Some five months after the end of Operation Protective Edge, IDF Chief of Staff Benny Gantz granted decorations, citations and awards on Monday at the Palmachim Airbase to over 50 officers, NCOs, and soldiers (active duty and reserves) - including four women - who fought in the Gaza war.
The fighters of the 52nd Battalion of Division 401 in the Armored Corps were included in the list of decorations recipients at the last minute. The battalion was awarded the GOC Southern Command Citation. Meanwhile, the Givati Brigade's Tzabar Battalion received the GOC Southern Command's Letter of Commendation.
The IDF chief also granted citations and medals to nine IDF units who participated in the operation.
The highest decoration – the Medal of Distinguished Service – was bestowed on Lt. Eitan Fund, whose story filled headlines following the kidnapping of Hadar Goldin. Staff Sergeant Meir Unterberg, a fighter from the Givati reconnaissance battalion, also received a citation for his actions on the day of Goldin's kidnapping.
Fund expressed mixed feelings upon receiving his medal. "This is not a particularly simple event," he said. "But I am very proud. We remember our friends who fell and all the bereaved families. I did not think very much during those moments. It's something we do a lot and practice all the time."
The sergeant also said it was difficult for him to receive a citation for such a terrible event. "It's still hard for me now. I hope we will overcome it and know how to deal with it. The decorations belong to everyone."
Defense Minister Moshe Ya'alon, the members of the General Staff and other army generals attended the ceremony.
Six of the soldiers being decorated fell in battle - the highest-ranked of them is Lieutenant Colonel Dolev Keidar, the Geffen Battalion commander, who was awarded a Head of Regional Command (Aluf) Citation.
On July 21, Keidar decided to respond to an alert of suspicious figures who were spotted near the border. An anti-tank missile was fired at the vehicle he was travelling in, followed by another missile, but both missed. Keidar and two of his soldiers got out of the vehicle and were killed while fighting a terrorist cell. The vehicle's driver was killed in the incident as well. With this action, Lt.-Col. Keidar was able to prevent a serious terror bombing in the area, said the letter explaining the decision to award him the citation.
Other fallen soldiers honored at the ceremony were: Second Lieutenant Yuval Heiman, Staff Sergeant Avraham Grintzvaig, Staff Sergeant Guy Algranati, Sergeant Major Bayhesain Kshaun and Sergeant Nadav Goldmacher.
Among the decorated were four women. Lieutenant Dr. Regina Pekman, a medical officer in the 188 Brigade, received a citation for commanding the evacuation of wounded IDF soldiers and providing medical treatment.
The three others received a Letter of Commendation: Sergeant Ronnie Jackson, an electronic observation handler who spotted the infiltration of 13 terrorists from a tunnel in Kibbutz Sufa; Corporal Noa Teitel, who spotted the infiltration of terrorists from the sea in Kibbutz Zikim and helped call in forces and direct them to their targets, allowing them to kill them; and Sergeant Lihi Meir, who spotted a group of terrorists dressed as IDF soldiers who had succeeded in infiltrating Israel.
Three units were granted the Chief of Staff Citation: Maglan, the mechanical-engineering battalion, and Sayeret Matkal. The explanatory notes for Sayeret Matkal's citation said that "in its activities during the campaign, it showed determination, a fighting spirit, initiative, and aggressiveness."
The mechanical-engineering battalion, composed of both conscript and reserves soldiers – some of them volunteers – operated instruments to locate terror tunnels and destroy them. "The battalion's fighters took part in scores of missions, in which they uncovered terror tunnels and were often under fire from terrorists. The battalion's contribution to the removal of the terror tunnel threat from Israel's residents and IDF soldiers was immeasurably great and significant, considering the unit's size."
Maglan "carried out diverse missions and special operations, reduced damage to IDF forces, and completed all the complex missions assigned to it with commendable professionalism. These missions required the unit's commanders and fighters to prepare technologically and operationally groundbreaking plans, to act with flexibility, to adjust their actions to changing circumstances, and do all this while meeting the high operational measures and demands given to them."
The Chief of Staff Medal of Appreciation was given to Iron Dome units and the technological unit of the Military Intelligence Directorate. The Head of Regional Command citation was given to the Egoz Reconnaisance Unit, the 101st "Cobra" Airborne Battalion of the Paratroopers Brigade, the 845th "Rimon" Desert Commando Unit of the Givati Brigade, the 460th "Bnei Or" Armor Brigade. The 931st "Shacham" Unit of the Nahal Brigade, the Oketz Unit, the 916th Squadron of the Navy, and Unit 669.