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How the Israeli Army Made Me Cry

IDF2Actually, I’ll confess, the first time I was more angry than weepy; the second time, total tears. I’m writing what happened not so much as a personal story but an example of the army and country we have built. Imagine this happening in any other army in the world…I can’t.

So yesterday I had a meeting planned in the center of the country and so finagled the time a bit so that I could spend an extra hour with my soldier, my youngest son. I told him I would drive him to his base. Why would someone turn down an air-conditioned, door-to-door ride versus a bus to a bus to a bus to get to the base? The answer is no one would…but I wish he had.

We set out extra early. There are certain things you just don’t do, even in the Israeli army. You NEVER forget where your gun is, and you don’t come back to base late. Both warrant immediate punishments. According to our GPS program (WAZE, so it was supposed to know about the traffic on the ground at the moment), we would arrive at his base almost 30 minutes early, until…

About 25-30 minutes before we should have arrived, we hit traffic. Bad traffic. Massive traffic. My son immediately sent a message to his commanding officer. About 100 meters before the checkpoint, we came to a full stop surrounded by hundreds of cars. It was a traffic jam that would stretch many many kilometers before, some 40 minutes later, it would suddenly unjam. An hour before he was supposed to be on base, my son messaged his commanding officer again, and again, and again.

In the end, we got to his base 20 minutes late and the commanding officer’s commanding officer gave my son his punishment – the loss of one day of vacation. The problem is that for his next vacation, we canceled our own vacation plans a week later and spent hours to find a place where we could be together with him. And we found one and booked it. Losing a day of vacation really means losing two days. The current plan would have been to pick him up from his base, drive north, and two hours later, be on vacation. Now, he would miss that first day completely, as well as the ride up there and so he would have to spend 4-5 hours to meet up with us.

Like a broken record, I kept telling my son, “but tell him”…”but did you say.” I asked him for his commander’s number. He gave it to me, but told me not to call him. My son wrote and said that he would try to ask them to push the punishment off until the following time he comes out.

Not good enough, I thought. Just not good enough. So I wrote to the Mem-Mem (the commander’s commander). He wrote back that I should speak to the Mem-Pay (Platoon Commander) and gave me his number. He told me to call him at 10:00 p.m.

At 10:00 p.m., the Mem-Pay didn’t answer. At 10:07, he didn’t answer. At 10:12 p.m., he answered and said he couldn’t speak. I should call in the morning.

And I did. And he answered. I told him what happened. That we did all we could to be there on time. That we left early. That the checkpoint was closed. He’s a good soldier, I said, “I don’t know if you know him.”

“Of course, I know him and he is a good soldier.”

He also said, “He’s a big boy” and can speak for himself. This is the first time he was late in eight months, I answered. And yes, he’s a big boy. More, he’s a man, I told him. That’s what you did, you took my boy and you made a man. I won’t say thank you for that, I told him. He laughed and said, “it had to happen,”

I told him that I really don’t call my sons’ commanding officers. I’m not that kind of mother. But don’t ruin the soldier you have created. Don’t take his motivation away.

I told him how David considers the army his family, his brothers. I told him about the air conditioning going off on Shabbat and the Russian and the Druze turning it on for the others. Don’t punish him for something that wasn’t his fault.

And then he said, “we’ll look into it.” Progress.

“There were a lot of soldiers who were late yesterday,” he said.

And I answered – maybe it was all for the same reason. And if that’s true, there really was nothing they could have done. “We’ll look into it and we’ll be fair.”

You can’t ask for more. I hung up the phone, cried a bit just from the relief of having had someone listen to me and then again realized what a precious gift that is. I really do not believe in any other country, a mother would call up her son’s commanding officer’s commanding officer’s commanding officer, that he would listen patiently, and reassure her. That he would understand and respond.

“We love our soldiers,” he told me at one point. And I know it is true. This man knows my son personally because that’s the kind of army it is. Remember this story the next time you hear the lies others tell about our soldiers. Remember the image of a busy commander stopping long enough to speak to a mother over a punishment of one day given to a single soldier. As if that boy was not just my world, but a sacred trust given to him to guard.

May God and the Mem-Pays of Israel watch over our sons, this day and every day.

About the author

Picture of Paula R. Stern

Paula R. Stern

Paula R. Stern is the CEO of WritePoint Ltd, a leading technical writing company in Israel. She is also a popular blogger with her work appearing on her own sites, A Soldier's Mother and PaulaSays, as well as IsraellyCool and a number of other Jewish and Israeli sites.
Picture of Paula R. Stern

Paula R. Stern

Paula R. Stern is the CEO of WritePoint Ltd, a leading technical writing company in Israel. She is also a popular blogger with her work appearing on her own sites, A Soldier's Mother and PaulaSays, as well as IsraellyCool and a number of other Jewish and Israeli sites.
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