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"Sky Angels" – Insider's Look Release date 22.11.2018
For two weeks, SAR (Search-and-Rescue) crews from all around the world drilled a wide variety of scenarios in Israel, including medevac and urban warfare. An IAF Site reporter joined "Sky Angels" 2018, one of the world's largest SAR exercises, and saw how combatants are trained to save lives
Carmel Stern | Photography: Noam Nachum

It is a quiet afternoon in November. Green meadows surround an abandoned building lined with graffiti written in Arabic. The silence is broken by a noise growing louder, coming towards us: two "Yanshuf" (Black Hawk) helicopters suddenly arrive and land in the green, dust and sand flying all around them.


This is how "Sky Angels" commenced – an international medical exercise led by IAF SAR (Search-and-Rescue) Unit 669 with the participation of representatives from several international militaries. Two teams disembark from the helicopter and approach the abandoned building, the combatants covering each other as they go. They are simulating a scenario in which a friendly force which took over an outpost in enemy territory has been attacked and captured, and the combatants arrive for an extraction.

In Enemy Territory
The feeling on the ground is just like being in an actual battlefield. After the extracting forces disembark, the helicopters take off and vanish into the distance. The combatants quietly make their way to the outpost, speaking in simple English – when soldiers from so many countries are required to work together, it's imperative that each one knows what is happening at any given moment.

Italian, Croatian, Czech, American and Israeli combatants advance together when they are suddenly attacked by a hostile force which remained in the field. While the combatants manage to overcome the hostile force, one of them is hit. At the outpost they encounter wounded Israeli soldiers and immediately begin to treat them. "How old are you?", one combatant asks a wounded soldier. "Twenty", he says, weakly. "Can you hear me? Do you understand me?", he asks while treating the other's wounds.

Another combatant notices a soldier lying on the ground on the other side of the building, waiting for emergency care. She has lost a lot of blood and is in critical condition. He treats her and gives her a blood transfusion. The rest of the crew goes up to the top floor and searches for additional forces. The event only lasts several minutes, but it feels like hours. While treating the casualties in the outpost, the combatants also treat their crewmate who was hit by enemy fire. Minutes later, the crew leaves the outpost carrying stretchers, quickly advancing towards the helicopter's rendezvous point - the helicopters arrive and the crews take off towards Israel.

"An IED exploded on the fence"
The "Sky Angels" exercise, held over the past two weeks, included various scenarios related to SAR Unit 669's unique capabilities: combat extraction during warfare, urban warfare extraction, advanced operational medicine and mass-casualty incidents, among others. The participants also performed various drills in SAR Unit 669's training complex, including Krav Maga operational techniques, a unique Israeli capability.

Shortly after the Krav Maga drills, a highway car crash which left two casualties unconscious was simulated. The extraction crews arrived and smashed the car's hood in order to prevent its explosion. Smashing windows, removing doors and safely extracting the casualties may be taken for granted during an operational event, but in order to perform them properly the crews are required to train often. In addition, the crews also drilled rope scenarios and performed an advanced medical exercise.

"An IED exploded on the fence and Israeli soldiers were hit. A 'Yas'ur' (CH-53) helicopter was scrambled with SAR and medical crews onboard", said the combatant in charge of the medical exercise. "We give first aid in the field, put the casualties in the helicopter and continued treatment en route to the hospital". Loud explosions and a major commotion are heard in the background while smoke fills the air and the combatants extract the simulated casualties from the training vehicles. They run around from A to B, but it's clear that each one knows exactly what they have to do.

A varied, high-quality, realistic exercise is critical. Nevertheless, the exercise commanders know that the internationality of the exercise is also significant. "I consider the 'Sky Angels' exercise an incredibly significant event for the unit in terms of learning, but the main added value is holding an international exercise with a large amount of countries. It is our opportunity to showcase the IAF's professionalism, advantages and the quality of its service members", said Lt. Col. A'. "It brings me great pride to see Israel host so many countries. Not many countries have held an extraction exercise of this sort and the fact that we have indicates the strength of the IAF and SAR Unit 669 in particular".