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
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
"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
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
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
"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."
last i heard the pentagon said they where not reprimanded
Hey, it's the NY Times. We know they would never say anything to portray the military in a negative light.
Ok, Ya'll know I work nights so sometimes when I read things like this they seem oddly familiar. My wife apparently read me this story this AM while I was half asleep. Anyway I remember thinking that if I wasn't so tired I'd be pissed off. She said one of em got assigned to help at a kennel. Even though it wasn't an official repremand. I say give em medals.
Assigned to supervise the dog kennel, eh?
Sounds like typical military politics. A good friend of mine is an O-3 and the stories he tells me are amazing. Even worse than corporate politics.
Sounds like the commander has real issues with creativity and adjusting priorities. Failed the common sense test too. What a dickweed.
"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
So much for thinking outside the box, what a pussy.
[Rove] They're not supposed to be rescuing Democrats, they're supposed to be delivering supplies to our Unstoppable War Machine. [/Rove]
I'm an Army helicopter pilot, but I understand this Navy commander's position perfectly.
The crew fucked up.
The way things work is that crews receive a mission brief, which is basically command approval for their mission. They complete their mission within the parameters of this brief.
If the mission requires deviation from the brief, then the crew must obtain a re-brief. If they do not, then they are acting without command approval and proper risk assessment of their actions. Big deal, you civvies think. Well, this system was put into place to rein in all of the cowboys, show-offs and stupid bastards that somehow manage to find themselves behind the controls of a multi-million dollar aircraft and in control of the destinies of several crewmen and dozens of passengers, and ensure that only crews properly trained for specific missions perform them. SAR is a fairly specialized mission, requiring significant training of aircrews.
It would have been very easy for the pilots to get a rebrief to extract those people. In most units, it's a radio call. Those two lieutenants basically decided they could do what the hell they wanted with that unit's aircraft, and were probably not even properly trained for that mission they performed, putting the aircraft and those 100 lives in great danger.
They should have been reprimanded for what they did.
One of the fun things about being in the military is that you are expected to follow orders...
The article states they were SAR trained.
And also that once on the ground they asked for and obtained permission to continue the SAR work.
If it was an issue, they should have been told to RTB at that point. If it was someone else in between the two that approved continuing the SAR, he should have been getting the asschewing and not the pilots.
Isnt that what BASIC training is for
If everyone doesn't stay on the same sheet of music, the band is going to sound like shit. They're part of a team and need to complete their assigned mission (although latitude certainly exists in emergencies).
Good order and discipline are essential to the sucess of the overall mission. That said, when I was in the Navy, I was told that any JO that didn't get into hack at least once wasn't worth a shit. That was a long time ago.
Did you not read that they were out of radio range, last time I checked when you are out of radio range you can't check in. When they did stop to refuel they checked in and was given permission to contue flying rescue missions.
Yep, they should have been reprimanded for saving human lives instead of letting them die.
What if this were in Iraq and a supply convoy went off hunting down insurgents in the next town, while they're supposed to be hauling more ammo and food for a camp under siege? Would you guys react the same way?
I didn't see anything in the article regarding their SAR training (or status of currency), but I just scanned it. [Edited to add: After rereading it, I see where he said though NOT A SAR UNIT, they were "trained in SAR". That tells me they might have some SAR tasks in their ATP, but it's not a priority.]
And here's what I imagine happened, having been in this spot myself once or twice in my younger days:
They did a run or two, then got the rebrief. Continue with the new mission, no problem.
At the daily pilot's brief or command call the next day, the CO said something to the effect that these two guys jumped the gun and performed the mission before getting briefed. Don't anyone else fuck up, everyone remember to get rebriefed before doing anything outside the original mission. No big deal, everybody get your heads back in the game and go back to work. What was quoted in the article, I would have taken as a pro forma reminder that the CO sets the mission priority, not the pilots, and get a damned rebrief before deviating from mission.
If I were that CO, and a couple of cowboys in my unit made my decision for me and went out dropping baskets between power lines and landing on buildings, I would have their asses, not the gentle remonstrance they got.
