Navy Pilots Who Rescued Victims Are Reprimanded

Birdstrike

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From today's Early Bird...First time I've ever read a NY Times article supporting something the military did. But then again, why do I suspect that their motive is only to embarrass the Navy in this case? Can't say I wouldn't have done the same thing in this crews' shoes. There's always hell to pay with Ops anyway...

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New York Times
September 7, 2005
Navy Pilots Who Rescued Victims Are Reprimanded

By David S. Cloud

PENSACOLA, Fla., Sept. 6 - Two Navy helicopter pilots and their crews returned from New Orleans on Aug. 30 expecting to be greeted as lifesavers after ferrying more than 100 hurricane victims to safety.

Instead, their superiors chided the pilots, Lt. David Shand and Lt. Matt Udkow, at a meeting the next morning for rescuing civilians when their assignment that day had been to deliver food and water to military installations along the Gulf Coast.

"I felt it was a great day because we resupplied the people we needed to and we rescued people, too," Lieutenant Udkow said. But the air operations commander at Pensacola Naval Air Station "reminded us that the logistical mission needed to be our area of focus."

The episode illustrates how the rescue effort in the days immediately after Hurricane Katrina had to compete with the military's other, more mundane logistical needs.

Only in recent days, after the federal response to the disaster has come to be seen as inadequate, have large numbers of troops and dozens of helicopters, trucks and other equipment been poured into to the effort. Early on, the military rescue operations were smaller, often depending on the initiative of individuals like Lieutenants Shand and Udkow.

The two lieutenants were each piloting a Navy H-3 helicopter - a type often used in rescue operations as well as transport and other missions - on that Tuesday afternoon, delivering emergency food, water and other supplies to Stennis Space Center, a federal facility near the Mississippi coast. The storm had cut off electricity and water to the center, and the two helicopters were supposed to drop their loads and return to Pensacola, their home base, said Cmdr. Michael Holdener, Pensacola's air operations chief.

"Their orders were to go and deliver water and parts and to come back," Commander Holdener said.

But as the two helicopters were heading back home, the crews picked up a radio transmission from the Coast Guard saying helicopters were needed near the University of New Orleans to help with rescue efforts, the two pilots said.

Out of range for direct radio communication with Pensacola, more than 100 miles to the east, the pilots said, they decided to respond and turned their helicopters around, diverting from their mission without getting permission from their home base. Within minutes, they were over New Orleans.

"We're not technically a search-and-rescue unit, but we're trained to do search and rescue," said Lieutenant Shand, a 17-year Navy veteran.

Flying over Biloxi and Gulfport and other areas of Mississippi, they could see rescue personnel on the ground, Lieutenant Udkow said, but he noticed that there were few rescue units around the flooded city of New Orleans, on the ground or in the air. "It was shocking," he said.

Seeing people on the roofs of houses waving to him, Lieutenant Udkow headed in their direction. Hovering over power lines, his crew dropped a basket to pick up two residents at a time. He took them to Lakefront Airport, where local emergency medical teams had established a makeshift medical center.

Meanwhile, Lieutenant Shand landed his helicopter on the roof of an apartment building, where more than a dozen people were marooned. Women and children were loaded first aboard the helicopter and ferried to the airport, he said.

Returning to pick up the rest, the crew learned that two blind residents had not been able to climb up through the attic to the roof and were still in the building. Two crew members entered the darkened building to find the men, and led them to the roof and into the helicopter, Lieutenant Shand said.

Recalling the rescues in an interview, he became so emotional that he had to stop and compose himself. At one point, he said, he executed a tricky landing at a highway overpass, where more than 35 people were marooned.

Lieutenant Udkow said that he saw few other rescue helicopters in New Orleans that day. The toughest part, he said, was seeing so many people imploring him to pick them up and having to leave some.

"I would be looking at a family of two on one roof and maybe a family of six on another roof, and I would have to make a decision who to rescue," he said. "It wasn't easy."

While refueling at a Coast Guard landing pad in early evening, Lieutenant Udkow said, he called Pensacola and received permission to continue rescues that evening. According to the pilots and other military officials, they rescued 110 people.

