Saturday, March 29, 2008

Taking and Giving - a Balance

As Elie learns to lead, he begins to understand that there is a balance to be sought; a pledge to be received and given. He must act for "his" soldiers; think of them as his to command, his to protect. It's Saturday night here in Israel. Elie and some of his soldiers are home but will return early tomorrow morning.

One soldier is being sent to learn to drive the armored personnel carrier. Elie too learned this skill, but as commander, he is now responsible for directing someone else to drive it. The commander stands while the vehicle moves, and is responsible for watching outside the vehicle. The commander orders the driver to drive or stop, to maneuver around objects that are more difficult to see from the driver’s position. The driver has limited vision and ultimately it is the commanding officer who is responsible for guiding the vehicle, though it is the driver who implements his commands. They practice this so that they become a unit and can easily navigate to required locations.

So, one soldier under Elie’s command is going to learn how to drive this vehicle. To do this, he must arrive at the southern base early tomorrow morning to begin a course that lasts several days. And therein lies the problem. The officer who is to learn was at the base up north this weekend. The course is given at a training base in the south where there are miles and miles of open space and challenging terrain upon which to practice. If the soldier has to wait until Elie and the others return, he will miss the course. If he leaves before they return, the base will be under-manned.

And so, Elie ordered one of his other soldiers to return up north tonight. A jeep will take this returning soldier from Kiryat Shemona to the actual base and, at the same time, collect the soldier from the base and take him back to Kiryat Shemona. From there, the soldier who will be taking the course can either sleep in the equivalent of a hostel for soldiers or travel home, spend a quick evening at home, and then continue tomorrow to the southern base. The added time traveling tonight and his not having to wait until the others return, will enable him to arrive on time tomorrow morning.

So, Elie chose one of his soldiers and told him that he had to return Saturday night, after the Sabbath ends. To compensate him for cutting short his time at home, Elie released him a day early. "I gave him 24 hours extra and took back less than 12," Elie explained. Thus the soldier was happy, Elie was content, and the other soldier will get to his course on time.

It's all about balancing.

Elie told me a few weeks ago that one of the things that he is required to do each day with his soldiers is read them their “mission.” This is a constant reminder of what they are facing and why. He told me that two of his soldiers came late and he had to punish them. This wasn’t easy for Elie. He spoke to his commanding officer and then decided that he would punish them by giving them an unpopular task, repeatedly.

“Didn’t that get them upset?” I asked Elie.

“No. They knew they were wrong and it was either that or have them give up going home for the weekend.” To Elie and I think to most of the soldiers, being home is about as good as it gets. It’s a goal for them. Once they are released, they calculate the fastest way to get home. When Elie was thinking of quitting the Commanders Course in order to try to push the army into letting him take the Medics Course, part of his calculations included how much time he could get home. If he quit on a Thursday, he thought, they’d send him home for the weekend. But Thursday came and went and on Sunday, he would once again decide to postpone his decision until Thursday, until it became apparent that he didn’t really want to quit the course at all.

To Elie, denying someone going home was too great a penalty and so he found something else. It’s all about balancing. As a soldier’s mother, looking beyond the wisdom the army is forcing my son to use and the judgment calls they are forcing him to make, I am once again amazed by the long-term ramifications of what these aspects of his responsibility will add to his personality. He is learning to weigh his choices and understand that with decisions comes responsibility; and with responsibility comes the need to find a balance. To give when you are forced to take, and to take only what you must.

It’s a little after 11:30 p.m. Elie’s soldier called to say he arrived at base. Elie has packed his things and is preparing to go to sleep; to rise early and return to the army. He’ll be home again in two weeks…we do not yet know what his schedule will be, if he will be able to spend the Passover Seder with us. But that is a few weeks away. Between now and then, we will wait and see.

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