14 of Hatzerim AFB’s former commanders met yesterday in a unique conference which marked 50 years since the establishment of the AFB. For a day, the commanders returned to the familiar sights and walkways, heard about the new technology and shared their unique experiences

Zohar Boneh

Some hadn’t worn their flight suits in a long while, some still take part in reserve service and three are still in active duty. But they all have one thing in common: Hatzerim is a kind of a home to them, the aircraft may have changed but the noise is the same noise and the desert landscape hasn’t changes either.

In preparation for the base’s jubilee celebrations, the past Commanders of Hatzerim AFB were invited to witness the base’s activities and share experiences and insights from their service. The most senior member of the assembly was the 81 year old Brig. Gen. (Res.) Yesha’ayahu Barkat, who was the base’s second commander, back in the 1970’s. “In all, I lived here for three years, when I arrived it was a desolate desert. I loved this place and made it my home and when I left, the base was blooming, people didn’t want to leave”, he shared.

Back Home: 50 Years of Hatzerim AFB

Photography: Adi Abu

Hatzerim AFB has been home to the IAF Flight Academy that trains all of the IAF’s aircrews since 1968. So some of the forum took their first steps in the IAF in the base they later commanded and many of their significant memories have to do with the commanders that preceded them. “When I was a flight cadet, back in 1985, I was assigned to tower duty, where I had to sit and wait and I would be called every few hours for some sort of task”, shared Brig. Gen. Nir Barkan, Head of the Air Division and former Hatzerim AFB Commander. “I was audacious enough to sit in the tower with my legs up, when suddenly another person entered the room. I saw something on his shoulders but I wasn’t exactly sure what it meant. It was Brig. Gen. (Res.) Dan Pesach. He said to me: ‘Cadet, when the AFB Commander enters the room it is appropriate to stand up and salute’. Of course I stood up quickly and for two months I was certain that I was about to get called to the office and cut from the academy at any moment. So Pesach”, he turned to him, “I would like to close an old debt, sorry for not standing and thank you for not ratting me out”.

To this day, the essence of the base is still a significant part of these commanders. Hatzerim AFB means something different to each of them: Brig. Gen. (Res.) Ziv Levy explained how he decided to present the base. “When I began my service as AFB Commander, I understood that there was a problem with the base’s motto, it went something like ‘The place where the past and future meet’, because the base is home to the IAF museum that displays the past and the Flight Academy which ushers in the future, but if it is a meeting of the past and present, then we are stuck in place. Today, the motto is ‘A base of victory’. Some might see it as condescending, as if we are the best, but the meaning is not that we are the only base of victory, but that we contain all of the basics of victory. We have the legacy, we train the future of the force and we are operational”.

Back Home: 50 Years of Hatzerim AFB

Photography: Adi Abu

The commanders toured the base, were acquainted with the different aerial platforms and the changes the base has undergone throughout the years. They flew in the “Lavi” (M-346) simulator that recently celebrated two years in the flight academy. The advanced simulator took them back in time and one by one the retired commanders became young aircrew members once again, with lightning and love of flight in their eyes.

They may not maintain operational positions any more, but the insights and wisdom the former commanders accumulated throughout their service in the IAF and as AFB Commanders, are priceless. The Deputy Commanders and Commanders of the AFB’s various units had the privilege of hearing about the base’s history and legacy from the senior commanders and learn that challenges are always around the corner and now it is their turn.

Back Home: 50 Years of Hatzerim AFB

Photography: Adi Abu