Been there, seen it. I see nothing to disagree with on the actions of the command.
I read it. We've heard your New Age civvie puke answer. Wanna know the correct answer? Unless they saw someone chin-deep in a raging torrent, the correct answer was to fly to an area with radio contact, or return to base, and get the rebrief before performing the new mission.
Period. And the PIC knew it.
This is a case of a couple of (probably fairly new, being O3s) guys getting worked up and improperly performing a mission for which they were not briefed. See my above post...if these guys are getting any serious pee-pee whacking, they probably asked for it.
GODAMMIT THAT PISSES ME OFF!!!
I'm a retired Navy vet. I spent seventeen years enlisted, made chief, couldn't make senior or master so I opted for warrant then LDO. I retired in '92 as a lieutenant.
THIS is the sort of assinine shit that used to just drive me up the fucking WALL! Those boyz showed inititive, courage and the ability to think quick on their feet WITHOUT their tight-assed overseers having to lead them by their hands.
Not only should they be completely exhonorated, but they are clearly deserving of the Navy-Marine Corps Lifesaving medal. In fact, I can think of a couple of other personal awards that they qualify for...like the Navy Commendation at least.
As to them breaking the "rules" by changing their mission in midstream...BRAVO! For the hide-bound among us who are more concerned about doing things "by the book" and preservation of their careers, those who are incapable of thinking outside of the box, I must unequivically state that in this case you are absolutely wrong! Human life was at stake. Delivering parts, finishing a training hop, checking out damage...whatever: ALL other priorities are RESCINDED.
Those Navy helo crewmen did EXACTLY the right thing. Human life comes first: PERIOD!
Finally...just how fucking STUPID could that Navy helo squadron CO be? I mean...we have in recent years completely screwed the PR pooch...and paid dearly for our stupidity...but THIS! Shit...when the press plasters this all over the place, the CNO is going to have somebody's asses and I can ASSURE you it won't be the helo crews' butts that are getting the flaming...even IF that CO was justified..."by the book".
I just can't fucking believe this silly shit...<shaking head in disgust>>
Now this has press and congressional interest and you can rest assured that someone is going to have to answer.
Anyway...BRAVO ZULU to the helo crews.
They unnecessarily took great risks with the aircraft, the lives of their crew, and the lives of those people without the information or consent of their chain of command.
Those people they rescued weren't dying. They weren't in any danger of being swept off the face of the earth in the next half-hour. They were stuck in the same place they'd been stuck for a while.
Like I said above, if somone were hanging on with one hand to a branch in swift water, then they would have been justified.
But that wasn't the case.
I would completely agree if they hadn't needlessly exposed themselves, the aircraft and those people to unecessary, unevaluated risk. They might have gotten dingle-dangles still, if they hadn't squniched their eyes and cried to the media.
I can see why you didn't make senior....
There was no human life at stake. Those people were in no immediate danger. And taking unnecessary risks with other peoples' lives is a sign of either incompetence or immaturity. Or both.
In aviation, more than in any - and I mean any - other field, those rules you hold in such low esteem are written in blood. The ones they broke were not placed there for some desk driver to put on his evaluation. They are there to prevent someone else from doing something stupid and crashing another aircraft with a load of people inside it.
But a couple of lieutenants thought they knew better. Funny how many tragic accidents start that way...
your mission comes first, any deviation you live with the consequences
What I want to know is how many loads of water, food, spares, etc. didn't get delivered because that pilot decided to buzz Bourbon Street. Stennis Fucking Rocket Center? Bah, unimportant. Less press coverage.
I'd also like to see how long it would take that same reporter to blame the commanding officer if that helicopter had clipped a power line and gone in.. "Untrained Helo Crew Aims Crashing Copter At Blacks, Commander Obviously Smoking Crack".
For the record, I was commissioned two years before I was eligible for advancement to E-8. I was using a bit of a joke to indicate how hard it was to make senior chief in my rate at that time. That is why I opted for the commission vice waiting for further advancement. I toted an M-16 and an M203 for five years and served in seven ships during my 28 years of service from 1964 until 1992.
