IDF soldiers conduct an airlift evacuation drill near Gaza.
(photo credit: IDF SPOKESPERSON'S UNIT)
Medical crews from the IDF Gaza Northern Brigade are holding weekly airlift-to-hospital drills to reduce the time it takes to get injured soldiers to medical care.
Lt. Noga Katzav, medical officer for the Gaza Northern Brigade, told The Jerusalem Post on Thursday that the time required by helicopter airlifts held in cooperation with the air force has been reduced. Wounded soldiers can now be airlifted to a hospital in about 30 minutes, although the time required would be extended in the event of a full-scale conflict in Gaza, where helicopters would have to deal with threats of shoulder- fired missiles.
Using CH-53 and Black Hawk transport helicopter squadrons, the brigade has been holding weekly mass-casualty exercises in which doctors and medics practice treating injured soldiers and evacuating them, much as they did on dozens of occasions during last year’s 50-day conflict with Hamas.
During that conflict, Hamas mortar fire and rockets repeatedly targeted staging areas near the border, leading to multiple injuries and casualties, and this scenario now forms one of the central aspects of the exercises, Katzav said.
She told the Post that earlier this month, “We drilled a mortar attack on an IDF camp in a coastal area near Gaza, and we also practiced air evacuations of civilians. We have significantly shortened the evacuation process, in comparison to how long it took before Operation Protective Edge.”
Medical crews, who themselves would be threatened by enemy projectile fire in the event of a conflict, have also practiced their responses to rocket and mortar attacks in the course of an evacuation.
“The first thing we do is secure our people, so that they can provide treatment,” Katzav said.
“They will arrive with helmets and ceramic vests, and they won’t enter a battlefield without approval from the IDF Operations Branch,” she added.
Part of the training involves the practice of giving live-saving emergency treatment on the ground, before evacuating soldiers in helicopters. In cases where helicopters cannot land nearby, the crews must practice evacuations by ambulance to more distant helicopter landing spots.
The IDF has attached medical crews to each of its territorial battalions, brigades, and divisions.
Some travel in armored vehicles.
During times of conflict, the units are also able to call up hospital civilian doctors, who double as reserve doctors.