Female reservists from the Sky Rider drone unit were the eye in the sky for the 13th Battalion in one of the major battles of the ground incursion into Gaza and helped the soldiers on the ground destroy the enemy and emerge unscathed.
“Covering fire for evacuation, covering fire for evacuation, Golani’s 13th Battalion commander, the late Lt. Col. Tomer Grinberg, called out on the radio. Female soldiers from the “Sky Rider” unit, who were watching his sector from above, heard the call and immediately went into action. For more than two hours, they escorted the battalion as it entered the Gaza Strip, guarding it from enemy fire. They saw from above how the terrorists tried to get close to the battalion’s Namer APCs and how, thanks to the orders and direction they gave to the forces on the ground, the terrorists retreated under fire. They are four young women, reserve soldiers, who were the eyes and shields of the fighting forces in the field.
The four female soldiers, members of the Gaon squad, went to sleep after the battle burdened with the fear that the fire they had directed had caused losses to our forces. Only in the morning did they discover that thanks to their directions, the soldiers of Golani’s 13th Battalion emerged from the fierce battle almost unscathed. The members of the squad proved once again that at the moment of truth, nobody beats the female combat soldiers.
“It was obvious to me that we would be called up, but still the attitude toward female soldiers in this war has surprised me,” says Staff Sergeant R., a member of the squad. On October 7, she started making calls requesting to be drafted into reserve duty. Two days later, she was already down south. “I was surprised they took us south and that some of the female combat soldiers entered the Gaza Strip. We thought that first, they would only bring in squads of boys, but the girls have been here throughout this war. And the fact that we were able the job in the best way possible just goes to show that we can do anything.”
Three of the crew members are A. and R., 23 years old, and S., who is 24. The Sky Rider unit they were called up to is an elite unit belonging to the 215th Artillery Brigade. Their role is critical. Using an unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV), the Sky Rider unit is responsible for providing an up-to-date picture of the situation and visual intelligence to forces maneuvering on the ground. Depending on the situation, they are responsible for dispatching combat helicopters or sending in additional forces to protect them.
Another set of eyes
“In practice, we are another pair of eyes in the field and help identify the enemy from afar,” says the girls’ commander, Lieutenant S.T. On November 1, they set out for what appeared to be a routine intelligence-gathering mission with Golani’s 13th Battalion. They positioned themselves on a high hill overlooking open ground and did not expect to spot such a large enemy force. “We knew the battalion from preparations for the maneuver,” continues S.T., “I personally spoke quite a few times with the late battalion commander Tomer during preparations for the incursion into Gaza. Tomer was different from other battalion commanders. You could see it in his fighting spirit and in the way he saw the soldiers on the ground. He came out unscathed from that battle. It really hurt me to hear that about a month later he was killed.”
“When Tomer radioed that fire was being directed at our forces, the girls went into high gear. “From our position, we saw with the drone heavy fire directed at our forces’ vehicles.” S.T. recounts the incident. “It was a complicated situation. At first, the battalion was ordered not to leave the vehicles to keep the soldiers safe. They were traveling with hatches and turrets closed, and they had no way of knowing what was going on outside the APCs. So, the fact that we were there with the battalion was critical for them.”
The Gaon squad didn’t take their eyes (in the sky) off the ground for a moment. Minute by minute, they managed to direct combat helicopters, as well as gun and mortar fire to the site of the battle.
Sergeant S. was not expecting an encounter on that scale. She has long fair hair and bright eyes. She understood just how important she was and the soldiers’ calls for artillery support still echoed in her head. “Suddenly, we saw an insane amount of fire directed at our soldiers.
These are soldiers we were with in preparation for battle, people we know; we’re directing the troops and the helicopter and hoping that our directing fire is really helping our forces, but we have no idea how the incident will end.”
Staff Sergeant A recalls how she saw an explosion right next to one of the tanks. She gathers her dark hair into a high ponytail and stands to attention. She knew they were coming to fight, but she didn’t realize how dangerous the situation could be. “I think it was only then that I realized the magnitude of the event.
Because we didn’t know if the explosion was from the chopper we had called in, in which case it was helping our soldiers, or whether it was enemy fire. Then you hear over the radio that it’s anti-tank fire, and you have to act straight way and direct a response.”
“The terrorists were so close that it looked like they wanted to place IEDs on the vehicles. But the fire we directed at them managed to drive them away. And as soon as S.T. got on the radio, everyone went quiet, because they understood that her report could save their lives. It’s an amazing feeling to see a tank moving in the right direction thanks to our reporting and then firing a shell that pushes the terrorists away. That’s why I volunteered for this position. Just for that moment.”
R told us: “At one point, there was so much shelling, both fired by the battalion and at the battalion that it was crazy. As a force we view events from above, we can’t say whether our forces have been hit. It was only when we heard the call to ‘hold your fire’ over the radio that we realized the engagement was probably over.”
After about two hours of intense combat, during which the soldiers deployed external fire elements such as mortars fired by a company in a defensive block or missile from the helicopter, the area fell silent. The battalion was no longer reporting that it was under fire; the enemy was no longer visible on the ground. The soldiers of the Gaon squad ended with a bad feeling. For better or worse, they are not responsible for evacuating the wounded, nor for the force’s condition after the battle. Nevertheless, in their hearts, they found it hard to distinguish between the heavy fire they had just seen on the ground and the battalion’s soldiers with whom they had prepared for the maneuver.
“After the battle, I had a very difficult feeling,” says S. “I was certain that the battalion had suffered quite a few dead and wounded, because of the heavy fire. I was sure that after a few days, we would hear about the magnitude of the losses.” The morning after was a great relief for her.
R.: “In war, communication is difficult. The battalion and the fighters in the field are in their vehicles and the battalion commander can’t go vehicle to vehicle and check everyone is okay. It’s only when the danger is over that can check to see if there are wounded. In this case, it took several hours before the battalion reached a safe place.”
“It was really hard for us to deal with everything we saw in this battle, because we saw mostly terrorists directing massive fire at our forces. We saw squads of terrorists who wanted to hit our soldiers from close range. We were also afraid that they would try to kidnap soldiers. As a team, we were very upset because we didn’t know what news we were going to wake up with in the morning. We were sure we had just seen the 13th Battalion hit really hard.
But on the morning of the day after the battle, the Gaon crew breathed a sigh of relief when they were told that the 13th Battalion had left the field with only seven lightly wounded from smoke inhalation. They had managed to protect the soldiers from enemy fire.
“I found out that the division leaders heard me talking to the battalion commander and battalion sergeant, and pointing the helicopter in their direction,” says the girls’ commander, Lieutenant S.T. bashfully. “The incident even came up with the General Staff. When they realized that there were no wounded there, I understood that we had done something big. I wanted to know whether other Sky Rider teams had experienced engagements like ours, and it turned out that they hadn’t, that it was all about us.”
S.: “Someone from the unit came to me and was so excited to see me. He said, ‘Wow, you don’t understand what you did. The whole division was watching you yesterday and listening to your reports over the radio.’ It was only then that I realized that we had been involved in a major incident in which we managed to prevent severe harm to our soldiers.”
A.: “The battalion commander, Tomer, was encouraging the forces over the radio all the time. We heard him say that they would come out of it on top and that there were forces looking after them. Being the eyes in the sky, searching for the enemy, and constantly scanning the field so our soldiers wouldn’t get hurt was a chilling experience.”
“We are very proud that we successfully spotted targets and even managed to help eliminate the enemy. It was a difficult situation, and the results were amazing and they show the importance of our work.”
POST ON X:
EDITORS NOTE: This Newsrael News Desk column is republished with permission. ©All rights reserved.