Sunday, December 20, 2009

The Milestones of Service

The first milestones as your son enters the army are obvious - the first day when he leaves, the first call, the first time he comes home in a uniform, the first time he comes home with a gun. The first sleepless night you have, the first time you wake in fear and panic, the first horrible call when he tells you something has happened, the first time he is sick and far from home. The first time you don't know where he is; the first time you know he's out there, at night, in the desert, wandering, navigating, almost alone. The first time you learn he has raised his gun, the first time he shoots and the first time you know he is at war.

We've passed them all, survived them all and come out stronger for the experience. Today, I realized there are other milestones yet to experience. Just as there is a start, there is a finish. Just as there are first times, there are last times.

I spoke to Elie on the phone. He'd gotten the cake and chocolate I sent and said they were delicious. He told me about where he would be in the coming days, what he would be doing. Right now, he explained, he was waiting for the other unit to take over "konenut" - that's a term that means "on alert" or "on call."

Essentially, for the last few weeks while Elie's unit has been in training maneuvers on the Golan Heights, they have also been on alert, on call. What this means, essentially, is ready for war. If Syria or Lebanon had launched an attack, Elie was in the first line of defense; Elie and his unit would be the first to fire back.

When Hezbollah fired missiles into northern Israel a few months ago, artillery units responded immediately. That's their job, to be ready within minutes. For the last few months, this has been Elie's unit...until today.

So Elie was waiting to hand over the responsibility. "What does that mean?" I asked him.

"I'm waiting to close down the computer," he explained. The other unit was supposed to come online hours before, "but they're late." And so Elie's unit remained on alert, waiting.

When the word came, that the other unit was ready, Elie powered down his computer. He closed the computer...likely (hopefully) for the last time as a soldier in the standing army.

From here, he goes back to a checkpoint to finish the last few months in the army. In effect, he has stood down from Israel's borders for the last time as a soldier in the standing army of Israel. It's a milestone of sorts. A beginning, a passage to the future.

Of course, there's that roller coaster we've been on, the one with the sudden climbs and sudden falls. From where I'm standing, I'm praying that it's flat from here till when Elie hands back his gun, hands in his uniforms and comes home.

Yes, I know - Elie will be in the army for the next 18 years, serving one month per year in our national reserves. He is as obligated to serve in the reserves as he was to serve in the standing army. Each year, for the next 18 years, he will receive orders to show up on a certain day, he'll be assigned a certain unit and a task and each year, as they grow older, they will come together. Year by year, they will meet and catch up on the lives they have lead since the last time they met.

But first there are many todays to experience. For now, today was the last time Elie was with the computers of the nagmashim (the armored personnel vehicles), last week was likely the last time that he would hear these powerful machines fire massive explosives at a target and spew forth fire. The last time...until the next time he returns as a reservist.

Today, as he stood down and prepared to separate from the equipment, there is a sense of relief, a sense of success, a sense that we've made it so much farther than I ever could have imagined. And, there is the sudden realization that in the next few months, there will likely be as many milestones of parting as there were in the start. For each beginning, there is an end; for each journey, there is a starting point and an arrival.

We are nearing the light at the end of the tunnel; it's there, so much brighter than it was before, so much closer. Tomorrow someone else's son will guard the northern borders and begin their training as Elie rotates yet again in the timeless dance the army leads every few months.

It is his last rotation, his last shift. Next one brings him home...and sees his brother begin.

5 comments:

steve ornstein said...

I know the feelings. My son was on the northern border for most of his service and often in Lebanon. We were living in the States at that time and the 3 kids were living in Israel. They never let us know exactly where he was or what he was doing as a sniper. Looking back and returning for his graduation and honor as an exemplary soldier I was very proud of him. The army was an important positive influence on who he is today.

agoldstardad said...

Congrats to this fine young man and his family. The truth is when one member enlists, the whole family is in for the duration of that. I am so very happy for you. Hopefully you all can stand down for a while. I know that there isn't much down time for anyone in your country. I wish that we here in the US would or could at least pay attention to the global threat. I am tired of defending the fight and being damned for it and called hateful. We here will regret our sloth and apathy to the threat. Of this I'm sure. I hope you have a happy safe year to come and that somehow, there will be peace for you and yours - Fozzy

RangersGirl said...

I second Fozzy aka agoldstardad above. He really understands the sacrifices a family makes.

Wow what a big accomplishment. For all of you! I'm interested to read how your take on things is with your second son when he goes in. I remember from your past blogs that he is in a different group...something more religious? Do you think it will be easier for you with him because of the knowledge you have gained with Elie's enlistment?

MamaTod said...

I totally agree with agoldstardad above, and also extend my heartfelt thanks for his own sacrifice.

We have 10 months/30 months respectively here for our sons to be in the reserves. I have to remind myself not to wish my life away by wanting their time "done" and that their days, their lives are held in the loving hands of G-d. It's hard for this mom to do. But the "last time" as active duty is certainly reason to celebrate! :)So go ahead.

Best wishes to your family as you begin this next stage of the journey.

lalibertine said...

I have been following your blog since late 2008 I believe. I am glad it all went so well for Eli and I certainly hope that it will go on like this for him and your second son.
Best wishes for you and your family from Germany.

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