LATHAM, New York – Major General Ori Gordin, the head of Israel's Home Front Command, shared lessons learned from the COIVID-19 pandemic and Israel's 11-day fight with Hamas during a day-long visit with New York National Guard leaders on June 28.
The New York National Guard, in turn, facilitated a meeting with New York City emergency managers and provided a look at the latest communication technology and mobile chemical and biological materials analysis lab employed by the New York National Guard's Weapons of Mass Destruction Civil Support Teams.
The visit was the latest exchange in a two-way relationship between the New York National Guard and the Israeli Defense Forces initiated in 2006.
The New York National Guard and Home Front Command formalized the relationship in 2019 with a bilateral security cooperation agreement.
"It's good to interact with our counterparts to build relationships," said New York Army National Guard Sgt. 1st Class Ty Lesane, communications team chief of the 24th Civil Support Team.
Gordin said a common thread between Israel's Home Front Command and the New York National Guard is the necessity to be ready and responsive when incidents hit.
Home Front Command is Israel's disaster response and civil defense force.
"When war or a large operation begins, the head of civil defense authority sets the rules for what is permitted all over Israel," Gordin said, "from schools to hospitals to public transportation. And that authority is me."
It is a very different approach compared to how the National Guard conducts its efforts in the states. Major General Ray Shields, the Adjutant General of New York, explained to the Israelis.
In the United States, civilian authorities take the lead, and the National Guard and other military entities support them.
"We utilize the skills from our federal mission, the warfight, for civil support operations," Shields said. During National Guard missions, forces are always under the direction and control of civil authorities, he emphasized.
The stark differences in authorities between the National Guard and Home Front Command are less visible to the communities we serve, Gordin said. When the public sees a uniform, they know help has arrived.
"Our missions are quite different. But our capabilities are quite similar," Gordin said. "There are a lot of things we can learn from one another."
Gordin's day began at Brooklyn headquarters of the New York City Emergency Management Department, where he spoke to city officials.
He met with members of the 24th Civil Support Team at their Fort Hamilton headquarters, where he got a look at the communications and mobile lab systems used by the team.
"The Israelis were interested and impressed in our radio interoperability capabilities," Lesane said. "The CST and Home Front Command have similar missions. They were interested in bringing back the information to improve their capabilities."
Gordin and his team then flew to the New York National Guard's headquarters outside Albany to meet with Shields and joint staff members.
Home Front Command is unique, Gordin explained, because its service members train and serve specifically for support to civil authorities for disaster response or civil defense. They lead Israeli efforts to coordinate first responders, medical aid and public education.
Home Front Command also operates search-and-rescue missions in Israel and worldwide, whether from terror attacks or natural disasters.
For example, ten Israeli search-and-rescue specialists from Home Front Command deployed to Miami Beach, Florida, to assist in operations at the beachfront condo that collapsed there on June 24.
Home Front Command has 26 geographically aligned rescue battalions, 13 chemical and biological warfare defense battalions, 14 military hospitals, eight light infantry battalions and six logistic units manned by reservists.
During the pandemic response, Home Front Command supported the Israeli Ministry of Health. The missions were similar to those undertaken by the National Guard: testing, warehousing medical supplies and vaccinations.
Israeli Defense Force Lt. Col. Hai Rekah visited New York in July 2020 to learn from New York National Guard COVID-19 missions.
The better the two understand each other, the more effective and efficient they can be to save lives, said Army National Guard Maj. Guy Casarella, the 24th CST Science Officer.
"These joint opportunities are important," Casarella said. "As warfighters, we can work in the same fashion and learn how each other does things, which will make us both better at countering terrorism."
The opportunities for sharing best practices and learning from each other through bilateral exchanges in the coming year will benefit both organizations, Shields said.
"When the National Guard Bureau asked us about the bilateral agreement, we jumped at the opportunity," Shields said, "and we hope to travel to Israel to spend more time learning together."
"Sooner than later, I hope," Gordin said with a smile.