The gust of sand, dust and rocks cast up by a Sikorsky UH-60 Blackhawk forces everyone to turn their backs to the landing helicopter.Moments later, with the blades of the machine whirring, men and women from a combat medic team carry two soldiers across the tarmac to the chopper. Then, minutes later, the Blackhawk is off and flying into the distance.“Timing is of the most importance,” says Capt. Tevel Dahan, the 24-year-old in charge of the team. “It’s ten minutes to hospital by air from here as opposed to an hour by car.”Every week Dahan and her medics arrange an exercise like this near the Gaza border to make sure everyone is ready for an emergency. Friday’s drill began near Kissufim, a kibbutz and army base that sits on the Gaza border. Over the years the area has come under mortar fire and there have been casualties.
To test the readiness of the medical team, three “wounded” were laid out near the entrance to the base. One had a chest injury, with fake blood spread across the man’s naked stomach. Two female soldiers had different wounds to the leg and face. Dahan called in the report of injured, using the army lingo “three flowers” which indicates casualties. The medical team is supposed to arrive in several minutes and after a bit more than that the men and women arrive with an army doctor to check on the “wounded.” The more seriously injured are evacuated first in an armored vehicle that speeds off towards kibbutz Re’im. Near the community is a helicopter landing site marked with a red and white sign, one of many in the South where helicopters can land to evacuate injured. The medical units of Southern Command, like Dahan’s, work with Unit 669, the air force’s elite search-and-rescue unit that operates the helicopters. In most cases wounded here are evacuated to Soroka-University Medical Center in Beersheba. Dahan stresses that the intensive medics course her soldiers have undergone prepares them to use the latest technology and that they are trained to deal with wounded in the field by themselves. IDF soldiers are issued with their own combat application tourniquet, a band that can be applied to a leg or arm and cinched.“We also provide evacuation and emergency medical aid to communities in the area,” says Dahan. “We have a great connection with the local communities that we protect.” In cases of seriously wounded people in traffic accidents, she notes that the army will coordinate with Magen David Adom, and provide assistance.As we awaited the arrival of the helicopter to bring back the “wounded” from the training, the medical team said they felt the exercise had gone well. It’s a diverse team connected to the Desert Reconnaissance Battalion of mostly Beduin soldiers who patrol the area around Kissufim. There is a Ukrainian oleh and doctor, an American and a Beduin in the group. The joke that it’s one of the few units to have a Jew, a Muslim and a Christian together.For Dahan, who has remained in the army after completing her conscript service and intends to stay for more years, the responsibility is meaningful.Others her age are working in hotels or as waitresses. She says, “Where else in the world would someone my age be doing this?” For some of the soldiers who are chosen to be “wounded” in the training, there is also a pay off. They get to ride in a helicopter.