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A “very, very disappointed” Gen. Patrick Brady has slammed the U.S. Army for forgetting the lessons of the legendary “Dust Off” helicopter ambulance program from the Vietnam War.
It was in an interview on “Talk Back with Chuck Wilder” that Brady, a recipient of the Medal of Honor, explained that bureaucratic changes within the Army are endangering wounded soldiers.
Brady is the author of “Dead Men Flying: Victory in Vietnam.”
“The focus is not on the patient,” he explained, noting that increased emphasis has been placed on risk assessment, command and control, and other factors that “Dust Off” pilots in Vietnam “had not even heard of.”
During the Vietnam War, helicopter rescue pilots had autonomy to accept missions themselves and determine the level of risk. Even though Brady has “talked to as many people as I can get to,” it appears that risk-averse policies of rear-echelon commanders are more important than the opinions of pilots.
“They took control of a medical service away from doctors and gave it to aviation staff officers,” he said.
Consequently, before a rescue operation can be launched, the mission must be approved by someone who is not even on the battlefield. Brady explained a patient’s survival depends on the decision of someone who is in no position to actually observe his condition.
Furthermore, the missions are launched using an unnecessary number of helicopters and gunships, meaning that the Army actually is providing less efficient and effective rescue operations with “four engines, compared to what we used to do with one.”
Brady recounted an especially hurtful story of how an American soldier turned his back on him when he learned the general was a “Dust Off” pilot, mistakenly associating him with the modern program that leaves soldiers wounded on the battlefield until it is too late.
As an example, Brady told a story from Afghanistan where a wounded American soldier was trapped on a mountainside, while the enemy was on the other side of the mountain. A simple rescue mission was not approved until the next morning.
The general noted that helicopter pilots are as able as ever to participate in rapid rescue efforts, but they are hamstrung by official guidelines that prevent them from acting. Host Wilder observed that it sounds similar to the “red tape” of government regulation.
In contrast, “Dust Off” operations during the Vietnam War were regarded as primarily a medical service, and its pilots held to a strict code that put patients first. Maj. Charles Kelly, regarded as the father of “Dust Off,” exemplified the standard.
Kelly died when he refused to leave a hot landing zone, saying he would only escape “When I have your wounded.” Soon after that, he was shot and killed.
Wilder explored Brady’s actions as leader of the 54th Medical Detachment, drawing some acknowledgement of Brady’s accomplishments out of the modest general. The unit rescued more than 21,000 wounded in 10 months.
When Brady stated that his unit found a way to fly in zero visibility fog, Wilder corrected him and stated that it was Brady personally who discovered the technique of flying into the fog sideways to gain the tiny visibility needed to determine direction.
Brady credited his faith in God with his survival in combat and his ability to save so many lives.
“My faith was a substitute for fear,” he said.
Wilder commented, “It ought to be a movie, it ought to be a book” before remembering, “it is a book!”
“Dead Men Flying” by Brady has been reissued by WND Books and is available now in a new edition.
Brady’s coauthor is his daughter, Capt. Meghan Brady Smith, an Iraq war veteran who was awarded the Bronze Star.