The Israel Air Force’s first female leader of a flight squadron took command on Tuesday, the army said.
The pilot — who for security reasons can only be referred to by her rank and first initial of her Hebrew name, Lt. Col. “Gimel” — will command the Nachshon Squadron, which operates surveillance aircraft.
“Lt. Col. ‘Gimel,’ the mother of two boys, you are a role model and an inspiration for thousands of women in the State of Israel,” IAF chief Maj. Gen. Amikam Norkin said at the ceremony.
“Congratulations to our first female commander of an operational squadron in the air force, we’ve been waiting for you for 71 years,” he said.
Gimel, 35, joined the Israel Defense Forces in 2003 and completed the air force’s grueling pilots training course three years later, having specialized in flying transport planes.
From 2015 to 2017, she served as the deputy commander of the Nachshon Squadron, which flies Gulfstream jets outfitted with advanced intelligence-gathering equipment from the IAF’s Nevatim Air Base in southern Israel.
“I believe that it is our duty in the Israel Defense Forces to fulfill the inherent potential in women. We are still far from this goal, but I am sure that this process will continue and that we will appoint female commanders and soldiers in a wide variety of positions in the air force and in the IDF in general,” Norkin said.
Following her nomination for the position last year, Gimel said in a statement that it was “a great privilege along with a great responsibility. The true work is still ahead. I am proud to serve in the Air Force.”
Her appointment comes after the military named the first ever woman to head an IAF aviation squadron in January.
Unlike flight squadrons, which operate aircraft, aviation squadrons are responsible for ground-based operations.
In November the air force appointed its first female deputy commander of a fighter jet squadron to serve in the air force’s Spearhead Squadron, which flies F-15 fighter jets out of the Tel Nof air base in central Israel.
The military also announced last year that Maj. Gen. Norkin, the IAF commander, had appointed two other women to deputy commander positions in the military’s drone squadrons.
While women flew fighter planes in the 1948 Independence War and 1956 Sinai War, they were eventually booted from the program as well as from other combat positions in the Israel Defense Forces, but have in recent decades been reintegrated across the military, including in tank crews.
In 1993, Alice Miller asked to try out for the IAF’s vaunted pilots’ course, but she was rebuffed. She then turned to the High Court of Justice, which ruled that she should be allowed into the program. However, Miller was eventually dropped from the course, after being deemed medically unfit.
In 1998, five years after Miller’s request, and five decades after Israel had its last female aviator, Sheri Rahat graduated from the pilots’ course, becoming a navigator for the F-16 fighter jet, but not technically a pilot.
Three years later, Roni Zuckerman, a granddaughter of Zivia Lubetkin and Yitzhak Zuckerman, two leaders of the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising, graduated as Israel’s first female fighter pilot.
Despite those strides, the overwhelming majority of fighter pilots in the Israeli Air Force are still men, mostly because of the physical fitness requirements.