Amazons of the air

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In honor of International Women’s Day we sat down with one of the Air Force’s pioneering women to discuss the true meaning of serving one’s country

Date: 03/08/2013, 1:49 PM     Author: Yair Barzilai

Women have played a crucial role in the Israel Air Force since its inception in 1948 when it was little more than a handful of civilian aircraft cobbled together and converted for military use. Two women served as pilots in the 1948 War of Independence, one of them, Zahara Levitov, was killed in the course of action.

Though in the beginning they filled mainly clerical roles, women have broken ground in every possible field in the air force in the past six decades. Today they serve as pilots, navigators, UAV operators, technicians and commanders fulfilling every duty that earns the IAF its reputation as one of the world’s mightiest air forces.

We sat down for an exclusive interview with one of those pioneering women, Cpt. Reut, who has served as a UAV operator and commander in the Operations Division of the Israel Air Force.

At 26 years old, Cpt. Reut personifies the essence of a strong, modern Israeli woman. Hailing from the country’s north, she chose to follow a long family tradition by serving in the Air Force – her father spent the majority of his life as a flight engineer and her brother is a combat pilot.
With a career flight engineer for a father, Cpt. Reut was raised in the essence of the IDF (Zahal), spending the bulk of her childhood on various airbases. “I spent my entire life on military bases, breathing in the spirit of the IDF (Zahal) from a young age,” she recalled, “I always loved being part of it all from so close.”

Amazons of the air

A destiny in defense

Though the Air Force legacy is in her blood, it wasn’t easy for Cpt. Reut to choose that path. A natural athlete, she found a love for tennis at a young age and started training professionally by the time she was 12. Before long she was discovered and quickly established herself as Israel’s most promising young tennis star, rising rapidly to become Israel’s 6th ranked woman player. 

When Cpt. Reut finished high school she faced a momentous fork in the road: continue her professional tennis career and be exempt from military service as an ‘outstanding athlete’, or carry on her family’s legacy and join the Air Force. “It was the most difficult decision I had to make in my life. I loved playing the game, and I knew if I joined the army, it would be over,” she said.      

Ultimately, Cpt. Reut decided that serving the country in defense was her true calling, and cut off her promising tennis career short to do so. “Ultimately it is what I decided suited my needs better. I chose to represent my country by serving in the military – I wanted to continue my family’s tradition,” said Cpt. Reut, though she was careful to point out that outstanding athletes also represent the country in their own way and the she very much understands those who choose to pursue that path.

In her nine years since joining the Israel Air Force, Cpt. Reut has served as a UAV operator, eventually rising to the position of a commanding officer within the Operations Division of the IAF. Her responsibilities included prolonged reconnaissance missions, as well as overseeing ongoing operational activity. “There are times when we would watch a suspect for long hours, or ensure a building is vacant of civilians before the combat plane arrives, in order to avoid collateral damage at all costs,” Cpt. Reut said. 

Though recently released from nine years of full-time military service, Cpt. Reut’s passion to serve her country led her to sign on for intensive reserve duty, something which she has committed to fulfill while simultaneously pursuing studies in medicine. “I decided to commit to reserve duty once a week for the remainder of my career,” she said. When asked how she made such a decision while juggling her life as a medical student she said, “It’s important for me to continue to contribute, and to take part in the ongoing operational activity. I can’t imagine my life without it.”

There are no obstacles

Being a woman in the army never held the determined commander back from pursuing her dreams, a drive that she attributes to her mother, a self made CEO of her own company whose birthday happens to fall today on International Women’s Day. “In our home this day was always special, and my mother traditionally makes it a very festive day for all of us,” she said.

Raised in such an inspiring home, it is no wonder that when faced with hardships Cpt. Reut came out all the stronger. “When I arrived at the UAV operators’ course, I was the only female soldier there,” she recalled. “It was not always easy, but everyone around me treated me first and foremost as a peer, and did not judge me based on my gender,” she said.

Cpt. Reut has been happy to see a sharp increase in the amount of women joining her unit in recent years. “It’s important to give everyone an equal chance,” she said, and addressed the following message to the new generation of female soldiers contemplating pursuing a career in the IDF (Zahal): “I want all the young women out there to know, not to be afraid. Always believe that limits can be overcome, there is no obstacle to your future.”