military powers that respect the rule of law - with the exception of the United States and some of her allies, not a common occurrence over the past 100 years, if ever. But to think that al Qaeda, the Taliban, Hezbollah or any other terrorist group would ever respect the convention is the pinnacle of absurdity. Their military strategy is founded on terrorism, the deliberate flouting of any and all standards of human conduct.
Today we are fighting enemies who mass-murder schoolchildren, behead people with medieval lust, engage in real torture and every imaginable form of barbarity, while camouflaged as civilians to capitalize on rules of engagement that prohibit firing on civilians. While many of these groups are proxy armies for recognized states - some of whom may even have signed the convention - none of those states would ever admit it.
So while bowing to the letter of this ridiculous idea, Army regulations at the same time make a mockery of it. They recognize the true nature of our enemies by forbidding medevac choppers to enter a combat zone without Army gunship escort. If armed escort is not available, medevac helicopters remain grounded, regardless of the emergency.
A recent tragedy in Afghanistan highlights the high cost of these restrictions. As reported by veteran combat journalist Michael Yon, Army Spc. Chazray Clark was severely wounded on a night mission after stepping on an improved explosive device. Though grievously injured, he was conscious and talking. Spc. Clark’s fellow soldiers carried him back to the landing zone and waited … and waited.
The medevac helicopter was a mere 25 miles away, but could not leave the ground until escorted by an Army Apache helicopter gunship, and since none were immediately available, it sat on the tarmac while Spc. Chazray’s condition deteriorated.
There were armed Air Force helicopters at the airbase that could have come immediately, but Army regulations forbid their use. Field commanders have been complaining about this for years, to no effect.
This story prompted Sen. Charles Grassley, Iowa Republican, to write to Army Secretary John McHugh, questioning the policy.
A perfect dupe for Mr. Obama, Mr. McHugh is a RINO former congressman from New York with no military experience. His Republican stamp brings the illusion of moderation to the job, but he showed his true stripes by voting for the 2009 cap-and-trade bill - one of only seven Republicans to do so - mere weeks after being nominated by Mr. Obama. Mr. McHugh justified the helicopter policy in the following manner: “In accordance with Army doctrine, and to meet the spirit and intent of the Geneva Conventions, these aircraft are marked with a red cross for easy identification … and are not armed with crew-served weapons.”
The Army manual states: “The rights and duties set forth in the conventions are part of the supreme Law of the Land. The U.S. is obligated to adhere to these obligations even when an opponent does not.”
No we’re not.
As articulated above, there is no requirement for a signatory nation to follow the convention when opposing forces do not respect it. Here we see the consequences of mindless politically correct philosophies worked out to deadly effect in the real world where stupidity kills people.
Perhaps the bureaucrats and politicians who design these policies should first be required to personally oversee their implementation in the field. One suspects the regulations would change overnight. But safely ensconced flying a desk in the Pentagon, they are much more fearful of a congressional hearing or a derogatory editorial in The Washington Post.
U.S. troops are paying for that cowardice with their lives.
The U.S. Army is the only branch that follows this protocol. The Air Force, Navy and Marine rescue choppers have dispensed with the red cross and come armed to the teeth, usually with multiple miniguns.
Some have claimed that this is because only the Army has properly equipped medevac helicopters, and arming them would diminish their capabilities as air ambulances. If so, then why does the Army insist on Army gunship escort and why do they persist in making medevacs flying targets by painting on the red cross?
Section A-18 of the Army manual provides the answer: “Because even the perception of impropriety can be detrimental to the mission and U.S. interests, [Health Service Support] commanders must ensure they do not give the impression of impropriety in the conduct of medical evacuation operations.”
So, even if we know we don’t have to follow the convention, even if we know it is moronic and potentially fatal to do so, this regulation argues we should still risk the lives of combat troops and aircrews so people too stupid or careless to know what the convention really says do not become alarmed when we create the “perception of impropriety” by removing red crosses or properly arming medevac helicopters.
Thanks to Soldier of Fortune and Michael Yon, the tragic consequences of this policy have seen the light of day. With enough publicity, perhaps the Army will finally be persuaded to change its policy. If so, the death of Spc. Chazray Clark may not have been entirely in vain.
James Simpson is a former White House budget office staff analyst.