The British are going, the British are coming. As the F-35 Program is ramping up, our International partners of this program are finding out what Northwest Florida has to offer. These are exciting times for this community as the International community puts their eyes on the Panhandle of Florida. If you don't think with the arrival of international pilots and their maintenance and support staff, they aren't telling their countryman about this place, you just don't get it. What does this all mean? It means, if you want to see continued economic prosperity in our area, I recommend you jump on board and support economic growth, or some other community just might steal it away.
F-35 program welcomes new members
By LAUREN SAGE REINLIE / Daily News
Published: Friday, July 19, 2013 at 17:38 PM.
EGLIN AFB — The international F-35 family that has come to call Northwest Florida home has welcomed its newest members.
Twins Kareem and Raya Aokal were born two weeks ago to their United Kingdom parents who are stationed at Eglin Air Force Base’s 33rd Fighter Wing. They are the first international babies to be born into the program.
About 18 airmen and sailors from the United Kingdom are stationed at Eglin along with service members from all branches of the U.S. military to train to fly and maintain the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter.
Although more than 4,000 miles from home, Royal Navy Chief Petty Officer Ihsaan Aokal and his wife, Hebah Badarneh, said their family has been welcomed with open arms.
Aokal, 36, said the 60 or so airmen, sailors and their families who traveled to Eglin to work with the F-35 program have become very close and supportive of one another.
“It’s like having a bit of an extended family while we’re out here,” he said.
Near the 33rd’s hangar Thursday, men from the Royal Navy and Royal Air Force gathered around a stroller to get a peek at the tiny babies.
Even though it’s not a tradition in the United Kingdom, the wing threw a baby shower for the couple before the infants’ birth, Aokal said.
He said having the babies here has added to what has already been an amazing encounter working with the F-35 program.
“Coming to America to live, working on this cutting-edge program, now twins,” he said. “It just added another dimension to our experience.”
Badarneh, 31, who is from Jordan, found out she was pregnant just a few weeks after the couple arrived in the United States with their young son last September.
Shortly after, she was being treated for dehydration when medical staff asked her if she had twins in her family.
“I said, ‘No, not twins,’ and started crying,” she said. “I was scared. It’s shocking, really.”
Aokal said he tried to be sympathetic with his wife after they found out that two babies were on the way, but really he was happy. Ever since he was young he’d dreamed that an ideal family would include boy and girl twins.
Badarneh said she learned to cope with what was to come, and now she really doesn’t see it as a difficulty.
“It’s just two babies instead of one,” she said. “Extra Pampers. Extra bottles.”
Aokal said he and Badarneh actually are a lot more relaxed with these babies than they were when they were new parents with their first child, now 2 years old.
Having the twins while stationed in the United States was not in their plans. Any dreams they had had of what they would do during their stay were displaced by the pregnancy, but the experience working with the fledgling F-35 program has been a highlight of Aokal’s career.
“To have been given this opportunity to be one of the select few, that is not wasted on me at all,” he said.
The opportunity has afforded his children opportunities of their own.
The babies are American citizens, which gives them chances for travel to the United States and even across the world that they might not have had otherwise.
And it’s something special for the baby book, giving the children a unique history of their birth and first years.
“They won’t know now, but when they grow up and look back they will know that we’ve done something good for them,” Badarneh said.
“It’s great for the memories,” Aokal said.