Jerusalem Post – Jan 10, 2013
By Danny Grossman
I was first privileged to meet US Gen. (ret.) Robert Magnus at an event I helped orchestrate honoring another tough US Navy aviator, Lou Lenart, who led the first fighter mission of the Israel Air Force 64 years ago. In everything he does, Bob personifies the talmudic definition of an honorable man as “one who pays honor to his fellow man…,” or in fighter-pilot lingo: “To be a great leader, you have to know how to be a good wingman.”
When their current visit fell on dates that included an IAF Wings Ceremony, both Bob and his fiancée Meredith Loveman not only jumped at my invitation to attend the air show, but set aside the entire day to experience widely disparate aspects of modern Israel.
We began with a revealing tour of Sderot, followed by a powerful visit to the ALEH Negev village for severely disabled young adults. The only common thread was the empathetic connection that Gen.
Magnus and Meredith made with the people they met throughout their day.
After just a few moments, Meredith and Bob picked up on the Sderot spokesman’s passion and pain as he told the tale of a town besieged by terror, not in terms of the thousands of rockets fired, but through his stories of people he knew personally who had lost their lives or their loved ones. The standard strategic overview from the hill on the edge of town was punctuated by pointing to the spot where their dear friend, current Home Front minister Avi Dichter had come under sniper fire, which wounded his close assistant.
The residents’ resilience was brought to life when the Cinematheque director spoke of his determination to bring music and culture into the lives of local area children and their parents. Before leaving, the soon-to-be-joined couple also made a quick foray to the JNF-protected playground, housed in a refurbished warehouse incongruously located near Elbit Systems’ state-ofthe- art plant.
THE JOURNEY from Sderot to the Hatzerim air force base via ALEH Negev and Ofakim traverses just a few kilometers, but the two destinations are light-years apart.
Hatzerim houses Israel’s strongest forces. ALEH Negev embodies our country’s weakest, yet finest elements.
In the words of its founder, General (res.) Doron Almog, a society should be judged not merely by its strongest link, but by the way it deals with those who can’t fight for themselves. Almog and Bob bonded instantaneously. Their nearly identical diminutive frames belie grit and charisma that have enabled both to lead men in battle and in peace.
However, neither decorated commander spoke a word of their careers.
Bob was wired in to Almog’s every word: how he’d lost his brother Eran, who was injured fatally during the Yom Kippur War, and Doron’s commitment not to leave his autistic son Eran “in the field.”
Bob and Meredith peppered Almog with questions, grilling him about the efforts required to build a modern medical and residential village in the Negev desert. Before leaving, we toured the lush green grounds with a family, with Bob and Meredith making the delightful acquaintance of their son Shay, an ALEH Negev resident, as well as his caring nurse from the nearby Beduin village of Rahat.
It was interesting to see the mutual respect displayed between Bob, Meredith and generals like long-time friend Shai Avital, IAF Commander Amir Eshel and of course Defense Minister Ehud Barak.
The most poignant part of the day for me was the long drive home, during which I asked Bob (as all pilots inevitably do) to tell a favorite war story.
I was spellbound by his detailed account of a SAR (Search and Rescue) mission over Thailand toward the end of the Vietnam War. His soft-spoken determination not to leave a man in the field was more forceful than any depiction of a highly charged combat mission. It echoed the words heard earlier in the day.
As we continued toward home, I realized that this warrior ethos is the very quality that has enabled Bob to ascend to the lofty heights he has reached – and that will serve him well as he and his soul mate Meredith continue to navigate their course.