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IDF Promotes its First Ethiopian Regiment Commander

Lt.-Col. Tzion Ankur, who arrived in Israel at age 4 after walking to Sudan, is the first Ethiopian to become an IDF Regiment Commander.

By Hillel Fendel
First Publish: 4/5/2009, 4:41 PM

Lt.-Col. Tzion Ankur, who arrived in Israel at age 4 in 1980 after walking to Sudan, is the first Ethiopian-born Israeli to reach the high post of Regiment Commander.

The IDF held a large ceremony several days ago to mark the appointment of Ankur as head of the Shimshon Regiment in the Kfir Brigade. 

Ankur, 33, served in the past as a paratroopers platoon commander, a team leader in the Bahad-1 Officers Training Base, and a battalion commander in the Haruv Regiment.

He and his family, including grandparents and great-grandmother, walked to Sudan from northern Ethiopia in 1980, and were then flown by the Israel Air Force to Israel.  “When we arrived, we kissed the ground,” Tzion later recounted.  “All of our dreams and longings had been linked to Israel. Along the way, when things got hard, those who were old or ill said that they could die only after they reached the Holy Land and Jerusalem.”

Ankur grew up in Be’er Sheva, and later studied, as did many young Ethiopian immigrants, in a religious boarding high school in Yemin Orde, near Haifa. “My parents didn’t want to send me to a dorm,” he said, “but I insisted, because I wanted a place where I could study the best way I possibly could.”

Many people attended the promotion ceremony, at which Tzion said, “I am excited at having merited this special opportunity. I feel that I am fulfilling the desire of the members of the Ethiopian community to live in a Jewish place as a free people, and to be part of the leadership of this place. I look forward to cooperation with the officers and soldiers of this regiment, so that we will succeed and become even more professional than we already are.”

Senior IDF officials expressed satisfaction with the fact that most of the Kfir Infantry Brigade's regiment commanders have sprouted within the brigade, even though Kfir is only two years old. The cadre of young officers includes four regiment commanders who are to be appointed this coming summer.

Ethiopian Statistics
Some 4,000 officers and soldiers of the Ethiopian community serve in the IDF, 5% of whom are officers.  Over 85% of the males in the community enlist in the army, and some 50% of the females.  Over a  third of the Ethiopian soldiers are in combat positions, and 20% are drivers. On the other hand, 23% of the males drop out of the army before their term of service has ended, and10.7% of the inmates in army prison are Ethiopian.