Rescuing At All Costs: Unit 669

The name 669, the search and rescue unit of the IAF, is a name synonymous with uncompromising professionalism. Nonetheless, the beginning of the unit was quite different and is the product of one of the most difficult times in IDF history: The Yom Kippur War
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In the period preceding the Yom Kippur War and even during the war itself, there was no Airborne Rescue and Evacuation unit (669), which is responsible for rescue missions in the IAF. The unit that was responsible for evacuations was comprised of evacuation teams from the airbases in Hatzor, Ramat-David, and the base of the unit was located in Tel Nof. Most of the rescue operations were conducted on Bell-205 helicopters that do not allow the loading of large numbers of injured people and evacuees.

Yom Kippur War: Thousands of Injured Soldiers within Days

Although the unit operated as part of the IAF, it was not specifically limited to rescuing pilots, like it is today. Improvisation of equipment and last minute organization were often respected in the rescue missions and operations the unit conducted. The atmosphere, the size of the unit, and the resources allocated, were all a result of the general feeling that prevailed in the IDF and in the country in general between the Six Day War and the Yom Kippur War: No pressure was felt to develop an orderly military doctrine in the evacuation unit, no time was dedicated for specific training and there was no development of equipment designed for total war, during which a situation in which the evacuation of thousands of injured soldiers in the space of a few days may arise, as indeed happened during the Yom Kippur War.

After the three intense weeks of war, the commander of the unit and his men began to understand what happened to them and in terms of unit activity in the wild. The conclusions drawn were, for the most part, quite gloomy, especially concerning combat doctrine, the resources and the nature of the activities of the unit. The issue was strongly highlighted by the fact that the unit evacuated over 5,000 injured soldiers during the war, all done with the use of resources that often proved inadequate, to say the least.

A Fighter and a Gentleman

These aspects, along with others, almost immediately brought about the firm conclusion that there was a need to establish a unit which would be an operational and airborne rescue unit, with designated rescue equipment and a designated track for combat soldiers. The conclusion was that the combat soldier in the unit had to be an expert, both on the medical side and regarding different aspects of warfare, from diving to combat, and of course, all things related to rescue and evacuation.

During the building process of the Unit 669, a few key lessons were implanted and were learned during the Yom Kippur War, when the first and main lesson was the superiority of aerial evacuation over all other forms of evacuation, especially when it comes to saving a life.

Source / Author: IAF