Unit 669 is charged with one core mission: to fly behind enemy lines and save injured soldiers who are caught there. Their soldiers have to make complex decisions in a split second – decisions that could cost them the lives of not only the soldier they are trying to rescue, but of every soldier on the mission.

5 Things You Didn’t Know About: Airborne Rescue & Evacuation Unit 669

Unit 669 Airborne Rescue Training

“One of the lessons we’ve learned from a long list of rescue operations in urban fighting theaters is to remain on the ground for as short a time as possible. In a real rescue, every additional second can exact a price of additional enemy fire on the aircraft. We have to take off immediately, even if it involves treating the wounded in extreme conditions,” says unit commander Lt. Col. Avinoam. “Every soldier in the unit, not only officers, has to be able to make life-or-death decisions under extreme pressure and uncertainty. These decisions can cost the life of a wounded comrade or worse—a helicopter and its passengers. The name of the game is: calculated risk.”

The unit has proven itself in battle countless times. During the Second Lebanon War, Unit 669 was called to rescue a naval commando unit in the middle of the heavily populated Lebanese city of Tyre. When the unit arrived, they discovered that one of the soldiers was critically wounded. The soldiers were now surrounded: the entire city was watching them. A missile could hit their aircraft at any moment. At the same time, the injured soldier had to be treated immediately. The unit’s doctor had already opened the soldier’s windpipe and saved his life as their helicopter took off. The entire operation took no more than a few seconds.

The unit was founded in 1974, after the Yom Kippur War. Its initial mandate was to extract downed Israeli Air Force pilots, but later it also undertook rescue missions of Special Forces soldiers and sailors in distress. Soldiers in the unit are highly trained in both special forces tactics and paramedic skills. Over 18 months, soldiers selected for the unit have to pass courses in combat medicine, parachuting course, Scuba Diving, counter-terrorism, rappelling, rescue under harsh conditions, navigation, and the commanders’ course. Once their training is complete, Unit 669 soldiers sign on for an extra 16 months of service on top of their mandatory three years.

5 Things You Didn’t Know About: Airborne Rescue & Evacuation Unit 669

Unit’s 669 Rescue Training

To be accepted into the unit, you have to be the best of the best. “The ability to act with self-control under extreme pressure is the main characteristic that we look for in 669 candidates,” Lt. Col Avinoam says. “Anyone who enters the unit learns on the first day that we don’t leave a wounded person behind. Our track record is the realization of this value.”

5 Things You Didn’t Know About: Airborne Rescue & Evacuation Unit 669