Today is our 3,761st day in Afghanistan.
We'll start this morning as we always do; with the latest casualty figures from our ongoing war, courtesy of Antiwar.com:
US Military Deaths - Afghanistan: 1,880
Other Military Deaths - Afghanistan: 995
We find this morning's cost of war
passing through: $ 1, 295, 255, 675, 000 .00
I ran across a rather disturbing story last week that failed to gain any national traction. We'll have to file this one under "waterboarding". It seems that despite all the advances in combat medicine that have been made over the last two decades, a Missouri Congressman thinks it isn't enough. His grand idea though, isn't more doctors, better triage, more hospital, or even something meta like getting the troops out of harm's way. Nay; he thinks medevac helicopters should be armed.
A key lawmaker says the military could save more lives in Afghanistan if the Army would arm its Medevac helicopters rather than worry about its commitment to the Geneva Convention.
Rep. Todd Akin, R-Mo., a senior member of the House Armed Services Committee, said in a letter sent Tuesday to the Defense Department that current Army policy of having unarmed Medevac helicopters is slowing transport of injured troops. The helicopters, marked with a red cross, are accompanied by armed aircraft when flying into dangerous areas.
Army officials responded to Akin’s letter, making the case for continuing the MEDEVAC program as it now stands. Adding weapons, they say, would take up space and weight that could be used for patients.
“Longstanding Army policy and doctrine prohibit the mounting of crew-serve weapons on MEDEVAC aircraft and provide detailed guidance on the utilization of the MEDEVAC aircraft, lest the platform lose its protected status under the Geneva Convention,” the Army wrote in an email to Army Times. “AH64 is infinitely more effective in targeting enemy and protecting MEDEVAC helicopters than arming the MEDEVAC itself.”
Akin said the policy could be a factor in the Sept. 18 death of an Army specialist injured while on patrol in Kandahar province.
Spec. Chazray C. Clark, 24, of Eorse, Mich., suffered severe injuries as a result of an improvised explosive device but “was alive and talking when his buddies transported him back to the landing zone,” Akin said.
An unarmed Medevac helicopter was just a few minutes away but it was not dispatched for about 30 minutes while Army policy was followed to look for armed aircraft to provide escort, Akin said in a letter addressed to Defense Secretary Leon Panetta.
“I understand the Army has adopted its current Medevac policy, in part, as a demonstration of its commitment to the Geneva Convention,” Akin said, but everyone isn’t doing this.
The Air Force, U.S. Special Operations Command and British forces “fly search and rescue missions and Medevac missions without the red cross and with armed aircraft,” he said. “The fact that other services perform similar missions armed and unmarked implies a difference of opinion on the specific requirements of the Geneva Convention.”
“While I expect our armed forces to conduct operation in accordance with the laws of war, I find it peculiar that the Army alone would shackle itself unnecessarily in conducting the critical mission of saving the lives of our warfighters,” Akin said.
It is all about the Geneva Convention; evacuation and aid services are unarmed and well-marked for a reason. For the most part, combatants worldwide recognize these things and act accordingly. I'm just now reading the classic account of the violent WWII battles around Arnhem and Oosterbeck; even at the height of the fighting, there were acts of chivalry on both sides, and on the day before the Brits were wiped out, there was a 6-hour truce so both sides could clear their wounded...under a Red Cross flag.
But fortunately for us...cooler heads have prevailed.
The U.S. Army is disputing assertions that putting weapons on medical evacuation helicopters could improve the survival rate of soldiers fighting in Afghanistan after the death last September of an Army specialist who had to wait for transport after stepping on an explosive.
Concerns about the evacuation of Spec. Chazray C. Clark have been raised by an Internet blogger, Michael Yon, who had been embedded with Clark's unit, and by Missouri Congressman Tim Akin, who earlier this week wrote a letter to Defense Secretary Leon Panetta, questioning the army's policy of using only unarmed medevac helicopters. Those medevacs require an armed escort, which can lead to delays because of the high demand for helicopters.
“Any policy commitment that would impede even a single wounded soldier or Marine from receiving medical care in the least amount of time possible is simply unacceptable,” said Akin in his letter. “The medical staff in Afghanistan is courageous and is providing the best possible care for wounded service members. Unfortunately, bureaucrats in the Pentagon are delaying this care needlessly. If there is one thing we have learned in combat medicine in recent years, it is that quickly getting medical care is crucial. This policy must be corrected.”
Clark's legs and one arm were blown off by a bomb he stepped on. It was reported that he had to wait at least 30 minutes and possibly up to 40 minutes for the armed escort. The 24-year-old from Ecorse, Mich., died about an hour after arriving at a military field hospital.
Akin asserts that Army medevacs should be armed, the same way the Air Force and British allies handle the transport of their wounded service members.
"I cannot state with certainty whether or not Specialist Clark's life would have been saved by getting him to Kandahar sooner," Akin said. "However, we do know that minutes after a battlefield wound are crucial and getting the wounded to proper medical care rapidly is vital."
The Army, however, is disputing the assertion that an armed medevac would improve survival rates for wounded soldiers. The tradition of using unarmed helicopters dates back to the Vietnam war, apparently in support of the Geneva Convention. Instead of bearing weapons, the choppers display the Red Cross symbol, which the Army contends has been successful at keeping the enemy from targeting them.
Specifically, the Army contends that even an armed medical evacuation helicopter would have had to wait for another armed helicopter escort to provide top cover while on the ground. Even the most heavily armed attack helicopters always travel in pairs, no matter what the mission, the Army says.
Also, adding gunners with weapons and ammunition would add weight and take up space on the helicopters, limiting the space for stretchers and impeding their ability to operate at higher altitudes, according to the Army.
Finally, the Army claims that the 92 percent survival rate for badly wounded soldiers in Afghanistan is the highest in the military's history, in part because of the performance of the unarmed helicopter transports.
With that said...I've got no easy way to transition to the other stories I've got holding out there, so I'll have to leave them for another time. Instead, we'll look at a military family that's made the ultimate sacrifice...twice.
The war in Afghanistan has claimed the lives of two sons of an Arkansas couple who also have a third son in the military.
Sgt. 1st Class Benjamin Wise, 34, of Little Rock, was on his fourth deployment overseas when he was injured during an insurgent attack on his unit last week. He died from his wounds Sunday at a hospital in Germany, the Department of Defense said in a statement Tuesday.
His brother, 35-year-old Jeremy Wise, was killed in a terrorist attack on a CIA outpost in Afghanistan in December 2009. He was a former Navy Seal working as a security contractor.
Their brother, Marine Corps Cpl. Matthew Wise, is based in Hawaii but was in Germany to be with his brother, his wife Amber said. She said she was at Benjamin's home in Washington state watching his children, but she declined further comment.
The Army Special Forces soldier is survived by his wife, two sons and a daughter.
The men's parents, Dr. Jean and Mary Wise of Hope, Ark., and their sister did not return telephone messages seeking comment from The Associated Press. But the family released a statement thanking friends and Benjamin's fellow soldiers "for their sincere expressions of sympathy during this very difficult time."
His family described him as a loving husband, devoted father, caring son and selfless soldier.
"The Wise family is sincerely touched by the concern and interest all have taken in Ben's life, his career and his sacrifice for our country," they said in the statement. "Ben was proud of the career he built in the Army."
He was assigned to the 3rd Battalion, 1st Special Forces Group, Joint Base Lewis-McChord in Washington.
Go back up and look at the Afghanistan number; though smaller, it's no less painful than the long-running Iraq totals that once occupied this same space. (4,484). What will the final accounting be when we maybe
get out of there three years from now?