Since you are relatively new here and aren't familiar with my career path...and since you chose to make an ad hominum slur about my education, judgement and experience, I think I ought to add that I also went back to school while serving, got my degree and continued my education after retiring. After working for various defense contractor engineering firms such as SAIC, I joined the faculty of a major southern technical university. This year I decided to leave academia for another inside-the-beltway consulting firm. I still teach part time as a consultant for the university.
I'm NOT bragging. My career path is not extraordinary. I am trying to make a point with YOU however to show that when dealing with others on the Internet, especially here at ARFCOM, one should be careful about assuming "things" about their fellow posters.
Finally, your slur adds nothing to our discussion. Surely you can come up with something better.
This makes sense to me. If they hadn't run to the media, they probably would have gotten off with a reprimand.
I don't think anybody is arguing that rescuing people is a good idea. In fact, the facts of the story seem to indicate that the CO thought so too, hence the approval for them to continue after returning with the first load. However, the CO needed to reprimand them to ensure that them and others don't ignore orders every time they think they have a good idea.
The reprimand could have been "You two bozos know better. Next time get permission first." Who knows they could have had a reassignment to SAR in the Mobile area or something waiting for them to get back or similar.
Sounds like they got an "As long as your there, keep doing it." when they got around to checking.
The Navy has this interesting term UNODIR which they should have appended to a phone call say "We intend to start rescuing folks."
Luckily they didn't break anything. There's a certain amount of latitude the most subordinates have, I know I've bent some unspoken rules, I even broke a few. But I always made damn sure the very next thing I did was make sure that the chain of command knew what I did and why. One rescue of opportunity is OK, to keep doing it when they had an opportunity to make sure the boss knew what was happening and didn't take that opportunity was almost unforgivable.
They are a SAR unit.
They fly the UH-3H.
NAS Pensacola. Naval Air STATION.
I have a friend who went down there with them as a SAR rescue crewman.
I have not heard from him if he was part of this crew or not.
In any case they did what the Navy does all the time, their priorities changed.
They pulled 110 people out.
They should get a medal.
Without knowing the pilots, their squadronmates, their personality, their level of skill/training, their history, their level of maturity and history of judgment/decision making skills, I can't really tell if they need a medal or their @ss handed to them on a platter. I can only assume their CO is competent and knows his men.
I like the way some of you self-proclaimed brainiacs can't even check the register date and posting history. I've been here as long as you, sport. I just don't splash in the pool unless it's something I know about.
And my remark had nothing to do with your education level, so keep that insecurity to yourself...
I was making an observation on your blatant lack of professionalism, military discipline, and respect for rules and regs designed to keep people alive. Let me guess...you're one of those who know better than those geeks who wrote the rules...
Ok, you win.
Back to the discussion at hand.
<sarcasm on> But at least he did his duty, and the crew was wrong for not "following orders to the letter" like they're supposed to. Being mindless zombie robots who do exactly what they're told. <sarcasm off>
Also who ok'd them talking to the press . Don't hey need permission still to speak to the media?
The final test of whether the crew was right or wrong will not be what their CO or the rules say about it. The final test will be what happens to the CO.
It would be interesting to get a follow up on this in a year.
Nothing like attacking the poster & one you know nothing about at all.
Just for the record I'm a retired USAF/SF NCO and agree with LWilde 110%
It's politicly correct officers that are more afraid of hurting thier career than doing the right thing cuz they want to look good and get promoted.
Yup. If you have a mission, you better be doing it. Somebody is not getting what they need while you're out being a hero.
I had to pass up many targets of opportunity when my job was to follow a Chinook. Can't be out of ammo when the Chinook took fire.
When you become an officer they also teach you that sometimes you have to make a decision. They were unable to get permission at the time, so they made a decisions. As soon as was possible, the asked for and recieved permission (the rebrief) to continue rescue efforts.
What's so hard about this for you ground-bounders to understand? The rule they broke was not some shit someone made up to fill a slow day. It's there to prevent just exactly what these two guys did.
