By Maj. Gen. Patrick Brady, U.S. Army (ret.)
Now I understand! For years, many veterans and active military have been alarmed about the idiocy of the changes in battlefield aeromedical evacuation known as Dust Off. For reasons having nothing to do with patient care, Dust Off has been removed from the control of the professionals, the medics, and put under the control of amateurs, aviation staff officers, or ASOs. This is the first such change since the Civil War.
I document the unparalleled excellence of Dust Off, and the effects of the changes, in my book, â€œDead Men Flying.â€ Needless to say, it was the most outstanding battlefield operating system of that war â€“ some one million souls saved and unprecedented survival rates. No warrior of Vietnam is more revered than the Dust Off crews.
In the words of Gen. Creighton Abrams, former U.S. Army chief of staff and former supreme commander in Vietnam: â€œA special word about the Dust Offs â€¦ Courage above and beyond the call of duty was sort of routine to them. It was a daily thing, part of the way they lived. Thatâ€™s the great part, and it meant so much to every last man who served there. Whether he ever got hurt or not, he knew Dust Off was there. It was a great thing for our people.â€
Fast forward to current battlefields. We hear horror stories about patients waiting and dying because Dust Off didnâ€™t launch or came too late. The launch standard in my unit in Vietnam was two minutes; today it is 15 minutes! Can anyone imagine a fire truck taking 15 minutes to get under way? I could go on and on, but one has to ask, why? Why the changes to an excellent, proven system?
The answer is the Obama-Panetta Doctrine. In response to the horrible abandonment of dying Americans in Benghazi, Defense Secretary Panetta said: â€œ(The) basic principle is that you donâ€™t deploy forces into harmâ€™s way without knowing whatâ€™s going on; without having some real-time information about whatâ€™s taking place.â€
On its face, that is a remarkable, indeed incomprehensible, change from Americaâ€™s doctrine in past wars. By that standard, there would have been no Normandy or Inchon. In fact, I canâ€™t think of a war we fought in which we didnâ€™t go into harmâ€™s way without real-time information or to save lives â€“ something the president refused to do in Benghazi. Dust Off would never launch in Vietnam under that doctrine.
Medal of Honor recipient Gen. Patrick Brady tells the inspiring, miraculous story of his days as a Dust Off air ambulance pilot in Vietnam. Get his newly reissued book, autographed: â€œDead Men Flying: Victory in Viet Nam.â€
To fully understand the doctrinal change, one has to understand President Obama. He has a dearth of understanding of our military and military matters. We hear he is uncomfortable in the presence of ranking military and seldom meets with them. He is not a person who can make decisions, and he takes an extraordinary amount of time to do so, leading to such unseemly labels for a commander in chief as â€œditherer in chief.â€
President Obama may have set records for voting â€œpresentâ€ on important issues.He is a politician who thinks only in terms of votes and his image. He cowers from crisis decisions. Although I was a psychology major back in the day (Iâ€™d love to hear a professional analyze risk and Obama), I wonâ€™t try to define his insides, but I believe he is risk-averse â€“ fearful of risk â€“ and that is the basis of the Obama-Panetta doctrine.
This aversion for risk dominates Dust Off rescue operations where, in addition to an unconscionable reaction time, risk assessment is the primary consideration for mission launch â€“ not patient care. In two years flying Dust Off in Vietnam, I never heard that term, nor did any Dust pilot I know. The ASOs, remote from the battle, have developed time-consuming algorithms to analyze risk while the patient bleeds, something thatâ€™s impossible to do by anyone other than the pilot and the ground forces at the scene.
And Obamaâ€™s terror of risk contributed to the massacre of Americans by terrorists in Benghazi. We hear that the president did not even convene the Counterterrorism Security Group while the Benghazi terrorist massacre was visually and verbally available in real time. That is like ignoring FEMA during Hurricane Sandy. But once you bring in a group labeled anti-terrorist, you have to acknowledge terror exists, something the president is loath to do.
My veteran friends are horrified by the Obama-Panetta doctrine. At least 359 retired flag officers support Mitt Romney â€“ only five that I know of support Obama. Some 150 former prisoners of war also support Romney; I know of none who support Obama.
America needs to listen to these veterans. They understand leadership. They know how to deal with risk in war. They would not want this man with them in combat or crisis. They never left a needy comrade behind. Obama did.