'A real step forward' as 14 new citizens get a new rank

Olim are among the proud graduates of the IDF's officers training course.

idf soldiers leave gaza celebrate 248ap  (photo credit: AP [file])
idf soldiers leave gaza celebrate 248ap
(photo credit: AP [file])
On Wednesday, Israel inducted some of its newest citizens to the IDF leadership. Fourteen new olim were among the 417 soldiers who graduated from the officer training course at the Bahad 1 training base near Mitzpe Ramon. The new officers received the rank of second-lieutenant at a ceremony attended by Defense Minister Ehud Barak and IDF Chief of General Staff Lt.-Gen. Gabi Ashkenazi. Among those inducted was Shalom Bar-Eretz, who moved to Israel alone from Nevada in 2005 after finishing high school. "Even before I made aliya, I knew that I wanted to come to Israel to be an officer," said Bar-Eretz, who trained for eight months with an elite combat unit before learning to be a regular infantry commander in the Kfir Brigade. Bar-Eretz, like most of those graduating on Wednesday, attended the combat officers course for eight months, studying leadership, navigation and infantry weapons. The course ended with three days of testing, including a 30-km. solo navigation hike based on a map memorized beforehand. Bar-Eretz began his army service with three months of Hebrew studies in a course for soldiers who recently moved to Israel. The course was held at Michvei Alon, an education base in the North, as part of a program to acclimate olim to life in the IDF. "The army is full of different people. Being from America is what makes me different, but everyone is different from everyone," Bar-Eretz said. After serving for four months as a sergeant in Bethlehem, he signed up for officer training and extended his service by two years. He will return to the West Bank next week to command a platoon. The IDF pays the rent for Bar-Eretz's apartment in a settlement south of Hebron, part of the financial assistance given to all "lone soldiers," those here without family. He hopes to continue living in the settlement after he finishes his service. Meanwhile, an Argentinean-born immigrant has earned his wings after completing the Israel Air Force's three-year pilots course. The new fighter pilot, "D.," moved to Israel with his family at age seven and settled in a town in the Galilee. He began the examinations to become a pilot when he was in 11th grade and knew by the end of high school that he would be starting his IDF service in the course. D. is now committed to serve an additional nine years as a pilot and will then take part in weekly exercises as a reservist. The course included a year and a half of intensified university studies, with professors teaching at the training base. D. graduates the pilot course with a bachelor's in mathematics and computer science from Ben-Gurion University. The pilot cadets spent a year learning how to fly, and an additional six months learning skills appropriate for all IDF officers. "My first flight alone, I looked back and saw that the trainer was not with me. It was the moment that signified a real step forward," D. said of his strongest memory after a year of training. Shelly Navon also made aliya after finishing high school, from Belguim in 2006. She served in a field intelligence unit on the northern border of Gaza for eight months before starting officer training. Outside Gaza, she monitored videos transmitted from IDF balloons looking over the Strip. "I always thought I would come to Israel after high school, but I never thought about enlisting into the army," said Navon, who grew up speaking some Hebrew with her Israel-born parents. Navon joined the IDF after her studies at the Technion-Israel Institute of Technology in Haifa were interrupted by a draft order. She extended the two-year service mandatory for women by nine months to become an officer certified in training soldiers in courses for the Field Intelligence Brigade. Before the graduation ceremony, lone soldiers received gifts of watches, in addition to the organizer pads given to all the new officers. The growing numbers of immigrants among new officers reflects "the integration of olim into Israeli society as a whole and specifically into the army," an IDF official said.