A group of 120 men and women of the U.S. National Guard arrived in Israel for a joint exercise (“United Front”) with 150 men and women of the Israel Defense Forces on Tuesday. Together, these soldiers were not preparing an attack or getting ready for a top-secret operation; they were conducting one more exercise designed to learn from each other and prepare for humanitarian missions here and around the world.
The exercise was based around the scenario of a massive earthquake bringing down numerous buildings with multiple people trapped under the rubble – some wounded and some dead. All the different units and personnel who might be involved in a real emergency situation were called together. The National Guard soldiers and the IDF soldiers practiced entering into the destroyed buildings and searching for survivors using technology and specially trained dogs from the IDF’s K-9 unit. Ambulances were called to the scene as was a ZAKA rescue team to assist in the recovery of casualties.
This exercise comes on the heels of a visit from Israel’s Home Front Command to Chicago in March. The Israeli delegation toured training facilities of the Illinois National Guard and laid out plans for future collaboration between the two forces. That evening, they and other local security agency professionals were hosted for dinner at JUF headquarters.
The IDF has battle-tested experience in search and rescue operations. The Home Front Command has developed doctrines and tactics to handle these kinds of events, whether natural or man-made. The IDF is now keen to share these best practices with its American allies who, in turn, brought with them their own skillsets and expertise, which the IDF soldiers were eager to learn.
Also present at the exercise were three U.S. generals as well as Chicago’s own Colonel Alicia Tate-Nadeau, the liaison officer for the U.S. National Guard, based in Israel. From the Israeli side, the host of the exercise was Major General Eyal Eizenberg, Commander of the Home Front Command. U.S. Ambassador Dan Shapiro also visited the training site and met the soldiers.
The U.S. and Israel are constantly deepening the level of their military cooperation, which is at an unprecedented level. Today, they are working together in order to save lives and assist the needy after natural disasters and mass casualty events.
Ofer Bavly is the director of the Jewish United Fund/Jewish Federation of Metropolitan Chicago's Israel office.