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. 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 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 unit eventually started its own training as required by the Reconnaissance and Airborne units. The training cycle produced an Operational Medic or Operational Doctor who was fully qualified and equipped to support and deploy with Airborne or Special Forces during operations.
At its inception, 7 Med was housed at the back of SAMS (South African Medical Services) College in Voortrekker Hoogte and the unit used two mobile homes for offices. 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 as well as the Parachute Regiment.
On 21 February 2014, the unit received Battle Honours to be displayed on the unit colours for the first time for its participation in the Battle of Bangui Central African Republic March 2013. It is unusual for a medical unit to receive Battle Honours.
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 defensive NBCD advisory role during some operations; details are limited.
During the Angolan Bush War a member of 7 Med was killed in action. Corporal Bruce Andrew Fidler, 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 in support of the SADF's Operation Magneto . His unit was ambushed and he was subsequently captured. Cpl Fidler was executed by the enemy after brutal interrogation. According to records he never revealed the location of his nearby unit in spite of brutal interrogation at the hands of his captors enabling them (7 Med Bn Gp, medical surgical team) to escape and evade capture. His remains were repatriated to South Africa in June 1992 and cremated precisely 7 years after his death on 15 September 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 secretly evacuated to South Africa for treatment at 1 Military Hospital in Pretoria.
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.
On 4 August 1991 the MTS Oceanos, a Greek-owned cruise ship, sank off 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.
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 was a Southern African Development Community (SADC) sanctioned military operation led by South Africa to stabilize the country of Lesotho following a coup d'état. The operation came into effect at first light on 22 September 1998. 7 Medical Battalion Group (7 Med) deployed 15 to 20 Ops medics and doctors 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.
Two 7 Med members were killed during intense fighting at Katse Dam on 22 September 1998, attached to the pathfinders namely Capt. (Doctor) J. Nel and Sgt. J.A. Sax. Capt. Nel was posthumously awarded the SAMHS Cross in attempting to save Sgt. Sax's life. Sergeant Sax was the first newly formed South African National Defence Force soldier to be killed in action. After Sergeant Sax was seriously wounded Captain (Doctor) Johan Nel went to the Sergeant's aid in spite of heavy enemy fire. Shortly afterwards Captain Nel was also hit and killed by enemy fire whilst attempting to treat the Sergeant's injuries. Several members of 7 Med distinguished themselves during the initial incursion into Lesotho.
In many cases 7 Med members were at the forefront of the action. Another member of the unit, Cpl Ewerhard Brits, was awarded the SAMHS Cross for actions of bravery at Mokanyane Base where 8 members of the Parachute Battalion were killed in action. The battle for Mokanyane base had some of the fiercest fighting in the whole conflict.
The operation lasted for 7 months and with peace and order restored most of the Ops Medics of 7 Med Bn Gp returned to the unit HQ within a month. Their replacements came from the Orange Free State Medical Command.
On 22 February 2000 Cyclone Eline devastated Mozambique with approximately 800 people killed and 45 000 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.
On 21 May 2003 the 6.8 Mw Boumerdès earthquake shook northern Algeria with a maximum Mercalli intensity of X (Extreme). The shock generated a destructive tsunami in the Mediterranean Sea and left 2,266 dead and 10,261 injured. 7 Med deployed a team to assist the South African contingent both medically and to assist in the actual technical search and rescue efforts.
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 sent 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 whiteout when he was separated from a search party during a storm.
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. Members of 7 Med were also present with the recent deployment of the SANDF as part of the Force Intervention Brigade in 2013/14.
The South African Military Health Service was called upon to run hospitals and other public facilities during a protracted civil service strike in 2007. Several members of 7 Med participated and were awarded the Tshumelo Ikatelaho medal which was collectively awarded to all participants of this operation.
Elements of 7 Medical Battalion participated in the Battle of Bangui in the Central African Republic. The battle has been described by military analysts as one of the hardest-fought actions by the SA Army. During this battle which lasted from 22 March 2013 – 24 March 2013 a company of about 200 South African paratroops supplemented by a small number of Special Forces members were attacked on the outskirts of Bangui by a rebel force estimated to be 3 000 strong. During this action 13 South African paratroopers were killed and a further 27 wounded. Rebel losses are estimated to have been in excess of 800. For their actions during this battle three 7Med Bn Gp members (Sergeant Mampa Serole Colman, Corporal Ngobese Mandla Maxwell and Corporal Nkoana Molatelo Alphina) were awarded the Nkwe ya Boronse decoration for valour. On 21 February 2014, together with 1 Parachute Battalion and 5 Special Forces Regiment, 7 Medical Battalion Group received battle honours for the first time. 13 Other members of 7 Medical Battalion group received various medals for their participation in the Battle of Bangui.
