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NDF Air Force is here to stay
- Aerial display pleases Pohamba

By Asser Ntinda

When Founding President Sam Nujoma commissioned the Namibia Defence Force Air Wing on 23 July 1994, the Air Wing was not even worth calling "NDF Air Wing." It was frighteningly small, with fewer than eight pilots - all expatriates.

The fleets and squadrons were pathetic - only five Cesnas, four K8, two M18, two MI25 and two Y-12. That was all. But Founding President, Dr Sam Nujoma, by then President of the country and Commander- in-Chief of the Namibia Defence Force, NDF, was not impressed. He said that it should not be business as usual.

He commanded Namibia's first Air Vice Marshal, AVM, Air Force Commander, Martin Pinehas, to develop the country's Air Force into a formidable force that could make Namibians proud and enemies think twice before messing up with the country's territorial integrity. Having just emerged from a long and protracted war for national independence and four years into his Presidency, Dr Nujoma wanted an air force that was strong, complete with modern jet fighters and technologically improved airstrip and surveillance systems, from which jet fighters and attack helicopters could take off to execute any combat missions during the day or at night - in the country and abroad.

The war in the Democratic Republic of the Congo was a case in point. This was the first war where Namibia's Air Force capabilities were tested since independence. The results were impressive. The air force combat missions were carried out with spectacular successes. From its inception, Dr Nujoma committed his government to providing the necessary resources to translate the command he had given Pinehas into reality. Air Force Commander Pinehas took the command from the then Commander-In- Chief seriously. The resources were availed, only the implementation that was needed. And that was Pinehas' biggest headache.

"It was not easy to implement that command," said. "There were many things that we needed to do before we could take off the ground. The command was given. But the biggest question remained: Where do we start and with what first? Failure to implement the command was out of the question. We have to move on with what is available."

That was ten years ago. The Namibian Air Force celebrated its 10th anniversary last week Friday. For Air Force Commander Pinehas, it was his moment of pride, filled with a sense of accomplishment against heavy odds. He succeeded to translate that command into reality in a country with competing priorities and limited resources. President Hifikepunye Pohamba, who is the Commander- In-Chief of the NDF, arrived shortly before the celebrations could kick off last Friday at the Air Force Base in Grootfontein. He was accompanied by Founding President Dr Nujoma. The company of the two moved many in the crowd.

"Namibia is a great country," said one of the invited guests in the crowd. "It is a country at peace with itself. It is so pleasing to see a sitting president and a former president flying together to celebrate one of the most important events in the calendar of the NDF. In other countries, such people do not see eye to eye. "Maybe to them it does not mean much because they have been together for many years. But to us, it sends a sacred message of hope. We are a blessed nation. You only need to look at what happened to Dr Kenneth Kaunda in Zambia to understand what I mean."

President Pohamba was equally moved by the celebrations. As he read his speech, he looked around, set his prepared speech aside and congratulated the Air Force for a job well done. He said the founding of the Air Force ten years ago was part and parcel of the government's commitment to creating state institutions. "But truth must be said," he said, looking down on his left hand side where Founding President Nujoma was seated. "Truth must be said. It was under the leadership of this man that state institutions like the one we are celebrating today were created. Yes, it was under his leadership.

"This man has a vision for this country. Namibians should be proud of his initiatives... I am proud that the Namibian Air Force continues to build its human resources and technical capacities in various areas. This includes the training of pilots and maintenance technicians. "Today, the aircrafts and other equipment of the Air Force are operated and maintained by Namibian pilots and technicians. As Commander in-Chief, I am proud of what you have achieved in that short period of time. This is what Sam Nujoma wanted to see. This is what Namibians should be proud of. Keep up the good work.

"I commend the Air Force Commander and his Officers for a job well done. The Air Force should continue to improve its capabilities in terms of training personnel and modernizing its equipment. "I urge the leadership and the men and women of this important institution to rededicate themselves to the core values of the Air Force and its mission. In order to be successful as an institution, members of the Air Force at all levels must display an unquestionable sense of discipline, dedication to duty, professionalism and integrity."

Guests were treated to a spectacular aerial display and fly pasts, which involved helicopters and jet fighters. Paratroopers dropped from air landed successfully. Helicopters hovered in the air at low altitude in front of guests, making stunning side-way movements. Jet fighters flew past at low altitude, all piloted by young Namibians.

"The Namibian Air Force has indeed made substantial progress in a very short time of its existence," said Air Force Commander Pinehas. "Testimony to this is the high standard of professionalism that the Air Force displays which has earned it the respect of regional Air Forces and beyond. He thanked the government for the unwavering support rendered to the Air Force. He also commended the dedication and commitment of the men and women of the Air Force who had made sacrifices to ensure that Namibia's national security was not compromised.

"These in combinations are pillars that hold the values which underpinned and propelled us to achieve this phenomenal growth," said Commander Pinehas. "Having been part of its short period of existence and 10 years after it was commissioned, I should confidently stress that this Air Force is on the right track towards developing the capabilities required to enable us to defend our country's vast airspace as well as to give support to sisterly services and to provide timely assistance to civil powers and the nation at large in times of need."

President Pohamba and other guests were impressed by the display of professional flying and technical skills that the Air Force had developed within the short period of ten years. "We truly must be proud as a nation, seeing our own children flying those machines. I am very impressed. As long as I am President and Commander- in-Chief of the Namibia Defence Force, I will make resources available to ensure that the Air Force and other NDF wings grow."

The Air Force has grown formidably, from its hopeless small unit ten years ago to a fearsome and highly professional NDF Air Force that it is today - complete with squadrons of awesome modern jet fighters and attack helicopters piloted and maintained by highly qualified Namibian pilots and technicians. Today, the Air Force has about 40 pilots, all Namibians.


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