October 14, 2011:
The U.S. Army brass are catching a lot of heat because of a recent screw-up in Afghanistan, where a medical evacuation (medevac) helicopter was delayed half an hour because of strict adherence to regulations. As a result, it took 65 minutes to get a badly wounded soldier to a hospital, and the soldier died when he got there. But if the medevac had taken off as soon as it was called, half an hour would have been saved, along with the badly wounded soldier.
The problem was that the wounded soldier was waiting in an area that was under fire. In these situations, a medevac helicopter can only come in if it has an armed escort (usually an AH-64 helicopter gunship), but none was immediately available. The armed escort is needed because the medevac helicopter is unarmed, as is required, by international law, for vehicles marked with the Red Cross.
But there was another medevac helicopter available, that was unmarked and armed. This was a U.S. Air Force medevac helicopter. It seems the air force generals noted that no one in Afghanistan or Iraq was respecting the Red Cross, so they didn't use it, and armed their medevac birds. The air force medevac helicopters were also equipped to fly in all sorts of weather, unlike most army medevacs. So the army and air force had an arrangement, where an air force medevac would be sent in if the weather was too difficult for an army medevac to handle. But that was not the case in this instance, and army medevac commander would not let the air force medevac helicopter go in, and refused to allow the army medevac helicopter to take off until an AH-64 showed up.
Army commanders have been complaining about these policies, which are post-Vietnam developments, for many years. But because there were so few instances where a wounded soldier died because of medevac delays, no senior army commanders were willing to do what the air force had done, or to simply arm medevac helicopters. During the Vietnam War, medevac helicopters were sometimes armed, and they always went in, no matter how "hot" (under heavy fire) the landing zone was. Army medvac crews want a return to the old days, so they can do their job by old school rules, and save lives. Army bureaucrats do not want to violate international treaties, risk the lives of medevac crews, or endanger their own careers by doing anything controversial.