There was no hurry. No one was in imminent danger of dying. What they should have done, and what they knew they sould have done, was contact their CoC to get a rebrief. If they were a hundred miles from base, it's a MAXIMUM thirty minute delay.
They deliberately disregarded what they KNEW they were supposed to do and took it on their own initiative to put the helicopter, crew, and passengers in a lot of danger without the knowledge or consent of their commander.
Two lieutenants do not make that kind of call, unless someone is going to die NOW if they don't do something. That was not the case.
They fucked up, and got their weiners correctly slapped for it, and then had to go cry to the media because they didn't get a medal for being deliberately stupid.
Villuj_idiot is right, everybody who disagrees with him is wrong. Us Army aviators gotta stick together.
Villuj_idiot is also demonstrating the humility and patience with the misinformed that Army Aviators are famous for.
Finally, someone gets it!
You don't know anything about naval aviation. All Navy Helicopter pilots are SAR qualified. SAR is briefed an almost every flight because SARs come up unexpectedly all the time. This is standard Navy ops. The HAC is in charge of his aircraft like the captain is in charge of his ship. The HAC made the decision to assist, no regulations were violated other than some asshat thinks that moving supplies is more important than saving lives. If resources are stretched thin, you can always move supplies day or night, but rescueing people from roof tops is incredibly dangerous at night. It can be done but the risk is usually not worth it. There was plenty of time to move supplies. The people on the roof tops might have been dead the next day.
Careful now! Your obvious blatant lack of professionalism, military discipline, and respect for rules and regs designed to keep people alive are showing. Don't you realize that sticking to the briefed mission to deliver parts and bottled water is far more important than rescuing people from the rising waters?.
Navy regs are crystal clear: Aircraft commanders have the same authority, responsiblity, AND accountablility as do commanding officers of commissioned ships. As such, in emergent conditions, they can and occasionally do modify their temporary orders under certain circumstances. Clearly this was one of those circumstances.
<<sheesh...still shaking head in utter disgust>>
You know what, every day as an officer I make decisions that are in the best interest of my soldiers and my unit, or others that I am responsible for at that time, that I know may get me in trouble.
In the end, my troops have what they need to do what they need to do, and that is what matters.... not what some 0-4 that has no clue says.
I look at it as just another part of the job. I get chastised all the time for doing this or that from people who have no clue. It just goes with being willing to put your ass on the line for your troops. I do many things thinking "I'm gonna hear about this later", but for the 1 or 2 people above me who get pissed I have 120 whom look to me for support who have what they need and are thankfull.
But I am not a pussy who will go whining to the damm media about it.
I am not a pilot, but I do have sixteen years of experience working in a helicopter squadron. In fact, I am at this moment the Command Duty Officer for a major command aboard NAS Pensacola as I write this.
That being said, every mission is briefed by the ODO prior to sending a plane up in the air. I'm reasonably certain that the ODO did not tell them to "just go and do whatever you feel like doing, and would you kindly drop off these supplies enroute".
Were the rescue-ees actually in mortal danger at that very moment? The whole region at that time was teeming with people who needed to be rescued. The mission for the flight in question was not to go plucking people from rooftops. They were tasked with delivering supplies (at least, that is my understanding).
I realize that the distinction means practically nothing to civilians, but in the context of military aviation, that crew was walking a very fine line between providing emergency assistance and "doing your own thing" with Uncle Sam's aircraft and fuel.
The biggest shame of this whole debacle is not that some helicopter crew got "yelled at", but that someone actually aired the squadrons dirty laundry up for the public to see. Assuming that it was a member of the squadron who broke this story into the public domain, he should be ashamed of himself.
This discussion shows the difference between static thinkers (US Army, US Air Force) and dynamic thinkers (US Navy, US Marine Corps).
In this case I am not making fun of Officers
Most O-5's who are running an Operations Department at Naval Air Stations are Commanders who have been passed over for command and are just waiting to retire.
This guy has the markings of the classic short-man / small-dick / no-so sharp chip-on-the-shoulder Commander.
10 to 1 had they not stopped to help, they would have been brought up on charges for dereliction of duty.
