From aerial defense to search and rescue

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The Ram Battalion is in the midst of professional retraining, following its transfer from the Air Force to the Home Front Command

Date: 20/04/2013, 8:00 PM     Author: Dana Petrov

Soldiers of the Ram Battalion, formerly an aerial defense unit of the Israel Air Force, are currently being retrained to serve as search and rescue soldiers within the IDF (Zahal)’s Home Front Command. Whereas they previously were tasked with operating FIM-92 Stinger surface-to-air missiles in time of war, they are now tasked with saving lives on the home front during emergencies.

“The transition from being a Stinger soldier who carries a 20-kilogram rocket on his shoulder to a soldier who in war is destined to be on the home front was difficult at first,” Ram Battalion Commander Lt. Col. David Ezra recently told the IDF (Zahal) Website. “But the moment that they begin to deal with the profession, they understand how difficult and challenging it is. In peacetime they are deployed for operational activity in the most complex sectors, and in case of emergency their job is to save human lives. From my perspective, that is the true mission of the military.”

As part of the soldiers’ professional retraining, the newly repurposed battalion concluded its first full-battalion search and rescue exercise last week.

“We began the retraining a week and a half ago, when we taught each soldier to work with search and rescue equipment individually,” Lt. Col. Ezra explained. “We continued with platoon exercises and then with two company exercises, and here in the battalion exercise we can already see a very significant learning curve.”

The exercise was carried out at two separate disaster sites simultaneously, with two companies acting at each site. The drill simulated a surprise Syrian surface-to-surface missile strike on a one-story building, resulting in the collapse of the building, trapping 70 to 90 people at each site.

The drill was designed to improve the flow of information from the individual soldier to the command room, while strengthening the control of platoon commanders in the various sectors. “A platoon commander needs to control the details in his sector,” Lt. Col. Ezra explained. “He needs to know how many people are trapped, where they are and the degree of their injuries. If there are 20 trapped and you can only rescue five at a time, you need to prioritize, and the platoon commander needs to make the decision together with the medical workers at the scene.”

The professional retraining of the Ram Battalion is expected to continue for six weeks. This week, the soldiers postponed their retraining in order to go to the Golan Heights to assist in providing security for work on the border fence and to augment posts. They will soon undergo three weeks of nuclear, chemical and biological weapons defense training. At the end of the training period, the battalion is expected to take part for the first time in a larger Turning Point 7 exercise next month.