Unit 669 in Gaza

 Photo by Hagar Amibar

Unit 669 in Gaza

“We have been training for a scenario like this since the start of the operation” Unit 669 in Gaza

“We are in a state of war and we have several helicopters in the air at all times”

 Photo by Hagar Amibar

The Transport Helicopter squadrons and Unit 669, the search and rescue unit, have been operating in southern Israel since the start of the ground maneuver in the Gaza Strip. They remain alert for any developments and work to evacuate casualties to civilian hospitals. “We are either waiting to be dispatched, being dispatched or on our way back from being dispatched”

David Greenwald and Nadav Berger

Thirteen days since the beginning of Operation “Protective Edge” and three days since the order was given to the ground forces to enter the Gaza Strip, the search and rescue unit, Unit 669 and the transport helicopter squadrons have been working nonstop. The soldiers of Unit 669 are routinely deployed to different IAF bases to be on call, but since the beginning of the operation these teams have been reinforces with additional forces that work intensively in the Gaza Strip. “Over the past three days, the soldiers from the unit have been working round the clock: either they’re waiting to be dispatched, or they are being dispatched or on their way way back from being dispatched. We bear a large burden and undergo extensive training”, explains First Lieutenant Colonel T’, a team commander in the unit.

The Helicopters in the Air At All Times

The work load demands that the teams work in shifts: the team that returns from the mission rests as the other teams go out on their mission and prepares for its next mission in the field. “We are in a state of war and we have several helicopters in the air at all times. The teams just come to the squadron and in less than 15 minutes they have to be ready to take off to the next mission”, add soldiers from the “Rolling Sword” squadron, which operates the “Blackhawk” helicopters. Alongside them, the CH-53 squadrons have been taking part in the evacuation of casualties. “We have been working since the early hours of the morning and we evacuated casualties to receive medical treatment in Israel”, says Major N’, the Deputy Commander of the “Leaders of the Night” squadron.

Preparing And Looking Forward

Even before the beginning of the ground phase of the operation, the soldiers of the helicopter squadrons prepared for the moment the order would be issued. In addition to taking care of the helicopters, mental preparation for the soldiers of the squadrons and the deployment of representatives to the control centers, the squadrons also held joint training exercises with ground forces that would ultimately enter the Gaza Strip. “The atmosphere in the squadron before the ground maneuver was one of tense calm”, said the soldiers of the “Rolling Sword” squadron. “We made preparations and provided assistance as much as we were able to and we waited for the moment in which we would have to commence operations”.The soldiers of unit 669 prepared for the operation through training exercises in the advanced simulator located at the Tel Nof airbase. “We have been training for a scenario like this since the start of the operation. We held targeted workshops while cooperating with the forces we work with in the field and before the ground maneuver, we set up teams that were on high alert on every base in which the unit operates. We feel that we are ready for anything”, adds First Lieutenant T’.

“We All Want to Go Out Into the Field”

Following the operation, many reservists were drafted, among them doctors, paramedics, aircrews and ground crews, while at the time continuing to prepare for fighting in the Gaza Strip that might last an extended period of time. “We are ready for however much time they need us. The feeling in the squadron is that we are here for these types of events. There is high demand, everyone is highly motivated and we all want to go out into the field, when clearly it is impossible to get everyone out there. In situations like this, you understand the quality of the people”.