This is the ninth in a series of stories told by former Israel Defense Forces (IDF) reserve duty soldier-students about their time in service and life in Israel, brought to you by StandWithUs and Jspace. Daya is one of 12 speakers traveling around the United States as part of StandWithUs’ 7th “Israeli Soldiers Tour,” putting a human face to the IDF uniform. Last names are withheld for security purposes. These stories have never been told before. For more information, visit: https://www.facebook.com/israelisoldierstour/

Daya, 26, was born in Nahriya, on the border with Lebanon. She studies civil engineering at Israel’s Technion.

Military service in Israel is mandatory at the age of 18 – 2 years for girls and 3 for boys. At age seventeen, Daya already knew that she wanted the toughest operation that would be a lifetime experience – air traffic controller. “It felt great! I mean in what other country in the world could an 18-year old girl get to manage the sky and order a decade-older pilot what to do?” she exclaims. Basic training was 450 km from her home, mostly around sand, with little sleep and very rough commanders. After finishing, Daya was assigned to the Ramat David air traffic control tower. Not only was the unit in charge of the sky, but were also the first to call for fire or medical help. The job requires making tough decisions and witnessing irregular moments – but the worse was observing a deadly accident.

Have you experienced any particularly tense moments in the IDF?

I witnessed a few accidents, but one sticks in my mind. Imagine a mushroom cloud of smoke. We sent for help, but soon discovered there was nothing left. Ten minutes after take-off, the back rotor of the helicopter fell apart and it crashed. Two losses. It was horrible. After the investigation, we realized there was nothing we could have done. Its moments like that brings all of us together. This is one of the experiences that inspired me to go to my next step – becoming an officer.

I went into the IDF officers school, and from there to IAF (Israel air force) officers school and became an air traffic control officer. I was assigned at Nevatim flying base in the south. It was a new sky, a new platform and as before, not much easier to navigate. But, I was more confident.

Two years as an officer in Nevatim, I was moved again, this time even further south. I became a commander of the air traffic control department at the IAF officers school, teaching cadets.

It’s night. “Permission to line up 2-6 left” I hear the pilot on the earphones. “Line up 2-6 left the wind is 20 from the right 10 knots,” is the response. Then we saw it – heavy bombs ready to be released at the target. We gave it direct access because it was “all clear.” But, when the plane touched the runway, we noticed that all of the bombs were still intact… and wondered why.

Before every mission like this, there is exact intelligence information about the target. It includes verification of minimal side effects. To accomplish this, there are weeks and sometimes even months of intelligence gathering. But, life is unpredictable, and when a kid or someone who is not the target is in the damage area unexpectedly, you cancel. You work hard, do your homework, but in a blink of an eye have to abort, because of the kid who was suppose to be at school but got sick and stayed at the target zone. But don’t get me wrong- I am not talking about dozens of life, sometimes only one is enough! And I’m sure those decisions are not easily made because this target is a potential killer of many more.

Sometimes, when needed, the IAF uses “Micholit,” a small bomb pointed to a corner spot in the target building, to warn people inside in advance. The IDF also drops leaflets. The main reason is because the enemy uses human shields to take advantage of the IDF’s humane character.

What moment of your service are you most proud of?

I am extremely proud to be an officer in the IAF. The year I spent training young cadets was inspiring. It was definitely full of tough decisions, dealing with conflicts, and of course seeing my “babies” grow up.

I ended up with 5 years as a lieutenant at the Israel air force (3 compulsory and 2 of regular army service). I don’t regret it. No doubt, a part of who I am today, I owe to the army.

How does it feel to represent Israel this way?

Audiences who expected see a brutal character when they heard that a former Israeli soldier was coming – I am that brutal character. Not so bad- huh? We are not the bad guys and I hope to make a positive impact for Israel by making people aware of this. Can’t say we’re perfect – no military in the world is – but we’re doing our best to protect our home, our babies and still remain as compassionate as possible.

All I ask is for you not to believe everything you see or hear; before you choose sides, check, ask, explore. Israel is such a small country that garners a disproportionate amount of attention. I am proud to try to effect hearts and minds to better understand our country and hopefully, to support us.

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