The Israel Air Force Flight School Graduation Ceremony was held Thursday, December 30th, at the Hazerim IAF base near Beer Sheva
In the presence of the President of the State of Israel Shimon Peres, Minister of Defense Ehud Barak, IDF Chief of General Staff lt. Gen. Gabi Ashkenazi and Commander of the IAF Maj. Gen. Ido Nehushtan, family members, friends, and the extended IAF family, the IAF’s newest pilots were awarded their “flight wings”.
The ceremony marks the end of a three-year course, the longest course of the IDF, which includes officer and pilot training as well as a bachelors degree from Ben-Gurion University. With less than 10% of those entering the course making it to the final day, IAF Flight School is indeed the hardest course of the IDF.
The winter 2010 graduates were one the IAF’s most diverse group of graduates in years. For the first time in two and half years, female pilots graduated the course, including one combat fighter pilot, one transport pilot and one combat navigator.
Graduates came from throughout the country, from Rosh Pina in the North to Lehavim in the South and 15% were born abroad. 22.5% of the graduates speak a foreign language as their mother tongue – 2.5% Russian and 20% English.
In remarks to the graduates, President Peres said: “The people of Israel are proud of you”, and noted that there were three female graduates, the most to graduate at once in Israel’s history.
Lt. Gen. Gabi Ashkenazi spoke at the ceremony, his eighth and final such ceremony in four years as IDF Chief of General Staff. He noted that, “I have seen the most advanced weapons in the IAF and the most sophisticated planes that can reach any destination. Even after observing the capabilities of planes like the ‘F-15I’ and the ‘Hercules’ and flying in both of them, I am still convinced that our most valuable weapon is you – our pilots and navigators. You are our guarantee to safety and thanks to you we continue to march upwards during times of need. You and your partners in the IAF will be there to protect our existence in this country”.
IAF Commander, Maj. Gen. Ido Nehushtan, in welcoming the graduates to the “Family of combat aerial fighters” noted that, “courage in the skies and strong roots in the ground are the essence of the IAF’s legendary legacy. Now you are part of it, as aircrew fighters. Dear graduates, the ‘[flight] wings’ also symbolize the high expectations of your future. Today you are joining the most elite of our fighters; those fighters whom the people of Israel entrust with their safety every day”.
Following their remarks, President Peres, Minister Barak, Lt. Gen. Ashkenazi and Maj. Gen. Nehushtan each presented awards of excellence to select graduates of the course.
Before the ceremony, IAF planes and helicopters were on static display for the audience and during the ceremony, many flew above the audience displaying their aerial capabilities.
In attendance were visitors from Israel and around the world who shared strong feelings after the ceremony. “It gives me faith and hope that it is possible we can defend ourselves in the Middle East and have a safe home for the Jews”, said Yossi, an immigrant from Pheonix, AZ. “It’s so inspirational and emotional watching the graduates get their wings because they worked so hard – the hardest in their lives – for that moment. They’re protecting us, they are our unsung heroes”, said Hana, an elderly American immigrant who lives in Ma’ale Adumim. “You find yourself being proud of these boys and girls like they’re in your own family and you don’t even know them…you can’t even see their faces”, said Aviva, a 28 year old Masters student from Toronto, Canada.