Dr. Avi Yitzhaki, the chief medical officer of the Southern Command, became on Thursday the first Israeli of Ethiopian descent to be promoted to the rank of colonel in the IDF.
Col. Yitzhaki received his new rank from IDF Chief of Staff Lt. Gen. Gadi Eisenkot, who noted the special occasion.
"Every officer being promoted (to colonel) brings with him or her a contribution of over 20 years of service. They each have their own unique contribution and story, and yet Col. Avi Yitzhaki is a trailblazer," Eisenkot said. "I congratulate you. To me, this promotion expresses the great appreciation of all you've done so far."
"Blessed are You, Lord, who has sustained us and enabled us to reach this occasion," Yitzhaki said. "I'm very excited and happy for myself and my family for the new rank and this wonderful achievement. I have no doubt my children, teenagers in general, and teenagers from the Ethiopian community in particular, will see this as a realization of the phrase 'If you will it, it is no dream.'"
Dr. Yitzhaki is in charge of the Southern Command's medical unit. In his previous role, he headed the operational medicine branch in the Technological and Logistics Directorate.
Yitzhaki, married and a father of four from Be'er Sheva, was born in Ethiopia and made aliyah to Israel in 1994 at the age of 19. His parents made aliyah before him, in 1981.
Upon his arrival to Israel, he began preparing for the university entry exams to continue his medical studies, which he began in Addis Ababa at the age of 16 after skipping several grades.
He continued his medical studies at Ben-Gurion University and then underwent basic training, army medics' course and officers' course while finishing his PhD in medicine.
Upon completing his doctorate degree, he was stationed at his request in the Paratroopers Brigade's 101st Battalion as a medical officer. Later, he served as a doctor in the elite Maglan Special Forces unit.
During the 2006 Second Lebanon War, Yitzhaki was a resident in general surgery and was called up to serve as a doctor in the Nahal Brigade. Twelve hours before fighting ended, Yitzhaki had suffered a shrapnel injury to his left arm and had to undergo surgery. After recovering, he finished his residency in general surgery.
During the 2008-9 Operation Cast Lead, Yitzhaki served as the head of the Medical Department in the Southern Command.
Yitzhaki also served as a surgeon at a field hospital as part of the IDF's humanitarian delegation to Haiti following the 2010 earthquake.
Later, he completed the second stage of his residency and returned to IDF service as the head medical officer of the Gaza Division during the 2012 Operation Pillar of Defense and 2014 Operation Protective Edge. Following this, he was was appointed the head of operational medicine in the Medical Corps.