The following post is written by Lt. Col. A, outgoing commander of the Israel Air Force International ”Desert Giants” Squadron and responsible for the aid delegations sent by the IDF (Zahal) abroad.
Note: Today the IDF (Zahal) has sent, at short notice, another aid mission to help a local disaster in Ghana. As of this moment the crew is at the scene, treating victims and supporting local search and rescue forces. Read more.
The “Desert Giants Squadron” sigil
The IDF (Zahal) has sent 16 delegations over the last 20 years to countries hit by terror and natural disasters, helping both Israel and non-Israeli civilians alike. These delegations have visited Japan, Haiti, Mexico and many more, rescuing as many as 2,300 people from certain death.
As I see it, its part of the Jewish identity, that obliges each and every one of us to aid people in time of need, anywhere in the world. This belief is what drives me and other pilots in the “Desert Giants” squadron, the squadron in charge of the medical and evacuation formation in the IDF (Zahal).
During my recent service, I took part and commanded the delegation to Japan, Mexico, Turkey and many other disaster-struck countries. The most unique mission of all has to be our flight to Japan. The Tsunami which hit Japan in 2011 brought unprecedented infrastructural damage. Many countries offered to help.
THE VOYAGE TO JAPAN
But in the first few days following the disaster, the Japanese government was not in a position to offer infrastructural support to foreign delegations. Thus, the Israeli delegation was supported entirely by the IDF (Zahal) and were the first foreign delegation to touch down on post-tsunami Japanese soil.
We were to rely only on ourselves, least of all, this meant bringing our own food from Israel. Our Boeing 707 arrivals brought with them over 80 tons of medical supplies and 50 doctors. For our mission, the money was not an issue – we were there to save lives.
The Boeing 707 of the “Desert Giants Squadron”
Overall, we treated more than 220 people in Japan. Each crew member on that flight to Japan could feel the importance of the mission. What still amazes me is that fact we were given an opportunity to assist people from such a different culture, half way across the world.
CARRYING A FRIEND HOME
In 1998 the “Desert Giants” squadron travelled to Romania – under tragic circumstances. Our pilots were given the task of bringing back fellow pilot caskets from Romania. Bringing Israelis to burial in their homeland.
Of all my missions abroad, the return of the caskets has been etched in my memory forever. The pilot of the helicopter, Daniel Schiffenbauer, was a close friend of mine for over 10 years. The voyage of carrying Daniel’s casket from the crash site to the helicopter was difficult. In 21 years of service I have not experienced such strong emotion.
I have no doubt that whenever and wherever help will be needed, we will arrive. As an Israeli citizen and an IDF (Zahal) soldier, I see myself obligated to every person in need — whether he’s Israeli or not. Our commitment to people in need is not a national one, but a universal one.
We will be there, regardless of how many planes or doctors may be required.
The IDF (Zahal) team sent to Burgas. Home Front Command experts and Air Force pilots