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

Conference comes one month after tragic Wadi Tzafit disaster.

IAF's 669 unit in action
Almost a month after 10 teenagers died in a tragic flood in the Arava, the second international medical conference focusing on combat airborne evacuation and treatment is set to take place in Ra’anana.
The conference will see the participation of top practitioners and senior IDF officers who will discuss, among other things, the use of unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) in civilian and military rescues as well as a session on military medical air evacuations in Iraq and Afghanistan.
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 IDF’s four special forces, with soldiers who are trained in combat medicine, parachuting, scuba diving, counterterrorism, 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 commendations from the IDF chief of staff for their work which includes rescue missions of Special Force soldiers as well as injured or stranded Israelis, both at home and abroad.
While 669 is primarily used for military missions due to the unit’s advanced capabilities, it is also used to rescue citizens – such as at the Nahal Tzafit disaster in late April, former Unit 669 commander and conference president Brig. Gen. (res.) Dr. Efraim Sneh, told The Jerusalem Post.
“The Tzafit disaster was a very unusual event where the pilot needed to have unique cooperation with the 669 soldier who was dangling on a cable to pull the people out of the water and 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 civilians at high speed,” he continued.
The 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 soldiers of the 669 unit 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.”