Notwithstanding that the last IDF soldier wounded in a war in the Gaza Strip was evacuated five years ago (although Col. “Mem” was killed in a November 2018 operation in Khan Yunis that went awry), the Israeli military continues to train on complex medical evacuations under fire deep inside enemy territory.
Last week, the military completed the largest drill since the last conflict in the coastal enclave, Operation Protective Edge in 2014, which saw the participation of eight brigade commanders, hundreds of reservists and the participation of air and naval forces.
During the four-day drill, scenarios which the IDF anticipates encountering in any future war were practiced including maritime attacks by terrorist groups in the Strip, evacuation of wounded soldiers, IDF incursions into northern Gaza, as well as attacks on civilian communities and the evacuation of border settlements.
As part of the drill, medical officers and troops practiced on the evacuation of wounded soldiers from the battlefield deep inside enemy territory to hospitals in southern Israel, mainly Assuta Hospital in Ashdod. Four helicopters also took part, drilling on joint cooperation with the ground troops.
With 83% of soldiers dying within an hour of being wounded due to preventable blood loss, the IDF is trying to improve the medical evacuation procedure of injured soldiers during war.
“If we don’t train on this we won’t know how to do it in real time,” Northern Division Medical Officer Cpt. Adi Goldberg told The Jerusalem Post. “What’s not simple, simply won’t happen. We need to be fast.”
In addition to the doctors and paramedics who are with soldiers behind enemy lines on the squad and battalion level, the military will have a new company responsible for the evacuation of the wounded who would be transferred back into Israeli territory where they will receive intensive medical care before being evacuated for further treatment.
The company, called Palmar, includes eight ambulances each with three or four paramedics who will treat and evacuate wounded soldiers from inside enemy territory to the hospital, allowing the front-line medical team to stay with the remaining troops fighting the enemy, Goldberg said.
The IDF has also begun training nurses to join doctors and paramedics providing medical care behind enemy lines.
“The mix of people in the medical corps in the army, both men and women, is something that we haven’t seen before,” Goldberg said. “We saw a few women behind enemy lines during Protective Edge but not like there is today. Today there are significantly more women paramedics will be evacuating and treating wounded troops.”
During the drill, a mass casualty event was simulated in which a terrorist infiltrated a border community and wounded 35 civilians.
“This is something that can really happen,” Goldberg said, adding that troops had to secure the area before the medical team could go to treat the injured.
Lt.-Col. “Dalet” who is in charge of the IAF in the Southern Command told the Post that it was imperative that the air force trained with the ground troops on evacuating the wounded.
“The team has to come as quickly as possible and bring the wounded to hospital within minutes,” he said.
“We need to be effective 24/7,” he said, adding that drills such as these increase the “joint readiness between the Air Force and Ground Forces so that we are ready for any and all threats that come at us.”
While the IDF has begun a new strategy that will see medics provide emergency treatment to wounded soldiers inside enemy territory in a bid to reduce IAF rescue helicopters being exposed to enemy fire, Dalet said that the Air Force is continuing to train on bringing troops back to Israeli territory.
“We are training against all sorts of threats we have in the area – from the air, ground, anti-tank and more, so that we will be best against everything,” he said.“In the end, the two sides must work together as best as we can in order to win the next war.”
Dalet told the Post that while the IDF understands that the enemy on the other side of the fence is continuing to increase its military capabilities so too is Israel’s military.
“It’s the ground forces and air force combined that will be able to bring all the capabilities to counter the threats that we will face on the future battlefield. The enemy is getting better but so is the IDF,” he said.