Veterans of IDF search and rescue unit take battle of saving lives to the street

Alum of Israel’s elite Unit 669 unit heed the call to serve and train civilians around the world to take practical, immediate steps in emergency situations

By EMILY BENEDEK31 January 2019

Bar Reuven was in the subway in Brooklyn when he saw someone collapse on the platform. The 29-year-old Israeli moved instantly toward the trouble. He knelt beside the young woman, made sure she could breathe, and performed a quick medical check. He shouted to a bystander to call 911, but was surprised to see most people eager to walk — or run — away.

“After the medics came and took her to the hospital, I got back on the train, and people clapped for me,” Reuven said, shaking his head. “Like I was a hero. But all I did was respond. And I realized how many people are afraid to help because they don’t know what to do.”

Reuven knew what to do because he happens to be a former team leader of one of Israel’s most elite forces, Unit 669, the Combat Search and Rescue Special Operations group of the Israeli Air Force, where he spent five years.

Because the unit’s primary responsibility is the rescue of Israeli pilots behind enemy lines, every operator is not only a warrior, but also a combat medic. The soldiers of 669 are trained within an inch of their lives to fight their way toward the most valuable of prizes: a downed pilot and his or her plane. They may also have to fight their way out — all while administering medical care.

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