NBA Visits the IAF

Current and former NBA players visited the IAF Hatzerim Base while on an AIPAC tour of Israel

Date: 03/10/2010, 6:10 PM     Author: Yonatan Maroz, IAF Website

An athletic wind blew throughout the Negev desert as a delegation of NBA basketball players, who came recently to Israel with the American lobby AIPAC, visited the IAF Hatzerim Base. Dwight Howard, considered one of the top NBA defense players, headed the delegation composed of former and current NBA players and personnel.

The basketball players toured the Golan Heights, visited Christian sites near the Sea of Galilee and the Yad Vashem Holocaust Museum, met with Israeli President Shimon Peres and toured the city of Sderot.

“This is the first time we are working with athletes to provide them with a knowledge of the threats and the situation we face here in Israel, so that they will understand where they are and what the political system and strategic challenges here are”, Deborah Patt, director of the AIEF (America Israel Education Foundation), AIPAC’s sister foundation said. “We chose to visit an IAF base because the IDF (Zahal) in general and the IAF in particular are part of the life here”.

From all the units who serve on the large Hatzerim Base, the Desert Birds Squadron, which operates the UH-60 Black Hawk helicopters, was chosen to host the delegation of players. Captain R., one of the squadron’s pilots, gave explanations about the UH-60 Black Hawk and showed movies about the squadron’s operations during the Second Lebanon War, which were filmed by a camera placed on the helmet of a 669 Rescue Unit’s fighter who was in one of the helicopters. The movies displayed the helicopter crossing over a line, joining up with the field force doctor, and a mortar shell falling near the helicopter moments after takeoff.

The helicopters were too crowded for the players

“Can you tell us about the psychological challenge of developing ties with somebody from your unit when he can die the next day?”, intrigued former NBA player Anthony Bonner asked. “I am very glad I never was in such a situation, but that does happen”, Captain R replied. “We have a long training period in the flight school and there we also learn how to deal with the psychological aspects of war. There are workshops designed to help us cope with death, how to continue, to mourn or not to mourn”.

Later, the players visited the line of helicopters, watched take-offs and landings, and tried to pack themselves into the belly of a UH-60 Black Hawk. The helicopter, which can accommodate between 18 to 22 standard-sized soldiers, was too crowded for the tall basketball players. “Great helicopters”, Dwight Howard commented. “Everyone here has very important roles”.

“In America, we see so many movies with these helicopters and their pictures are even showed on news programs. Seeing them from up close is pretty surreal”, said Barry Pintar, one of the delegation’s members. Amid the noise of rotors, he explained that this was not his first time in an Air Force base and how he even had the chance to sit in the front seat of a fighter plane.

“I was a reporter for CBS for many years, and it was a special event for the newscast. Otherwise I would never have got the possibility to fly a plane. I piloted an F-16 of the Thunderbird, the aerobatic squadron of the US Air Force, and I reached 9G,” Pintar recalled.