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Volunteers From Around the World Release date 23.04.2019
Among the IAF's many aircrew members are three who left their families for one reason: defending the skies of Israel, their home. Meet Lt. L' from Victoria, Canada; Lt. S' from Chicago, United States; and Lt. Y' from Melbourne, Australia
Michal Ben Ari

In May of 1948, the Hebrew settlement in Israel had only a small number of pilots and light aircraft at its disposal. This is where the Mahal pilots came in – these are service members who served in World War II before coming to Israel. These volunteers came from various countries around the world and their participation helped Israel win the 1948 War of Independence as well as establish the infrastructure for the Israeli Air Force.

In April of 2019, the IAF has a wide variety of aircrew members performing operational missions on a daily basis using the world's most advanced aircraft. Among them are three modern Mahal volunteers. Meet Lt. L' from Victoria Canada; Lt. S' from Chicago, United States; and Lt. Y' from Melbourne, Australia. They are pilots who left their families overseas and successfully passed the prestigious Flight Course in order to help protect Israel, their home.

Lt. L', an aircrew member at the 124th Squadron

Now's the Time
Lt. L', an aircrew member at the 124th ("Rolling Sword") Squadron which operates the "Yanshuf" (Black Hawk) helicopter, successfully passed his first year studying medicine in Canada. "Everyone in Canada goes through the same course of life whether they like it or not. I wanted to challenge myself", he said. "At the age of 20, I realized I wanted to do something else. So I left school, and decided that it was the right time to move to Israel and connect my Jewish identity with life in Israel through a significant challenge".

Lt. S', an aircrew member at the 119th Squadron

After graduating from high school, Lt. S' – an aircrew member at the 119th ("Bat") Squadron which operates the "Sufa" (F-16I) fighter jet – could have begun his studies at a desired Ivy League university. "Even though I didn't live here all my life, I feel Israeli". Lt. S' admits that he did not originally dream of being a pilot, but with each stage of the course that he passed his motivation grew.

Technology, Speed & Influence
"I decided that nothing would stop me", said Lt. Y', a fighter pilot in operational training at the 102nd ("Flying Tiger") Squadron which operates the "Lavi" (M-346) trainer aircraft. "When you watch the news in Australia, see how the situation in Israel is displayed incorrectly and know the truth because your family is there – it's easy to get angry. I wanted to be an influence; I wanted to help. I felt like I belonged to Israel", he said. "It was my dream; I wanted to pilot fighter jets. I felt connected to the technology and my ability to protect Israel".

Lt. Y', a fighter pilot in operational training at the 102nd Squadron

Entering the Cockpit
"When I first entered the cockpit, I knew that this was what I wanted to do", recalled Lt. L'. "We flew to Uvda during the Flight Course and one moment was especially memorable. While in the air, we saw the tall cliffs of the Arabah from up close. We then landed in a valley between two cliffs – somewhere only reachable by helicopter – stopped, and just looked at the view".

Lt. L' said that the views and the people he met were an integral part of his decision to move to Israel: "The people here are warm and know how to think outside of the box. Living here isn't easy, so everyone feels a strong connection to each other. I told myself that I was lucky", he added. "Flying a helicopter is something amazing which I never believed I could do. I went from being a 19-year-old university student to being an aircrew member, and I'm enjoying every moment".

"The graduation was one of the most exciting days of my life", shared Lt. S'. "Throughout the ceremony, I thought back on my experiences throughout the course: I remembered how in the Preparation Stage, lying in bed after a difficult day, I thought about how I missed my mom – unlike everyone else, who gets to see their family on the weekend, my family isn't just a drive away. When I saw my parents and my friend Patrick sitting on the benches at the ceremony after coming all the way from the United States, my excitement doubled".

Leaving a Mark
Lt. L' has a big sister, who met her husband 15 years ago during a Birthright trip in Israel. Ten years ago, the couple visited Lt. L's family in Canada. "My sister's husband is a Lieutenant Colonel in SAR (Search-and-Rescue) Unit 669. During that same visit he told me I had 'the character of a pilot'", recalled Lt. L'. "I was 16 and didn't think much of it, but I thought about it again after I left medical school. Now, he's the first person I talk to about anything – he knows the military well. Being an aircrew member at the 124th Squadron feels like coming full circle seeing as some of the pilots worked alongside him in various missions".

"I had a commander in the Basic Stage who was a great influence", said Lt. S' about the person he chose to invite to the graduation ceremony. "At that stage in the course, I was still an American kid who liked messing around and not putting much work into anything. My commander, Maj. Y' – an aircrew member at the 107th ("Knights of the Orange Tail") Squadron – led me to a better place through numerous one-on-one conversations. He escorted me throughout the course, and a lot of my accomplishments are thanks to him".