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November 22, 2014 / 29 Heshvan, 5775
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IDF, ZAKA and US Army Conduct Joint Search and Rescue Exercises

Joint Search and Rescue exercise

Joint Search and Rescue exercise
Photo Credit: Oded Lapid/Tazpit News Agency

Indiana National Guard Soldiers with the 19th CERFP (CBRNE [Chemical, Biological, Radiological, Nuclear and Enhanced Conventional Weapons] Enhanced Response Force Package), soldiers and marines who specialize in disaster response, the IDF’s Search and Rescue Unit, part of the Home Front Command, and ZAKA (the Hebrew acronym for Disaster Victim Identification) participated in a joint training exercise, which focused on international collaboration in dealing with mass destruction events. These events may be the result of an earthquake or the falling of missiles, both of which require search and rescue missions. One hundred and twenty participants from all units trained for two days, recovering hundreds of “live” and “dead” dummies which were buried among the ruins on the campus grounds at the Jerusalem College of Engineering. The training entailed the use of advanced technology, search dogs from the IDF’s Oketz canine unit, and the practice of strategic cooperation under pressure.

The IDF and ZAKA have been holding joint exercises with the National Guard for several years. These operations are conducted primarily with the objective of sharing techniques and professional knowledge, and creating a better work dynamic between American and Israeli forces. In the event of a massive missile attack on Israel or a destructive earthquake, the Israeli Home Front Command will not be able to cope on its own, and the American Military SAR units will be called in to assist with rescue efforts. The training is conducted with these potential events in mind.

The Indiana National guard said that as part of a small-unit exchange, soldiers with the Indiana National Guard’s 19th CERFP trained alongside the Israelis to learn their search-and-extraction methods, garnered from multiple real-world events. The members of the National Guard took a tour of Jerusalem prior to the training, learning the history of the city.

ZAKA, established in 1995, is a non-governmental lifesaving, rescue and recovery unit, a volunteer based organization with about 1,500 members. ZAKA has an international division which cooperates with law enforcement, military and emergency services across the globe. They participated in rescue missions after the tsunami in Thailand, the Columbia shuttle crash, Hurricane Katrina, and recently, the earthquake in Japan. ZAKA specializes in the identification of victims of disasters, and held a special briefing for the American forces, explaining the fundamentals of Jewish law in regard to recovery and burial of victims. “We explained to the Americans that each victim is treated in accordance with his religion,” said Chaim Otmazgin, commander of ZAKA’s special units. “We are guided by the principles of respecting each individual, even after his death, without regard to his or her race, gender or nationality.” Matti Goldstein, spokesman for ZAKA’s international division, told Tazpit, “I welcome the opportunity for commanders and members of these units to participate in such a large scale exercise. It enhances the operational level immeasurably.” The Americans shared some of their identification and registration procedures with ZAKA.

The Home Front Command has been conducting a variety of exercises in the past months on the JCE campus, which has been declared a partially-closed military zone. The exercises are conducted over an area of about 4,000 square meters, among the ruins of old dorms which have been torn down with the intent of building a new campus. Deputy College President and CEO, Shlomzion Lulu, said that she was glad to facilitate these exercises on the JCE campus, providing these lifesaving units with an opportunity to further improve their skills. During the exercise, JCE students presented refreshments to the training soldiers.

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