A journey into legacy: Last week, the “Valley” Squadron commemorated 65 years in which it performed various missions, took part in all of Israel’s campaigns and operated different kinds of platforms. “Now it is our shift and we must be the best we can be”
Zohar Boneh | Translation: Ohad Zeltzer Zubida
If you would have walked into the “Valley” Squadron last week, you would immediately understand that something special was going on: The squadron badge that decorated the aircrew members’ flight suits was different than usual and the briefings for flights were performed in a tent with large maps and printed notes. “This is how the aircrew members worked when the squadron was established”, explained Lt. Yarden, a WSO from the Squadron, which recently commemorated 65 years since its establishment and 25 years since the landing of the “Barak” F-16C/D jets in Israel, which they operate to this day. “For our 65th ‘birthday’ celebration we decided to emphasize our legacy and go back to the squadron’s roots, back in 1951”.
A Look into the Past and a Lesson for the Future
65 years of operational activity shouldn’t be taken lightly, but still, a whole week devoted to learning the squadron’s history isn’t something you see every day in the squadron that hasn’t skipped over any detail in the past week: from reenactment of historical missions and meeting with squadron members from different eras, through strengthening the bond with the bereaved families and to a hike in the footsteps of the squadron’s legacy.
“In a military unit with history – it should be known. Besides it being interesting it also shows you the way”, said Lt. Col. Tomer, the Squadron Commander. “Today, the state of Israel is successful and prosperous and it is very easy to assume that it will always be this way, but it is important to understand that if, for a moment, our guard will waver, the situation can change. Now it is our shift and we must be the best we can be”.
“The acquaintance with the past is like tailwind, now I know who was here and when. I feel like a part of something big”, shared Lt. Yarden. “This is a squadron that fought in all of Israel’s wars and had a central part in our national history. People here have done great things while dealing with multiple difficulties and dilemmas and now I carry the torch”.
65 Years of Operation
The “Valley” Squadron was established between the shacks of Tel-Nof AFB in the early 1950’s. With three converted aircraft from the Flight Academy, a small establishment team began the preparation for the establishment of what was meant to be one of the IAF’s first attack squadron. Less than a year after its establishment, the squadron was transferred to Hazor AFB and afterwards to Ramat-David AFB, in which it resides to this day and in which it operated various platforms such as the “Mosquito”, “Mystere”, “Skyhawk”, and “Kfir”. Its name – The “Valley” Squadron – was received because in those days, most of its personnel were from the Jezreel Valley.
In December 1967, months after the “Six Day” War, the squadron received the A-4 “Skyhawk” jets. In the War of Attrition it participated in different missions and the Squadron Commander, the late Col. Ezra Dotan, shot down a MiG-17 with a rocket which was meant to counter tanks and was the first and only pilot in world to do so. In the “Yom Kippur” War it was the first squadron to deploy to the Golan heights and in the war it lost seven aircraft and 16 aircrew members.
Eventually, the squadron was closed and reopened when the “Barak” jets landed in the IAF 25 years go. “After the squadron was closed for 6 years, I received command over it”, shared Maj. Gen. (Res.) Eliezer Shkedi, the first commander of the “Valley” Squadron in the “Barak” era and later IAF commander. “The squadron had a decorated history, but we had to reopen it from nothing. It was clear to me that the way we reestablish it will decide its fate, so I made sure that it would be the best squadron in the IAF”.
The “Barak” division, which the squadron became part of when the jet landed in Israel 25 years ago, is considered a mature division in the IAF. “The ‘Barak’ division might be senior but the squadron’s future is still ahead of it”, promised Lt. Col. Tomer. “We are in constant development. The northern theatre occupies the IAF and the fact that we are a two-seater squadron near the border gives us an important place in the IAF’s activity”.