IDF elite search and rescue unit reservists to hold conference on Thursday

The fourth Annual IsCREAM medical conference, organized by reservists from the elite 669 airborne rescue unit will discuss space medicine, pre-hospital triage and medical ethics.

A UNIT 669 soldier uses a rope to descend from a helicopter during a training exercise (photo credit: SHAY FINKELMAN)
A UNIT 669 soldier uses a rope to descend from a helicopter during a training exercise
(photo credit: SHAY FINKELMAN)

The fourth annual international medical conference (IsCream) focusing on combat airborne evacuation and treatment is set to take place Thursday in Rishon Lezion.

The day-long conference will present an overview of medical studies that are expected to take place on an upcoming flight to space in which Israeli astronaut Eytan Stibbe will be part, as well as discuss the medical challenges of flying to space.

The conference at the College of Management will also be filled with speeches and discussions on pre-hospital medicine, pre-hospital medical management and interaction between different rescue bodies.

The ethics of dealing with mass-casualty incidents in which enemy forces are also wounded will be discussed at the conference, led by Prof. Asa Kasher, the author of the IDF’s code of ethics. The talk will look at the 2010 Mavi Marmara incident. Two doctors who served in the IDF’s 669 airborne rescue unit and took part in the raid on the Gaza blockade-breaking ship will also participate in the discussion.

“There’s a lot of experience by alumni,” said Dr. Gil Hirschhorn, Deputy Director at HaEmek Medical Center and former Israel Air Force Medical Corps Commander.

The unique conference will allow participants to share their knowledge and learn from 669 veterans.

Hirschhorn, who is the Conference Chairman, told The Jerusalem Post that the conference was not held last year due to the coronavirus pandemic, and most participants were busy treating those who had caught the virus.

With the fears of a fourth virus wave subsiding, the conference will also discuss medical technology that was developed to help health professionals during the pandemic, such as monitoring patients from afar.

Hirschhorn said that 350 people are expected to take part in the conference, including IDF officers, medical students in the military, reservists from the unit, and representatives from numerous rescue services in Israel, like Magen David Adom, United Hatzalah and others.

“One of the points of the conference is to have people mingle, and participants haven’t met for two years. Now that the fourth wave is over, we can hold the conference knowing that people will be safe and able to meet.”

The conference is put on by the “Cat” alumni association which works as a link between all of the unit veterans in order to maximize the impact of human capital embodied in them for the better good of themselves, the unit, and society.

The nonprofit alumni association teaches courses to train Israelis in the proper procedures for medical emergencies, both while traveling in Israel or abroad. It works to raise the motivation for a meaningful service among Israeli youth and to honor the unit’s fallen soldiers.

Unit 669, the IDF’s elite Airborne Combat, Search and Rescue force, is one of the four special forces of the IDF with only 30 graduating from the 18-month course out of 1,200 initial candidates. During the course, soldiers are trained in combat medicine, parachuting, scuba diving, counter-terrorism, rappelling, rescue under harsh conditions, navigation, and the commanders’ course. Soldiers in Unit 669 sign on for an extra 16 months of service in addition to their mandatory 30 months.

In the 40 years since the unit was formed, it has rescued over 10,000 people in Israel and abroad, receiving several IDF Chief of Staff commendations for their work.

Formed in 1974 following the Yom Kippur War, and initially charged with extracting Israeli pilots who were shot down in enemy territory, it later began undertaking rescue missions of Special Force soldiers as well as injured or stranded Israelis at home and abroad.