Wednesday, September 07, 2005

Medals, not 'counseling'

The New York Times and the Associated Press report that two Navy helicopter pilots were "counseled" for answering an emergency rescue call from the Coast Guard in New Orleans instead of returning to their base immediately after completing their assigned mission of delivering supplies to three destinations in Mississippi.

Lt. Matt Udkow and Lt. David Shand were minutes away from New Orleans on August 30 -- a day after Hurricane Katrina made landfall -- when they picked up a Coast Guard radio call asking for helicopters to assist in emergency rescues. Read this account from the Associated Press:

It took only minutes for the H-3 helicopters to fly to New Orleans, where Udkow's crew plucked people off rooftops. Shand landed his helicopter on the roof of an apartment building where more than a dozen people had been stranded. When he returned to get more, two crew members entered the building and found two blind residents and led them to the helicopter.

The pilots saved the lives of 110 people and returned to their base by nightfall, as required by regulations. The next morning, they were called in to meet with Cmdr. Michael Holdener, who "counseled" them that their actions were unacceptable, and that they should have ignored the emergency rescue call and returned directly to their base.

Lt. Shand was given some involuntary time off and Lt. Udkow was assigned to work in a kennel in Pensacola that is housing the pets of military personnel who have been evacuated.

Cmdr. Holdener later explained to the New York Times, "We all want to be the guys who rescue people. But they were told we have other missions we have to do right now and that is not the priority."

President Bush doesn't come to me for advice, but here's some anyway: Lt. Matt Udkow and Lt. David Shand deserve medals. Save the counseling for Cmdr. Holdener and anyone else on the government payroll who thinks rescuing Americans from rising water in New Orleans is "not the priority."

Copyright 2005