Combat airborne rescuers, IDF officers to meet at Ra‘anana conference

Almost a month after in Israel’s Arava, the second international medical conference focusing on combat airborne evacuation and treatment is set to take place in the central Israeli city of Ra‘anana.

A number of top practitioners and senior IDF officers will participate in the conference, discussing among other things, the use of unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) in civilian and military rescues as well as holding a session on military medical air evacuations in Iraq and Afghanistan.

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The conference, which is organized by the 669 “Cat” alumni association, will also host former Air Force Commander Maj.-Gen. (res) Amir Eshel.

The IDF’s elite Airborne Combat, Search and Rescue Unit 669 is one of the four special forces of the IDF with soldiers who are trained in combat medicine, parachuting, scuba diving, counter-terrorism, rappelling, rescue under harsh conditions and navigation.

In the 40 years since the unit was formed, it has rescued over 10,000 people across Israel and the world, receiving several IDF chief of staff commendations for their work which includes rescue missions of Special Force soldiers as well as injured or stranded Israelis, both abroad and home.

While 669 is primarily used for military mission due to the unit’s high capabilities it is also used to rescue citizens such as in the Wadi Tzafit disaster in late April, former Unit 669 Commander and conference president Brig. Gen. (Res.). Dr. Efraim Sneh, told The Jerusalem Post ahead of the event

“The Tzafit disaster was a very unique event where the pilot needed to have unique cooperation with the 669 soldier who was dangling on a cable to fish the people out of the water to bring them back into the helicopter,” Sneh said.

“It’s the only civilian kind of rescue where the environment is so dynamic, not like being stuck on a canyon in a static position. The river is flooding and flowing and the troops have to rescue the civilian at high speed,” he continued.

The unique conference will allow the participants to share their knowledge and learn from 669 alumni, Sneh said, adding that the elite unit which he was responsible for founding in its current formation “is the best. Period.”

US Army Reserve Colonel, Jay Johannigman, MD, a trauma surgeon at The University of Cincinnati Medical Center since 1995 who will be a keynote speaker at the conference, told the Post that he was first introduced to 669 soldiers in 2008 on his first trip to Israel and has stayed in touch with many of them ever since.

Johannigman, who has been deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan with the US Air Force, explained that “the Israelis have long been at the forefront of teaching all military physicians how to use blood and blood products and how to treat soldiers who are in shock.”

According to Johannigman, whose research focuses on improving military medical technology and equipment in aircraft such as helicopters, “the environment of care that 669 finds itself in, or the US medic in the back of a medivac, poses unique challenges.”

For him, the AirMule developed by Israel is a great example of military technology which he is “excited” to come learn about as it is “a step ahead of us in the United States.”

“I hope to learn a lot and bring back a lot of ideas from the conference,” Johannigman said. "The Israeli medical sector is legendary in developing products in a very effective manner.”