Haifa Navy Base. It’s just another standard day in the #914 Patrol Boat Squad, where various types of weapons are laid out for inspection after having been thoroughly oiled and cleaned.
After inspection, all weapons are reassembled and mounted on to the “Dvora” class patrol boat #814 which, as goes with an old Navy tradition, has the un-complimenting name – “The Monsters”.
#814 is leaving the harbor with the Commander of the #914 Patrol Boat Squad – Captain Yishai Cohen. Cohen studied at the Kfar HaRoe Yeshiva High School before graduating from the Navy’s Academy. Cohen is overseeing the last preparations before we ship out.
Cohen will make sure his soldiers are qualified for the task they are assigned with on a daily basis – guarding Israel’s maritime border. The Dvora Class Patrol Boats are tasked with tracking all incoming ships to Israel’s ports and preventing infiltration by sea to Israel’s beaches.
The Commander of the boat, like the Commander of the squad, is a graduate of Israel’s Naval Academy in Haifa. There has been a steady growth of religious officers within the Naval units, a change that started a bit over a decade ago. Before that period it was extremely rare to find a religious soldier in the Israeli Navy, let alone an officer. As something of a paradox, while the amount of religious soldiers and officers have been increasing within the Navy’s ranks, the Navy has also been opening more and more positions to the possibility of service for female conscripts. Although this may seem like a recipe for disaster, it is actually proof of the IDF’s education towards tolerance.
The Dvora Patrol boat #814 leaves in tandem with another boat in order to commence this day’s exercise. Similar to the tradition in the US Navy, the Dvoras leave with music blaring and the crew in high spirits. We make our way to international waters to an area clear of the shipping lanes into Israel to begin our exercise. The crew prepares itself, and within minutes we are notified that one of the IAF’S Panther Helicopters is en route to evacuate a simulated injured soldier from the vessel. The soldiers have the stretcher prepared in minutes to be hoisted to the helicopter.
The SA 365 Eurocopter Panther helicopter (known in Hebrew as “Atalef” or bat) is the smallest in the IAF’s fleet, although it is piloted by IAF pilots and maintained by IAF personnel, its command structure falls under the command of the Israeli Navy.
The Panther moves in quickly, matching its speed to that of the Dvora, and within seconds the stretcher is lifted to the helicopter. After completing its task Captain Cohen approaches one of the soldiers for whom this is his first time performing this task and explains what needs to be improved for next time. “Next time” is 10 minutes later when the Panther returns for a second maneuver.
The soldiers of the Dvora have little time to rest, as after the Panther leaves they are notified that an IAF CH 53 Yasur is en-route to perform the same type of rescue exercise, with a slight difference: whereas the Panther is the IAF’s smallest helicopter, the CH-53 Yasur is the IAF’s largest helicopter, and as such it creates a much more challenging environment to work with.
The CH-53 Yasur performs its task a bit more cumbersomely than the Panther, but the job gets done quickly and efficiently just the same.
As the saying goes – there is no rest for the wicked and the soldiers are already setting up floating targets for simulating an enemy diver. The soldiers set up battle stations and perform a live fire drill.
As the sun sets the soldiers prepare for night ops. A head count is done and equipment is once again fastened and secured to the deck. Once again the helicopters return to do the same exercise at night, and after a couple of hours of hard work, the last helicopter exits back to the coast for home with us trailing behind it.
After a long day at sea one thing is very clear: miles from the border, somewhere in the middle of the ocean, far from sight, there are soldiers guarding us from a series of threats one can only imagine.