7 Medical Battalion Group

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7 Medical Battalion Group
7 Med Bn Gp Flash plus Logo.jpg
Country South Africa South Africa
Branch South African Military Health Service
Type Special Operations
Role Airborne Search and Rescue, Medical Evacuation, Chemical and Biological Warfare, Diving medicine, Aviation medicine, Special Operations, Close Protection
Garrison/HQ Lyttelton, Centurion[1]
Motto "Audacissimos Servamus" Serving the bravest
Commanders
Current
commander
CJ Blunden
Notable
commanders
Doctor Wouter Basson

7 Medical Battalion Group is the specialist Airborne Medical Battalion of the South African Military Health Service. The Battalion's main task is to render medical support to the South African Special and Airborne Forces.

Other specialties of the Battalion include High-angle rescue, CBRNE detection, verification and decontamination, Diving and Aviation medicine and other skills associated in supporting Special Forces.[1]

Little is publicly known of this elite medical unit because of its involvement with the infamous Chemical and Biological Warfare program of the then South African Defense Force (SADF) during the 1980s and early 1990s as well as its involvement in South African Special Forces operations during the Angolan-Bush War. The battalion group's founder Commandant Wouter Basson led the research for the Chemical and Biological Warfare program.[2]

Other tasks of the battalion include but are not limited to medical support to the South African Police Service Special Task Force and other elite units, the South African Air Force's Search and Rescue units and the Presidential Protection Unit.

The unit is on a general six-hour standby and is ready to deploy nationally and internationally, most recently in advisory and support roles during natural disasters.

The unit retains a limited Defensive Chemical Biological warfare (CBRNE) capability.

History[edit]

7 Med Operator lands after freefall demonstration jump

In the early 1980s the South African Reconnaissance Commandos (now the South African Special Forces Brigade) identified the need for a special medical unit to support Special Forces on operations and the Detachment Medical Special Operations was formed. Under command of the Surgeon General, a group of 9 doctors with Commandant Wouter Basson at the head, founded what would later become 7 Medical Battalion Group at Special Forces Brigade Headquarters (Speskop) south of Pretoria in 1984.[citation needed] The Battalion officially received its Unit flag and Colours on 14 April 1987 when it was named 7 Medical Battalion Group and incorporated into the South African Medical Service (now the South African Military Health Service). The year 1987 is considered the unit's birth year although the exact date is unknown.

The first group of doctors and medics completed the full Special Forces training cycle, or were already Special Forces operators.

In its early days unit members were involved in clandestine operations working closely with Special Forces, the Parachute Battalions supporting UNITA and the infamous Project Coast.

The need for specially trained medics and doctors to support the Airborne units (Parabats) and the Recces increased as the Angolan Bush War intensified. The Battalion Group eventually started doing its own training as required by the Reconnaissance and Airborne units. The training cycle produced an Operational Medic or Operational Doctor who was fully trained and equipped to accompany and support Airborne or Special Forces during operations.

As the Unit expanded, the need for a bigger facility arose and the Battalion was moved to Lyttelton, Centurion where it currently shares the premises with the Institute For Aviation Medicine (IAM).

The Battalion consists of a HQ wing, Training wing, Quick Reaction wing, Chemical Biological Warfare Defence wing and 4 Satellite Units at Special Forces Regiments and the Parachute Regiment.

Operations and deployments[edit]

1980s to 1994[edit]

Angolan Bush War[edit]

Very little is known of the involvement of 7 Med Bn Gp's operators during the Bush War. Special Forces operations post 1984 were supported by elements of 7 Med Bn Gp. The Battalion also supported the Parachute Battalions operating in Angola and on the South West Africa (Namibia) Border. 7 Med were involved in almost all major operations during the latter phases of the war. During Operation Modular, Operation Hooper and Operation Packer, 7 Med supported its various units of responsibility wherever they were deployed during the fighting. It is also claimed that 7 Med was involved in a chemical advisory (defensive) role during some operations. The details are limited.

During the Angolan Bush War a member of 7 Med was killed in action.[3] Corporal Bruce Andrew Fidler,[4] an operational medical support operator of 7 Med Bn Gp with Special Forces training, was killed in action in Angola on 15 September 1985. The details are sketchy but it is understood that Corporal Fidler supported a "clandestine" unit of the SADF most probably 1 Parachute Battalion, tasked to train UNITA. His unit was ambushed and he was subsequently captured and interrogated. Cpl Fidler was executed by the enemy after brutal interrogation. He never revealed the location of his nearby unit in spite of brutal interrogation at the hands of his captors enabling them (a 7 Med Bn Gp, surgical team of 5 to 10 doctors) to escape and evade capture. His remains were repatriated to South Africa in June 1992 and cremated precisely 7 years after his death on September 15 1992. Corporal Fidler was posthumously awarded the Honoris Crux Silver (only 27 were ever awarded) for his actions of bravery. Cpl Fidler's name appears on the roll of honour of both 1 Parachute Battalion and 7 Medical Battalion Group.

