A year and a half after they began their journey in SAR (Search-and-Rescue) Unit 669, last week, the latest class of special operators completed their training and received the coveted winged black cat insignia. Here is a special peek into the unit’s activity in the present and future

Eitam Almadon

Last week, a new generation of CSAR (Combat Search-and-Rescue) Operators joined the IAF upon completion of a grueling 18 month long training period. The fresh graduates began their journey with basic infantry training in the Paratroopers Brigade training base, followed by a Special Forces medics’ course. They also completed a unit specific basic training period and commanders course, and as part of their training rehearsed rope rescue, free diving, a week-long escape exercise, a parachute course and a counterterrorism training course. In addition, the new “cats” participated in many SAR training exercises that included complex scenarios such as night extractions, extraction under fire and ASR (Air-sea Rescue), all of which were performed from “Yanshuf” (Black-hawk) and “Yas’ur” (CH-53) helicopters.

Maj. Dror, Deputy Commander of SAR Unit 669, closely observed the operators throughout their training period. “The training period the operators underwent was adapted to changes the unit has underwent in the past 18 months which include a renewed examination of our challenges, enemy and technology and a comprehensive process of strengthening the unit’s capabilities”, he said. “One of the outcomes of this process is an examination of our training period while regarding the shortened service period and the changing challenges which make our missions different”.

A Rare Peek into SAR Unit 669

Photography: SAR Unit 669

Alone in the Field
When I ask Maj. Dror what he looks for in a 669 Operator, he answers without hesitation. “First and foremost, I look for warriors, with all that that implies, it requires mental and physical strength. We also require self-confidence and a feeling that they can deal with any situation. When they are scrambled to a mission it means that every other option has failed and that they will have to solve the problem no matter how complex it is. I look for a composure that will allow them to deal with situations that require a swift transition from calmness to preparedness. In addition, our operators are required to maintain a very high professional and technical level. Everyone has to be at the same level of professionalism and technical proficiency. A 669 operator will always be alone in the field”.

A Rare Peek into SAR Unit 669

Photography: SAR Unit 669

A new Capability: A Vehicular Evacuation Division
The number of missions the unit performs has remained relatively fixed in the past few years and its operators are scrambled to rescue missions about once or twice a week. A significant rise has been noted in the unit’s involvement in the “war between wars”. “The unit is involved in about 80 operations a year on the ground, in the air, or over the sea”.

The unit is currently undergoing a significant change, and a visit to its base exposes new operational capabilities: the unit has decided to establish a vehicular evacuation division in cooperation with an IDF unit, which specializes in operational precision off-road driving and day and night navigation.

The Unit has established SAR teams which allow quiet and operational activity, with the ability to penetrate areas under fire. Each crew joins ground combat forces and assists them with medical attention, extractions and arrival to evacuation helicopters. By doing so, the unit shortens the amount of time injured personnel spend in the field and shorten the amount of time it takes to get to a hospital. “One of our conclusions from a long line of rescue missions from urban combat zones is to spend a minimal amount of time on the ground. In a real rescue mission every second counts and could lead to a helicopter taking fire”, shared Maj. Dror.

A Rare Peek into SAR Unit 669

Photography: SAR Unit 669

Jumping to the Rescue
Another field the unit is expanding its activity in is the sea: it is developing ASR capabilities adapted to gas rigs positioned far from the shore and is also working in close cooperation with the Navy’s flotillas. In the past two years the unit has developed the ability to dive into the water from the “Yas’ur” (CH-53) Helicopter without a cable, while decreasing the amount of time it takes to reach the rescuees in the water and expanding the number of SAR personnel on the scene. Simultaneously, the unit is preparing for naval PSAR (Pilot Search-and-Rescue) by acquiring parachuting capabilities from the “Karnaf” (C-130 Super Hercules). “The goal is for the operators to parachute from the aircraft to the rescuees and keep them alive until a helicopter arrives on scene”.

The unit is also involved in classified IDF operations beyond Israel’s borders and in development of combat and rescue capabilities in the underground arena. “Our most significant advantage is availability and the fact that we always arrive first to the scene, so we have to stay the most powerful force in the field. One of the basic dilemmas that every operator and young commander is faced with is issues of human life – should I try to rescue two people and risk losing them both or certainly save one at the price of giving up on the other”.

A Rare Peek into SAR Unit 669

Photography: SAR Unit 669