The next morning, though, the two crews were called to a meeting with Commander Holdener, who said he told them that while helping civilians was laudable, the lengthy rescue effort was an unacceptable diversion from their main mission of delivering supplies. With only two helicopters available at Pensacola to deliver supplies, the base did not have enough to allow pilots to go on prolonged search and rescue operations.

"We all want to be the guys who rescue people," Commander Holdener said. "But they were told we have other missions we have to do right now and that is not the priority."

The order to halt civilian relief efforts angered some helicopter crews. Lieutenant Udkow, who associates say was especially vocal about voicing his disagreement to superiors, was taken out of the squadron's flying rotation temporarily and assigned to oversee a temporary kennel established at Pensacola to hold pets of service members evacuated from the hurricane-damaged areas, two members of the unit said. Lieutenant Udkow denied that he had complained and said he did not view the kennel assignment as punishment.

Dozens of military aircraft are now conducting search and rescue missions over the affected areas. But privately some members of the Pensacola unit say the base's two available transport helicopters should have been allowed to do more to help civilian victims in the days after the storm hit, when large numbers of military helicopters had not reached the affected areas.

In protest, some members of the unit have stopped wearing a search and rescue patch on their sleeves that reads, "So Others May Live."
 
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TonyC

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Instead, their superiors chided the pilots, Lt. David Shand and Lt. Matt Udkow, at a meeting the next morning for rescuing civilians when their assignment that day had been to deliver food and water to military installations along the Gulf Coast.


Good job Mudkow60 - - you did the right thing.


click: Mudkow, is that you?




.
 
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mudkow60

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Holy Sheit word gets around. That interview was all cleared thru our PAO's...

Not sure what to think. I am worried that I will be blamed.

I do not regret doing what I did to save the lives though.
 

T1bubba

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Sounds to me like you showed the initiative and decision making skills that any good HAC should have.

You made the right call. Nice job.

T1
 

Caveman

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mudkow60,

Outstanding job, Sir. Always remember that a mission is fluid. When the circumstances change the mission has to change with it. Please accept this Marines' salute.

Caveman
 

Laughing_Jakal

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Sierra Hotel Mudkow

Never met a Helicopter pilot who wouldn't have done the same thing, though maybe not with as much skill. Sierra Hotel!

That brings new meaning to "being in the doghouse" with the boss.

Jakal
Former HC-130/MC-130 pilot (Helicopter refueler for those of you in Rio Linda)
 

SWAnnabee

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Birdstrike said:
But as the two helicopters were heading back home, the crews picked up a radio transmission from the Coast Guard saying helicopters were needed near the University of New Orleans to help with rescue efforts, the two pilots said.

Out of range for direct radio communication with Pensacola, more than 100 miles to the east, the pilots said, they decided to respond and turned their helicopters around, diverting from their mission without getting permission from their home base. Within minutes, they were over New Orleans.

While refueling at a Coast Guard landing pad in early evening, Lieutenant Udkow said, he called Pensacola and received permission to continue rescues that evening. According to the pilots and other military officials, they rescued 110 people.

Sound to me like that Ops Chief is more concerned with playing CYA than saving peoples lives. These guys were faced with a situation that had radically changed from the original scenario and made an educated decision based on training, judgement, and experience. I thought that was what we wanted in out military officers.

It should be Cmdr. Michael Holdener in the "doghouse". You guys did the right thing. Unfortunately sometimes the right thing can get you in trouble. The better decision for the CDR would have been to MAYBE talk with the crews about the importance of the logistics mission, and ONLY if their deviation impacted that mission, then send them on their way a little wiser but still with a subtle wink and a nod of personal approval. If the mission was complete and no further impact, what was the problem. When this disaster is over, YOU will be able to say that you saved lives. The Ops Chief can't say as much. Semper Fi.
 

Birdstrike

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Matt,

How did the NY Times pick up on this, especially all the internal details?
Stand-by for your 15 minutes of fame! Has Good Morning America called yet?

Hooah
 

ExAF

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Sierra Hotel

Mudkow...SIERRA HOTEL!!!!! No matter what the REMFs say, you did the right thing. Since when does property/supplies take precedence over lives. You made the hard call (many of them) and that's what being an officer/aircraft commander is all about. Sometimes doing the right thing is hard. You are a hero (even thought you probably don't want to be called one) in my eyes and in the eyes of many others. Just ask anyone you plucked from a rooftop. Again I say...SH!
 

