29 years ago, navigator Ron Arad was taken captive after ejecting himself from his aircraft above Lebanon. Ron is still MIA and his fate is still unknown. However, in Ron’s squadron, The “Hammers”, his legacy is perpetuated
Shachar Zorani | Translation: Ohad Zeltzer-Zubida
29 years have passed since Ron Arad, a combat navigator in the “Hammers” Squadron, departed on the flight from which he would not return. On 16, October 1986, three pairs of “Phantom” jets departed for a routine attack in Lebanon. During the attack one of the “Phantom” jets was damaged as a result of a technical problem, when one of the bombs exploded too close to the underbelly of the jet. The navigator Ron Arad and the pilot Yihsai Aviram, had no choice but to eject and abandon their jet in the heart of Lebanon territory. Aviram was rescued in a courageous operation, but Ron was taken captive by the “Amal” terror organization. Since then, Israel has lost track of his whereabouts, and his location is unknown.
The “Hammers” Squadron has gone through many changes since the kidnapping of one of its sons: It has changed its location, changed its aircraft and received new aircrew men, but one thing hasn’t changed – Ron Arad’s picture still hangs proudly on the wall, and the legacy he left behind is still present in the squadron. “The squadron has seen many changes. We left the “Ramat-David” airbase and moved to “Hatzerim”, we replace the old “Phantom” jets with the F-15I (“Raam”) jets”, says Lt. Col Dror, the commander of the “Hammers” Squadron. “As far as the squadron and the IAF in general are concerned, Ron is a soldier that still hasn’t returned from battle, and we are still waiting for the day when we will discover what fate he has met, and for the day he will return home”.
“He loved sport, nature, and spending time with his friends”
The “Hammers” Squadron continues Ron’s legacy and reminds his story in briefs, operational training, trips and other recreational activities. “Ron is an inseparable part of the squadron”, explains Lt. Col Dror. “Every year, we organize an official event with the purpose of passing along his legacy to past and present members of the squadron, who are all connected to Ron’s friends and family”.
This week, the squadron members met in Yokneam in the Jezreel Valley in order to take part in a navigational run to mark 29 years since his capture, alongside his family members and friends. Symbolically, the participants ran 6.9 kilometers in the valley, the place from which Ron left for his final flight. “The event was held last year for the first time in order to commemorate the date”, said Lt. Col Dror. “This is an event that is very coherent with the person Ron was. He loved sports, nature and spending time with friends.”
Another event that became a tradition among the squadron members and is inspired by Ron’s story is a joined training in the “Ramat-David” airbase, the northern IAF combat base, where the squadron resided before it moved to “Hatzerim”. This year, completely unintentionally the squadron arrived at the base for the exercise and found out that one of the training days was also Ron’s birthday. “It’s impossible to go to ‘Ramat-David’ without thinking about Ron”, shares Lt. Col Dror. “We decided to make it a spring deployment tradition to conduct to exercise around Ron’s birth date. Besides the fact that it is a very important operational training exercise, the “Ramat-David” has a big part of the squadron’s heritage. It’s important to travel there and see the view, feel the ground and hear the stories, ultimately, it’s our history”.