In my opinion, one of the best correspondents writing about war is Michael Yon. Yon is very good with a camera, agile with descriptives and understands the importance of immediacy. His knack for drawing the reader into a sensory experience of battle is indisputable.
Yon and others like the father of a soldier about to deploy for a second tour in Afghanistan are calling for removing the red cross emblazoned on MEDEVAC helicopters. Guns and weaponry would then be allowed on the helicopters.
The US Army chooses a path different from the US Air Force and the US Marine Corps, both of whom do have weapons aboard. The Army sticks with the cross, and eschews weapons to comply with the Geneva Conventions. The soldier’s father explains the situation in a diary post at Red State:
“Army medevacs still display the cross. They don’t have to. The Army chooses to. According to the Geneva Convention, an aircraft with the cross cannot be armed. Thus, for Army medevacs, before they take off, they wait for an armed Apache helicopter to defend them since they cannot defend themselves.”
The Red State diarist calls the Army’s decision “an outdated and dangerous policy.” After all, soldiers aren’t fighting a conventional enemy in the War on Terror.
In his post Red Air: America’s medevac failure, Yon recounts the death of Specialist Chazray Clark:
“[W]hile Chazray was dying, his Dustoff medevac was sitting idly on the runway down at Kandahar Airfield. Since there was no available Apache, the Dustoff was not cleared to depart. The Air Force Pedros have no red crosses marking their helicopters. Instead, they have .50-caliber machine guns. The Pedro helicopter teams are parked right there on the same runway and they could have been dispatched, but for some extremely sorry reason the Pedros are not allowed to come into 4-4 Cav battlespace unless there is “red air.” Red air means the weather is too bad for Army helicopters to come…And so the armed Pedros, which could have flown to us in about 13 minutes, sat on the runaway twenty-five miles away, doing nothing…Specialist Chazray Clark was dying due to politics, and the Army and Air Force pilots are very angry about this.”
Both the Red State column and Yon’s essay are well worth reading.
Yon wrote an open letter about the Army's policy to the president and to the Dept. of Defense. Yon’s letter expands his argument for the cross to be removed. Yon points out that Army medics don’t wear crosses. Yon said:
“Army policy makers are not upholding the Geneva Conventions, but hiding behind them. There is a power struggle within the Army about who controls those helicopters. The red crosses are being used as crucifixes to ward off change.”
(Filed by Kay B. Day/Oct. 29, 2011)