Never let it be said that the Navy isn’t in on the War in Iraq. The Navy has sent a detachment of its combat support helicopters to Iraq to serve as an air ambulance unit.
Normally, Navy combat support helicopters are grouped into squadrons, with a squadron supporting ships at sea by performing logistics runs, providing Search & Rescue services, supplying airlift to SEAL teams and general aviation support to the fleet. By slicing off a few helicopters to Iraq, and providing specially trained crews on a rotation, they have been able to ease some of the shortage of air ambulances there.
Pretty much any helicopter can evacuate casualties from the battlefield. It was one of the very first military uses of helicopters. Anybody who has seen M*A*S*H knows this. But not just any helicopter is an air ambulance. Air ambulances have Advanced Lifesaving Support (ALS) equipment aboard as well as specially trained flight medics. When used in this role, they are called MEDEVAC (Medical Evacuation) and cannot be used for any other purpose, nor can they be armed. They must be marked with the Red Cross, and are (supposedly) protected under the Geneva Conventions.
When a regular helicopter is used to evacuate casualties, that is called a CASEVAC (for Casualty Evacuation). These can be armed and are not marked with the Red Cross. They don’t typically have any special medical equipment or personnel on board.
So why would you use a CASEVAC instead of a MEDEVAC? A couple of reasons. First, you might not have a medevac nearby. If a regular helicopter is nearby, it will be diverted from its mission to the CASEVAC, because there is no higher priority than getting wounded troops to the hospital. A second case would be if you are still taking fire. Since MEDEVACS are unarmed, leaders are hesitant to risk them in a hot landing zone. CASEVACs can be armed, and while they typically only have a couple of small machine guns, that can help a lot.
This isn’t the first time the Navy has used its helos to help out. A couple of years ago, the Navy loaned a squadron of heavy lift MH-53E helicopters to support the Army’s logisitc requirements in Iraq. So thanks again to the Navy.
UPDATE: Reader and blogger Outlaw13 catches my stupidity. The video clearly points out that this detachment is in Kuwait, not Iraq. I saw that and it didn’t sink in. Obviously, Kuwait isn’t Iraq. But the detachment also frees up more Army assets and I’m sure is most welcome by those folks who receive their services.