It is believed that 7 Medical Battalion Group supported UNITA and RENAMO and that injured members of these organizations were evacuated to South Africa in high secrecy for treatment at 1 Military Hospital in Pretoria.

Township violence pre-1994 elections[edit]

7 Medical Battalion Group supported the Parachute and other units during internal stability operations during the run up to the country's first democratic general elections in 1994.

MTS Oceanos rescue mission[edit]

On 4 August 1991 the MTS Oceanos, a Greek-owned cruise ship, sank of the coast of South Africa 10 km South of Coffee Bay. A 7 Medical Battalion Group medical doctor was attached to the rescue effort; all 571 passengers and crew on board were flown by South African Air Force helicopters to shore.

1994 to present[edit]

1998 Nairobi US embassy bombings[edit]

On 7 August 1998 a truck bomb outside the US Embassy in Nairobi, Kenya detonated killing 212 people and injuring approximately 4000 people. 7 Med deployed a team to evacuate and treat both US and local personnel working in the embassy. 2 Injured American Citizens were treated on site and later evacuated to South Africa.

Operation Boleas[edit]

Operation Boleas was a Southern African Development Community (SADC) sanctioned military operation led by South Africa to stabilize the country of Lesotho following a military coup d'état.[5] This operation came into effect at first light on 22 September 1998. 7 Medical Battalion Group (7 Med) deployed 15 to 20 Ops Medics, who were tasked to support almost the whole task force of approximately 700 troops, which included elements of 1 Special Service Battalion, 1 South African Infantry Battalion (Motorised), 1 Parachute Battalion, a pathfinder platoon of 44 Parachute Regiment and a battalion of the Botswana Defense Force.

Operation Boleas claimed the lives of two 7 Med members attached to the pathfinders who were killed during intense fighting at Katse Dam on 22 September 1998. Several members of 7 Med distinguished themselves during the initial invasion into Lesotho. In many cases the men of 7 Med were at the forefront of the action.

A member of the unit, Cpl Ewerhard Brits, was awarded the Medic Cross for actions of bravery at Mokanyane Base where 8 members of the Parachute Battalion were killed in action. The battle for Mokanyane base experienced some of the fiercest fighting in the whole conflict.

The operation lasted for 7 months, and with peace and order restored most of the specialist Ops Medics of 7 Med HQ returned to the unit within a month, to be replaced by medics from the Orange Free State Medical Command.

Operation Litchi[edit]

On 22 February 2000 Cyclone Eline devastated Mozambique[6] with approximately 800 people killed and 45000 left homeless. 7 Medical Battalion Group was immediately deployed to assist the South African Air Force contingent during rescue and the subsequent humanitarian relief operations. A member of the unit (Cpl. Nengovhela) made world news by performing a difficult rescue of a mother and her new born baby from a tree.

Northern Algeria earthquake[edit]

On 21 May 2003 a powerful earthquake which measured 6.7 on the Richter scale hit Northern Algeria. 7 Med deployed a team to assist the South African contingent both medically and to assist in the actual technical search and rescue efforts.

Antarctic support[edit]

The South African Department of Environmental Affairs maintains bases on Gough, Marion Island as well as Antarctica for environmental research purposes. Each year a research team is send to each of these bases. Until recently 7 Med Bn Gp supplied Ops Medics for these deployments of up to 15 months. On 22 November 1995, Pierre Venter, a 7 Med Ops medic, died during a "white out" when he was separated from a search party during a storm.

United Nations peacekeeping missions[edit]

In recent years the Battalion supported the South African National Defense Force throughout Africa in its role as a peacekeeping force. Recent deployments include Operation Fibre in Burundi and Operation Mistral in the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

Chemical Biological Warfare Wing[edit]

The Chemical Biological Warfare Wing is responsible for the training of SANDF as well as South African Police Service (SAPS) instructors in Chemical and Biological Defensive measures. Its other functions are to maintain a Detection and Verification capability and R&D whilst working closely with civilian contractors.

