U.S. and Israeli soldiers embark on a joint humanitarian mission

It is no secret that the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) and the United States Armed Forces have a closer relationship today than ever. Common challenges brought about by rising Islamic radicalism around the world (most notably after 9/11) have brought us closer than before and Israel's long experience in combating terrorism is being drawn upon more than ever by our most important ally, the United States. 

American forces in Iraq and Afghanistan were trained in techniques and outfitted with equipment developed in Israel  from our battle-tested knowledge against guerilla warfare, roadside bombs, and suicide bombers. Common threats, first and foremost emanating from Iran and its rogue nuclear program, are another factor bringing the IDF and the U.S. Armed Forces closer yet. Joint training exercises are commonplace as Israeli commanders and soldiers learn from their American counterparts and vice versa. The two armies learn how to coordinate communications between them and how to cooperate in a future battle field that may require joint action. 

But not all cooperation between our two armies is in preparation for future conflicts. One of the more developed areas of cooperation between the IDF and the U.S. Armed Forces is in the growing field of humanitarian help. In this area, Israel has, sadly, accumulated much experience, gained in dealing with mass bombings and missile attacks against the civilian population. The IDF has immeasurable amounts of knowledge in search and rescue, in setting up field hospitals and in coordinating among various  first response  providers. The United States National Guard is the U.S. arm that handles similar mass casualty events, whether natural or man-made. With a growing demand for humanitarian aid in all four corners of the earth, Israeli military teams from the Homefront Command have been deployed to Haiti, Japan, Turkey and  elsewhere, gaining fame for their professionalism and rapid deployment. The Homefront Command has fine-tuned its modus operandi and developed best practices which are now gladly shared with the U.S. National Guard. 

It is in this context that a few weeks ago, 120 men and women from the U.S. National Guard arrived in Israel for a joint exercise ("United Front") conducted with 150 men and women from the IDF. 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 scenario for this third joint exercise was a massive earthquake that had brought down numerous buildings. According to the scenario, multiple victims were trapped under the rubble-some wounded and some dead. Together, the National Guard and the IDF soldiers practiced entering into the destroyed buildings and searching for survivors with state of the art equipment and specially trained dogs of the IDF's K-9 unit. Ambulances were called to the scene as was a team of ZAKA, voluntary emergency responders who assist in the recovery of casualties and which has received JUF support. The full-sized exercise pulled together all the different units and personnel who might be involved in a real event, whether in Israel, the United States, or around the world.

As is often the case invariably, this story has a JUF/Chicago connection:  Also present at the exercise were three U.S. generals as well as Chicago's own Colonel Alicia Tate-Nadeau, the Israel-based liaison officer for the U.S. National Guard. From the Israeli side, the host of the exercise was Major General Eyal Eisenberg, Commander of the Homefront Command. The two joined two dozen other IDF and Illinois National Guard officers two months ago at a working dinner hosted by JUF where this exercise was a key topic of conversation as was future collaborations.   

U.S. Ambassador and Illinois-native Dan Shapiro visited the training site and met the soldiers, expressing his deep appreciation for the cooperation between the two sides and telling the troops how impressed he was with their operation.  

The United States 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. This is the face of our military cooperation that is having a real and positive impact on thousands of lives all over the world. This is how the U.S. and Israel put their forces together for the benefit of all. 

Ofer Bavly is the director general of the JUF Israel Office.

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