The Chemical Biological Warfare Wing is responsible for the training of the SANDF, South African Police Service (SAPS) and other government agencies in defensive CBRNE measures. Other functions include the maintenance of a CBRNE detection and verification capability and the conduct of research and development of equipment and techniques in cooperation with local civilian contractors.
CBW wing members are trained to various levels in both defensive military CBRNE as well as civilian HAZMAT response. The system of training enables CBW wing members to easily integrate with civilian emergency services if the need arises.
Prior to and during the 2010 FIFA World Cup 7 Med CBW Wing personnel were instrumental in the procurement and employment of sophisticated CBRNE detection equipment. Effective and unique home-grown decontamination equipment and techniques were co-developed with civilian contractors in preparation for the same event. Many of those developments and techniques have since been adopted by other nations.
The 7 Med CBW Wing assist the South African government in its obligations to the Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC). It does so by providing training and assistance to members of signatory states in cooperation with the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW). CBW Wing members regularly attend foreign training courses to ensure that knowledge and skills remains at the highest levels.
Candidates must 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 be allowed onto the basic Parachute Jump course. The parachute course usually concludes the basic training cycle. After completion candidates are qualified as Medical Support Operators and awarded the 7 Med Bn Gp Op's badge to be worn on the right chest and the Parachute wings on the left. Only approximately 10% of all candidates who start the training cycle succeed. The 7 Medical Battalion Group Medical Support badge differs from the normal Operational Medical Orderly 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. Prior to 1993, 7 Med Operators were only identified by shoulder flashes and parachute wings-insignia. In many cases members of the unit wore 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. Various qualification badges are worn by members of 7 Med who are allowed to do all airborne courses presented by 44 Parachute Regiment.
The 7 Med Bn Gp Operators badge is also awarded to members of Special Forces after completion of the medical phase presented by 7 Med.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. Skills taught to members include but are not limited to advanced battlefield procedures such as airway management and support, haemorage control, cardiac life support, difficult IV access etc. Ops Medics are proficient in all forms of trauma-related treatment procedures as well as emergent medical emergencies.
Supplemental Diving and Aviation Medicine courses.
Driving and Maintenance: During this phase the candidate learns how to operate various military vehicles including the armored and mine-protected Mfezi Ambulance.
Advanced Battle Training: During this phase candidates are taught the specialized infantry combat tactics associated with the Special and Airborne forces. In addition members also receive extensive training in both SANDF and foreign light and heavy weapons.
Survival in rural (bush) environments.
KOLOT: An SANDF course where members learn adult education skills needed to develop and present lectures. Members of 7 Med are often required to present various classes i.e. emergency medicine to Special Forces units and other clients (7 Med Bn Gp members successfully trained UNITA and other groups in emergency medical procedures during the Angolan bush war).
Rope-work: During this air-mobile training phase candidates learn to fast-rope and abseil, do rope withdrawal (hot extraction) and combat climbing techniques. Some members will also progress onto advanced rope-work courses such as High Angle Rescue.
SWAT: Special Weapons and Ammunition Techniques commonly known as Urban Combat Survival, presented by the South African Police Service.
Basic Chemical and Biological Defence 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 are not allowed on parachute selection.
Parachute Free Fall
Close Protection course
Combat Search and Rescue
Advanced High angle Rescue
CBW Cell (advisor)
Explosive Ordnance Disposal (EOD)
Hyperbaric Chamber Operator
Heavy/Light Squad Weapons
Light and heavy vehicle rescue
Members deployed at Satellite Special Forces units occasionally do specialist courses to enable them to better support their clients. Such courses can include Small Boat coxswain and Airborne Battle Handling etc.
Unlike the rest of the SAMHS insignia, 7 Medical Battalion's is slightly different having a sword instead of a staff.
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. The Jakkals air-droppable jeep 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 carried depends 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, for example the 9mm Beretta 92. It is not uncommon that the member is issued the same weapons as those of the unit he supports. Depending on the situation, these weapons can be either specialist or foreign in origin.
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.
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.
The Jakkals Jeep (air-delivered) was used by the Airborne forces on the battlefield/Landing Zones and was the work-horse used by 7 Med to transport heavy equipment like Surgical posts, casualties and other equipment around the landing zones. The Jakkals was replaced by the Gecko in 2003.
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 were developed to be mounted on commercially available vehicles. Various modules can be mounted on appropriate vehicles as required by the mission thereby greatly simplifying logistical support. It is rumored that some home-grown systems developed by 7 Med for mass personnel decontamination can be deployed fully functional in less than 10 minutes.
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 be permanently stationed at one of the regiments or units.44 Medical Task Group
4 Special Forces Medical Platoon
5 Special Forces Medical Platoon
PMU Presidential Medical Unit