Rez O. Lewshun

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"We all want to be the guys who rescue people," Commander Holdener said. "But they were told we have other missions we have to do right now and that is not the priority."

In protest, some members of the unit have stopped wearing a search and rescue patch on their sleeves that reads, "So Others May Live."

Wah. Perhaps Cmdr. Whats His Nuts did save some lives when he was a JO. Then again maybe he didn't. Then again maybe he needs to get off his desk and suit up. Then again maybe he doesn't like to fly....

No risk, no reward....

The worst disaster in US History and this guy insists on being a toolbox....
 

BoilerUP

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Bravo Zulu, Sir! I hope I can be half the officer you are. Thanks for doing the right thing.

If you ever make your way into the SDF/LEX/IND area, drinks are on me.
 

VVJM265

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Bravo Zulu!

Nice job guys. I truely think that sometimes the more senior people get, the more they forget that we are trained to think on our feet. You guys did the right thing and that is what is important.

"We all want to be the guys who rescue people," Commander Holdener said. "But they were told we have other missions we have to do right now and that is not the priority." If that is a correct quote, then it is the WRONG ANSWER! All that is is CYA. Below in leadership Holdener.
 
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PHX767

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Great job MUdkow60!

Basic military 101 - you did the right thing. Showed some initiative, saved a bunch of citizens, called home when you could and got tacit permission to keep going. What in the good lord's name is wrong with that?

Knowing the staff officer mind as I do: My guess is that somebody at the space center bitched up the line about not getting more supplies delivered. Presto bingo there you have it! "Commander Deskwarmer, where are those supplies for the space center bubbas?" " Uhh Admiral, the helo crews dropped one load and now they are rescuing folks down in New Orleans." "Dadgummit Deskwarmer, if you ever want to make O-6 you had better get those crews back to hauling supplies so NASA will stay off my back!" "Yessir, Sir!!" Brief pause - "UDKOW!!! Front and center!!"

Very similar to a case with our tanker guys a few years ago that saved an S-3 out by Diego Garcia. USAF wanted to give the crew Article 15's and the Navy wanted to decorate them!

God Bless,
PHX

P.S. MUdkow, you may want to start a new identity for posting in case the powers that be start getting their panties wadded up. I'm suggesting "Helo Stud" :D
 
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Falconjet

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Man, whatever happened to flying a cargo plane filled with rubber shiat out of Hong Kong?

Matt, you commited the unpardonable sin of being more heady than your boss, who (it appears) is one of those senior officers (notice I didn't say leader) in the military who are threatened and intimidated by subordinates who are sharper and sometimes more capable than they are. Unfortunately the military seems to breed that type of senior officer, and the exceptions are the ones you really hope you get the chance to work for.

Something that everyone contemplating military service should be aware of, and perhaps not that different from civilian life, except that those supervisors in the military can have a lot of influence on your life and you just can't quit your job in the military if those in charge go after you for some reason.

I'm sure there is some more to the story which maybe someday you can share, but on the surface it looks like you did the right thing and your bosses just can't handle someone junior to them showing some initiative and doing what needed to be done. Hold your head high and sleep well at night, you did yourself, your crew, and your service proud.

Good luck with the boss.

FJ
 

Squanto

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You guys made the right call. Getting in trouble for doing the right thing. amazing..but I've been there. The BIG BOSS upstairs is your final authority anyway.

We need to put that Commander on a 120 degree roof and see if he has a change of heart. Joe Scarborough of MSNBC would eat this story up.

Keep us informed of any further developments...

You did the right thing I don't care what any %#&* desk monkey says.

-S
 

ATR-DRIVR

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Mud,

I would be more than happy to call up said "CO" and tell him to either pack sand or get in the f-cking seat himself and do the job. Just let me know...

I and all other aviators salute you.

Oh, ask bozo if he would like to hear from the lucky and appreciative folks whom you expertly extricated.


Drinks on me in either ATL or PNS.
 

sardaddy

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Great job,


It was busy out there. I have never seen and never again want to see anything like it again. You made a good decision and stuck to it. I will bet it wasn't the first ass chewin' you have ever gotten and I am sure that it was well worth it.
 
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