Senior aircrew members that completed their operational service this year, after over 25 years of flight, congregated last evening to receive Badges of Distinguished Flight that were awarded to them by the IAF Commander. “Even if you have stopped flying physically, a part of you still flies with us and forms our way”

Eilon Tohar | Translation: Ohad Zeltzer Zubida

They received their wings over 25 years ago and the IAF changed and developed before their eyes: they officially became operational pilots and navigators and saw many more generations of aircrew members walking in their footsteps, platforms retired while others arrived, wars and operations that went down in the history books and with a fifth generation on the verge of landing in the IAF.

“Your legacy is alive and breathing”

“It is difficult, it is demanding and it is dangerous on every scale and despite all these things and maybe because of them – you arrived at this position” | Photography: Ayelet Eder

Grey-haired, proud and standing tall, one by one, they stepped into IAF HQ and congregated in order to receive their Badges of Distinguished Flight and conclude their operational service as aircrew members. “We weren’t created to fly”, said Maj. Gen. Amir Eshel, IAF Commander, during the ceremony. “The people here are a rare combination of people who changed their configuration to flying combatants and showed yearlong determination in their service, all for the mission so important to us all: the safety of the state of Israel. I do not deceive myself, it is difficult, it is demanding and it is dangerous on every scale and despite all these things and maybe because of them – you arrived at this position”.

The youngest badge receiver completed flight school about 30 years ago, hence, the pilots that were born in that year probably serve in the IAF as Deputy Squadron Commanders. It was the beginning of the F-16 era, when it seemed as if at any moment an Israeli Fighter Jet, the “Lavi” was about to join the force. UAVs were still an unplowed field and no one had hear of the F-35. 30 years ago, women could not participate in flight school and soldiers traveling to their base didn’t have cellular phones that allowed them to communicate with home.

“Your legacy is alive and breathing”, said the IAF Commander. “You have touched generations of combatants. Even if you have stopped flying physically, a part of you still flies with us and forms the IAF’s way”.

Bittersweet
One of the badge receivers was Col. (Res’) Natan Barzilay, whose last post was Lod AFB Commander. “Since the age of 18, when I began my military service, a strong and inexplicable connection between me and the IAF began and that connection includes all of the people, missions, aircraft and atmosphere in it”, shared Col. (Res’) Barzilay. “I learned that there is no peak that cannot be conquered. Much has changed over the years, but one thing has stayed the same – the quality of the people here”.
Like his colleagues, he arrived to the ceremony with mixed feelings. “The IAF is a second and some may say first, family. There is a pinch in my heart, even though I will continue flying in ‘El-AL’ Airline, there is steel a feeling of farewell from a long and esteemed chapter of my life that runs in my veins to this day”.

“Your legacy is alive and breathing”

Col. (Res’) Natan Barzilay, Retired Commander of Lod AFB | Photography: Ayelet Eder

Col. (Res’) Barzilay and another pilot who received the Badge of Distinguished Flight have a unique connection: Col. (Res’) Zafrir Keren, the most veteran of the retirees, who concluded 41 years of flight, was Col. (Res’) Barzilay’s instructor in flight school. Later their paths crossed again when the cadet later became Sde-Dov AFB Commander, in which Col. (Res’) Keren served in reserve duty. “There is no doubt that it was a special experience, receiving the badge alongside him and generally seeing what your cadets achieved in the IAF as pilots”, he said.

Another circle closed when Col. (Res’) Keren arrived in Ovda AFB, in which he served in his past, for reserve service as the base’s Combat Manager. As a part of his position, he was briefed by officers that were only three when he finished his position as the base’s Flight Squadron Commander. “I officially finished flying last year, which wasn’t simple. This evening there is mostly a feeling of excitement from the appreciation and respect we received”, said Col. (Res’) Keren. “My tip for the younger generation of pilots is not to despair. Whoever feels that he is contributing, should keep flying as long as he can”.

“Your legacy is alive and breathing”

Col. (Res’) Barzilay with Col. (Res’) Keren who was his instructor in flight school | Photography: Ayelet Eder