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September 7, 2005
Katrina Rescuer Finds Himself In The Doghouse

One would think that a commander of a military helicopter crew that showed the compassion and quick thinking to use their supply run to New Orleans to rescue a handful of people would have received a commendation for his quick thinking. If so, one does not know the military, as the New York Times proves this morning. When they give orders, the military expects its officers to obey them:

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."

It sounds as if the military wanted their crews to abandon people rather than risk blowing a schedule. However, the response from their commander makes sense - which is why it probably appears far into the article rather than near the top:

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 military has to allocate the resources according to the priorities of the civilian authorities in charge of the relief efforts. Getting relief supplies, especially fresh water, into New Orleans has to have a very high priority -- and if the only two helicopters they have to make those runs go off on their own missions instead, that water sits on the ship doing no one any good. The pilot says he didn't see too many other helicopters performing rescue missions, one of the reasons he decided to free-lance a bit, but Lieutenants don't get to make those kind of decisions, not even aviators.

It's a tough call, and Udkow had to know that he risked some disciplinary action in the rescue efforts. That makes him heroic in my estimation, even if he also was mistaken in breaking the rules to do so. Unfortunately, the Times reports that he didn't handle the criticism very well and found himself reassigned to manage some of the victims of the storm ... the four-legged kind:

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.

It's hard to imagine that Udkow doesn't view a transfer to a literal doghouse as a punishment. It also doesn't make much sense to keep him there long. The rescue effort can use all the pilots we have. Hopefully, Udkow's stay in the doghouse will be brief and he can get back to commanding more important missions -- either the logistics the military ordered, or the rescues that Udkow and his men conducted that saved numerous lives. Either way, we all win, including the pets.

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Posted by Ed Morrissey at September 7, 2005 6:19 AM

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On first glance it would seem the pilots should be praised for rescuing 100 victims, but if they had done what they had been told to do, perhaps food and water for thousands would have been where it was needed, and could then have helped even more pe... [Read More]

Tracked on September 7, 2005 11:08 AM

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