7 Med CBW Wing personnel were instrumental in the preparations for establishing an effective Detection and Decontamination capability for deployment during the recent Soccer World Cup. The 7 Med CBW Wing also assists the South African Government in its obligations to the Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC). It does so by providing training to members of African states in defense against Chemical Agents in cooperation with the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW).

Selection and training[edit]

7 Med Bn Gp insignia

Medical Support Operators Badge (Medic)
Medical Support Operators Badge (Doctor)

Candidates had to pass a pre-selection consisting of the South African Army fitness test and psychological tests before being allowed on the training cycle.

The training cycle of 7 Medical Battalion Group takes approximately a year to complete and in itself is the selection of the unit. No formal selection is conducted although during the parachute course; a rigorous 3-day selection must be passed in order to finish the Parachute Jump course and the 7 Medical Battalion Group training cycle. The parachute course normally concludes the basic training cycle, and the candidate are now after completion a fully-fledged Medical Support Operator and are awarded the coveted 7 Med Bn Gp Op's Badge to be worn on the right chest and the Parachute wings on the left. Only about 10% of all candidates who start the training cycle succeed. The 7 Medical Battalion Group Medical Support badge differs from the normal Operational Medics badge. The staff has been replaced by a Special Forces Commando dagger and indicates the Special Forces connection. Doctors do the whole training cycle with the exception of the medical phase before being awarded the 7 Med Bn Gp Doctor's badge with the Special Forces Commando dagger. Both badges were first issued in 1993, sadly just before the disbandment of the SADF and wasn't used during the Border War. If it was, it would have been a much more prestigious badge. Prior to 1993, 7 Med Operators were identified by the shoulder flashes and parachute wings-insignia. In some cases members of this unit were wearing the maroon beret of the Reconnaissance regiments and the Paratroopers as well as other insignia like stable belts and shoulder flashes of the units they were attached to.

The 7 Med Bn Gp Operators badge is also rewarded to members of Special Forces after completion of the medical phase presented by 7 Med.

Basic training cycle[edit]

  • Level 1-3 Basic Life Support
  • Level 5 Advanced Life Support during this phase the candidate learns the skills of the Operational Medical Orderly more commonly known as the Ops Medic. Their skills include, venous cutdowns, inserting intercostal drains, establishing intravenous drips, intubation, etc.
  • Diving Medicine
  • Driving and Maintenance: during this phase the candidate learns how to operate military vehicles including the Mfezi Ambulance
  • Advanced Battle Training: During this phase the candidate learn infantry section drills, ambushes, foreign weapons, and all the tactics associated with the Special and Airborne forces.
  • Survival
  • KOLOT: on this course candidates are taught how to develop and present lectures. This will later be necessary as members of 7 Med are required to present various classes i.e. emergency medicine to Special Forces members and other clients. During the bush war 7 Med were successfully training UNITA and other groups in emergency medical procedures.
  • High Angle Rescue (Rope Work): During this phase the candidate learns how to fast rope and rappel from helicopters, rope withdrawal (hot extraction), combat climbing techniques etc.
  • SWAT: Special Weapons Ammunition and Techniques also known as Urban Survival, presented by the South African Police Service.
  • Chemical and Biological Warfare Instructor course.
  • Parachute Course: Static Line Military Parachute course presented by 44 Parachute Regiment. 7 Medical Battalion Group generally has an extremely high pass rate during the parachute selection held at 44 Parachute Brigade. This is due to the stringent pre-selection of candidates and the physical training program. Candidates who do not pass the Battery test (stringent physical fitness evaluation) at 7 Med will not be allowed on parachute selection.

Advanced training[edit]

  • Free Fall.
  • HALO/HAHO.
  • Close Protection course.
  • Combat Search and Rescue and Advanced High angle Rescue.
  • CBW Cell (advisor) course.
  • Advanced Bomb Disposal (EOD).
  • Diving Chamber Operator course.
  • Aviation Medicine.
  • Heavy/squad Weapons.
  • Foreign Weapons.

Light and heavy vehicle rescue Members of this unit are accepted on Special Forces courses i.e. Small Boats etc. as well as Airborne Courses i.e. Airborne Battle Handling. Disaster Management Airborne Battle Handling

Equipment[edit]

Air Droppable Surgical Post/Resuscitation post[edit]

Jakkals Jeep

The Unit developed an air-droppable surgical post/resuscitation post. The post is air dropped by parachute or air landed by helicopter or heavy lift aircraft. In the photo a Jakkals Jeep is shown packed ready for airdrop similarly to the packed Surgical post. The Jakkals was used until recently when it was replaced by the Gecko.