The Navy on Wednesday denied reprimanding two Pensacola-based helicopter
pilots for disobeying orders on Aug. 30 to transport supplies and instead flying
to New Orleans to help with Hurricane Katrina rescue efforts.
The New York Times and other media ran stories that Lt. David Shand and Lt.
Matt Udkow were "chided" for rescuing civilians when their mission that day
was to transport food and water to military bases along the Gulf Coast.
According to The Times, Udkow was taken out of the base's Helicopter Support
Unit flight rotation and "assigned to oversee a temporary kennel established
at Pensacola to hold pets of service members evacuated from hurricane-damaged
areas" as punishment.
Pensacola Naval Air Station spokesman Patrick Nichols said the pilots were
not reprimanded but instead were commended for their actions, but they also
were "reminded of the importance of the mission" by Navy Cmdr. Mike Holdener,
who oversees all air operations at the base.
"He lauded them for helping civilians," Nichols said Wednesday. "But he felt
it was necessary to remind them that the logistic mission was needed so
others could perform their parts in rescue operations.
"He reminded them that the focus of the mission was to deliver water, food
and medical supplies" to three destinations in Mississippi -- Stennis Space
Center, Pascagoula and Gulfport -- and then return to Pensacola, Nichols said.
Nichols said Udkow's new assignment to oversee the kennel was part of his
"collateral" duties -- officers in the squadron usually take on extra duties --
and that he was not taken out of the flight rotation.
"Since then, Lt. Shand and Lt. Udkow have flown eight missions in New
Orleans, saved 30 people and delivered 30,000 pounds of supplies," Nichols said.
The pilots were unavailable for comment on Wednesday because "they're either
flying, performing collateral duties or on crew rest," Nichols said.
Contacted at home, Shand's wife, Kerry, said she was to refer all media
inquiries to the base public affairs office. A call to a telephone listing for
Udkow resulted in a recording that stated the line was not accepting incoming
The New York Times story was posted on the Udkow family Web site run by
cousin Ben Udkow.
"Instead of being applauded as a hero, (Matt Udkow) was re-assigned to
oversee a pet kennel for service members evacuated from hurricane-damaged areas,"
Ben Udkow wrote above the posting of the story.
In an e-mail interview, Ben Udkow wrote that he was proud of his cousin.
"I think what he did is one of many amazing stories of rescue, and that no
matter what his commanding officer or the Navy says, it would be deplorable to
leave people to die just because he was under orders," he wrote. Any logical
and compassionate person with access to a helicopter, training, and a full
crew to support him would have done the same thing."
The Times reported that the two air crews picked up a Coast Guard radio plea
that any nearby helicopters were needed to transport residents trapped on
their rooftops in New Orleans, where the flood waters continued to rise.
The Navy helicopters were out of radio range to Pensacola, so Shand and
Udkow, who were serving as the air commanders for the mission, decided to fly the
two H-3 helicopters to nearby New Orleans to help with the rescue effort.
The two air crews were able to transport more than 100 residents to safety
before returning to Pensacola that evening.
I'm betting 1 of 2 things happened:
A) They were reminded of the need to at least tell their CO WTF they were up to so he knows where his birds are, and the NYT blew it out of proportion.
B) They had another mission waiting for them when they returned. When the Aircraft did not RTB as expected, their CO had to go find other assets to accomplish that mission. By the time they DID check in, that mission had been taken care of, so they were told to keep doing what they were doing. This might have earned them a rebuke from their CO.
In either event, the Military seems to be saying now that this wasn't a big deal, and the NYT is blowing it out of proportion.
I don`t know who alerted the media, but i`ll bet it was only for the heroic story and the media stretched it into the rest about them being in trouble. I`m about 4 miles from pensacola NAS. I`m also proud of what they have accomplished. Ever forward!
They didn't ask for permission. They basically asked for forgiveness. They didn't call in to their base, and oh by the way they left radio range, and called after they were doing SAR and needed to refuel. You can't ask for permission after the fact.
I totally disagree. You take initiative within the parameters of your mission. You don't go hunting other missions and possibly hunting medals. Other missions my not be glamorous, but they are still essential.