IDF Chief of General Staff Lt. Gen. Gadi Eisenkot and Israel Air Force (IAF) Commander Maj. Gen. Amikam Norkin awarded the rank of Brigadier-General to Giora "Hawkeye" Epstein, 80, former IAI pilot and the world's flying aces champion on Wednesday.
The ceremony was held at the IAF headquarters in the presence of air force veterans, Epstein's family members, and other distinguished guests.
Brigadier General Epstein joined the IDF in 1956. He was initially rejected by the Israeli Air Force Flight Academy due to medical reasons, and served as an IAF ordnance soldier instead. He later volunteered in the Paratroopers Brigade and served in the Efah Battalion (890th).
In 1959 Epstein left the IDF, and three years later the Brig. General joined the regular service as a parachuting instructor.
During his service in the Paratroopers Brigade, Epstein appealed the flight academy's decision, and, after gaining medical clearance, he enlisted in the academy.
Epstein completed the flight course with distinction in 1963 and served as an IAF helicopter pilot. After he filed another appeal to the IAF, he was assigned to a combat pilot position.
His first victory was against an Egyptian Sukhoi Su-7 during the Six-Day War.
During the War of Attrition, Epstein served as deputy commander of the air force squadron and downed four aircraft. For his exceptional service during the Yom Kippur War, in which he downed a staggering 12 aircraft, he was awarded the IDF's Medal of Distinguished Service.
In 1974, the Brig. General was appointed commander of the IAF 117th Squadron, also known as the First Jet Squadron.
In 1977 Epstein retired from permanent service. As a reserve officer, he commanded the IAF's 254th Squadron and after he completed a retraining process he became a F-16 pilot.
Brig. Gen Giora Epstein accumulated about 9,000 flying hours and 17 victories, which makes him the world's fighter jet aces champion.
Chief of Staff Eisenkot praised Epstein at the ceremony, before wishing him and those in attendance a good new year.
"This modest ceremony is an expression of our great appreciation to you personally, and to the generation of founders who developed the extraordinary abilities of the IDF and the State of Israel," Eisenkot said.
"The legacy that is passed over to pilots and air force commanders is a legacy of tremendous commitment, of winning every battle, of completing the mission, and of excellence as a way of life," he continued.
"The spirit of man and the spirit of the fighter who carries the weight of the battle on his shoulders characterizes you, Giora, as a fighter pilot. I wish you good health, success, and wish us all a happy new year," Eisenkot concluded.
"This rank is a clear statement. We appreciate those who fought for our homeland, we are aware of the size of your contribution throughout Israel's wars and we are proud to have a world champion in our midst," Israel Air Force commander Maj. Gen. Amikam Norkin said at the ceremony.
"In the Yom Kippur War, Epstein downed 17 aircraft, 11 jets and one helicopter, five were downed using air-to-air missiles, the rest with a cannon. I am proud to be the commander of the air force, who awards the brigadier general rank to a world champion fighter pilot," Norkin concluded.
"I am very touched by this occasion and thank the Chief of General Staff and the Israel Air Force commander for this gesture and honor. I thank the Israel Air Force, and the Air Force Flight Academy, which were my boyhood's dream," Brig. Gen Giora Epstein said in response.
"After many struggles, I became a certified air force pilot. Fortunately, I was able to fulfill my expectations and abilities as expected from a fighter pilot. I would like to thank the IDF and especially Israel Air Force for the wonderful years in service and the great satisfaction they have given me," he concluded.