The Battalion is capable of erecting a fully functional operating theatre within minutes and can receive patients from the battlefield within an hour. At the post priority patients are stabilized prior to evacuation down the evacuation line.

Members of the battalion are encouraged to do the tandem parachute course to enable non-parachute qualified personnel like medical specialists from the SAMHS to be tandem-parachuted in if necessary.

Weapons[edit]

Weaponry depend on the type of operation, normally a member will be armed with an R5 or R4 assault rifle and sometimes with a side arm as well (9mm Baretta). It is not uncommon that the member will be issued the same weapons as the unit he supports. Depending on the situation, these weapons can be either specialist or foreign in origin.

Medical Bags[edit]

The Unit developed jump ready medical bags that can be attached to a parachute harness enabling the member to parachute with the medical equipment. The bags are packed to support a section of paratroopers for 72 hours. South African air assault operations are planned to be self sufficient for 72 hours before resupply and/or link up with a larger force.

Vehicles[edit]

Mfezi Ambulance

Mfezi Ambulance the Mfezi is the workhorse of all Operational Medics and the men from 7 Med also use the 17 ton armoured ambulance during operations.

Jakkals Jeep[edit]

The Jakkals Jeep used by the Airborne forces on the battlefield/Landing Zones is used by 7 Med to transport heavy equipment like the Surgical post, casualties and other equipment around the landing zones. The Jakkals was replaced by the Gecko in 2003.[7]

Equipment used by the Chemical Biological Wing[edit]

The Chemical Biological wing developed an armored and mine protected field laboratory with CW filtered overpressure systems. Originally named Okapi MPV and later Sea Legs the vehicle was based on a fire control and communications platform. Later advanced chemical detection systems were trialed in the vehicle but eventually it was abandoned due to cost and a shift in doctrine.

Specialist detection and decontamination equipment that can be mounted on commercial-type vehicles were later successfully developed and adopted. It is rumored that some systems developed by 7 Med for mass personnel decontamination can be deployed fully functional in less than 10 minutes.

Satellite units[edit]

The Battalion has satellite units of section sized medical teams permanently detached to the Special Forces and Parachute Regiments tasked to render medical support on a permanent basis to the attached regiment or unit. Members of the battalion rotate between the units although some members choose to permanently get stationed at one of the regiments or units.

  • 44 Medical Task Group
    Based at 44 Parachute Brigade (South Africa) now 44 Para Regiment, Tempe, Bloemfontein, Free State.
  • 4 Special Forces Medical Platoon
    Based at 4 Special Forces Regiment, Langebaan, Western Cape.
  • 5 Special Forces Medical Platoon
    Based at 5 Special Forces Regiment, Phalaborwa, Limpopo Province.
  • PMU Presidential Medical Unit
    7 Med Bn Gp took over command from Northern Medical Command in support of the Presidential protection unit PPU briefly before the establishment of the Presidential Medical Unit.
  • 1 Special Forces Regiment (1 Reconnaissance Commando) medical platoon
    Disbanded in 1996 with the disbandment of 1 SFR

See also[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ a b "7 Medical Battalion Group - a unique unit". The South African Soldier. 3 (Department of Defence (South Africa)) 15: 38–39. 2008. ISSN 1609-5014. Retrieved 21 June 2011. 
  2. ^ "The South African Chemical and Biological Warfare Programme". Centre for Conflict Resolution. 13 November 2000. Retrieved 21 June 2011. 
  3. ^ Whittle M 2006 Journal OPS MEDIC -Operational Medical Orderlies During The Border War
  4. ^ http://www.justdone.co.za/ROH/main.php?page=View_Person&PersonNumber=456
  5. ^ "SA gehaat na Lesotho inval". Die Burger (in Afrikaans). 23 September 1998. Archived from the original on 3 July 2011. Retrieved 21 June 2011. 
  6. ^ "Appeal for Mozambique flood victims". BBC. 29 February 2000. Archived from the original on 20 July 2011. Retrieved 21 June 2011. 
  7. ^ http://articles.janes.com/articles/Janes-Military-Vehicles-and-Logistics/Jakkals-4-x-4-lightweight-airborne-vehicle-South-Africa.html

Further reading[edit]

  • Pitta R & J Fannell 1993 South African Special Forces (c) 1993 Osprey Publishing Ltd. Osprey
  • South African Defence Force Heraldy Documents 7 Medical Battalion Group Colours and Insignia