“Great things are done in secret”
“The moment Israel had an air force, camels would fly”
Anyone who knows the unit knows that when the black cat shows up in times of trouble, it is a sign of good luck Almost every unit in the IAF has a a talisman or tradition of some kind. So why is there a donkey in the courtyard of the “Knights of the North” squadron? Which coin do soldiers of the “Night Birds” squadron carry in their pockets? And why is a black cat considered good luck?
Michal Khayut and Noa Fenigstein
The Israeli Air Force, which will soon celebrate the 66th anniversary of its founding, has managed over the years to accumulate countless strange stories, traditions and customs. Some of them are shared by many squadrons, like the “self confidence wand” that is held by the soldier standing on the briefing stage, while some of them have grown and been nurtured in secrecy in the halls of the squadrons over the years, and according to tradition, give the squadrons their strength.
Donkeys in the Squadron Courtyard
If you go to the “Knights of the North” squadron at the Ramat David airbase, you will see the donkeys of the squadron that reside in the courtyard. The tradition of raising the donkeys near the squadron started in 1968, when the then-commander of the squadron Brigadier General (re.) Yaakov Turner brought Butrous the donkey that transported food for the soldiers in the squadron. With Butrous’s passing, the tradition was passed down until 1987, and then the era of the F-16c/d began. At that time, the squadron appointed the “Donkey Officer”, which, according to the tradition, is the most senior aerial team member in mandatory military service. His job is to take care of the legendary mascot who walks on all fours. The donkey became such an important mascot that it attracts attention that is almost equivalent to the attention aircrafts attract. Additionally, the donkey makes the “Knights of the North” squadron among the first squadrons to carry a patch with a donkey, in addition to the regular patch with the unit symbol.
When the Camels Fly
The “First” squadron at the Sde Dov airbase, as its name implies was one of the first squadrons to be founded and started operating as early as 1949. Not long ago, the squadron changed its name, after being called the “Flying Camel” squadron over many years, as a tribute to a statement by one of the Arab leaders who declared that the moment Israel had an air force, camels would fly. Since then, the desert animal has starred in every squadron symbol, even after it changed names in 2012. Last year, at a commander-changing ceremony of a sister squadron, “Kings of the Air”, some of pilots from the “First” squadron attended, with one of the pilots riding a real camel.
“Great things are done in secret”
The squadrons do not always choose an animal as a mascot: If you carefully check the pockets of the aerial team members from the “Night Birds” squadron in Tel Nof, you will find, among the many things they keep, a bronze coin with English written on it saying “Great things are done in secret”. The special coin has accompanied the squadron since 1990, when the late Brigadier General Shmuel Eldar of the “Night Birds” left the squadron. At the ceremony, he gave each aerial team member this coin as a parting gift and since then, the squadron has continued the tradition: On special occasions, the coin is bestowed upon each aerial team member performing regular military service in the squadron.
While we are on the subject of mascots and traditions, we end with the black cat: the symbol of bad luck around the world. But in the IAF, the Airborne Rescue and Evacuation Unit 669 proudly bears the black cat as its logo and anyone who knows the unit knows that when the black cat shows up in times of trouble, it is a sign of good luck.