Monday, February 8, 2010

Life's Course

The army has a much coveted course that it offers to a limited number of soldiers. It can't offer it to all of them. For the most part, it is another benefit given to combat soldiers, though others are also able to attend when space is available. Elie was lucky - he got the course.

He was happy for a number of reasons - it meant a week at home. Each morning to rise and drive to the location where the course is offered; each afternoon to return home. Nights were his. The course lasted Sunday through Thursday, each day a new and challenging and informative topic. We gave him one of our cars, which left me stranded at the office. Each afternoon on his way home, he picked me up and drove me home as we talked.

I'm not sure I can remember all the topics, but let's start. On the first day, they spoke to him about what he can expect from the army when he leaves - an immediate grant of several thousand dollars; a fund that can be used at any time in the next five years for a variety of things - education, buying an apartment, getting married. The fund will sit and gather interest until he pulls it out. After 5 years, it is his for any reason.

They spent one day teaching Elie and the others interviewing skills - proper behavior, comments, questions. They did role playing with the boys and videotaped them so that they could see for themselves what the interviewer would see. They taught them about putting together a CV and about life after the army.

They taught them about budgeting - about understanding how much income they have, taken against expenses and how to balance your needs against your resources. They taught them important information about when you shop for an apartment - both to rent and to buy. What to look for in an apartment; what to look for in terms of a mortgage.

There were other practical aspects of this course that daily left me so proud of the government's recognition that these young men are about to face a new reality. Elie explained it to me as if it was something I didn't know.

"We've never been so free," Elie explained. They went from high school and their parents' homes to an even more restricted environment where almost every minute of their lives was determined, disciplined, controlled. Now, after three years, all restrictions are gone. They come back to their homes as men. I can't tell Elie how to behave, when to go to sleep, what time he has to be home. The thought is absurd - a boy left my home; a man returns.

And on the final day, they spoke of far off lands and what happens to too many of our young. After seeing war and terror and violence, after being so restricted, many crave freedom and air. They leave Israel for extended travels to far off exotic lands. Most return home safely; too many don't.

They spoke of drugs and showed them a video made by a young man who had traveled to India with friends. He'd never been involved in drugs, but with the encouragement of friends he was traveling with, began experimenting. Months past by, of which he has no memory. He doesn't remember how he got back to Israel, only that at some point, he came back to himself and was finally drug-free. Young man to young man, he warned Elie's group. Go, be safe, return home healthy and whole.

I don't think Elie will be among those who travel off to distant exotic shores. We've talked about him perhaps making a visit to family in the United States and traveling to see things there. It's distant, but doesn't hit the exotic and frightening on my scale.

He's thinking what he wants to do...no answers yet. Perhaps for a short while, he'll do nothing and that's okay with me too. He joked once that after the army, he would never wear green again...at least outside of his yearly reserve duty.

From the beginning to now, the army has amazed me. The fact that they take this time to teach soldiers about mortgages and interviews shows how incredible an organization it is. Their primary goal has always been to defend Israel, but they understand that they have the power not just to save lives, but to launch them on to successful paths.

I wish as a soldier's mother there was someone I could thank for the gift they have given to my son. In making him a soldier, they have made him a better, stronger, healthier, smarter man. I gave them a boy, much loved and handsome. He was smart, they made him smarter. He was too quick to anger, they taught him discipline. He was always analytical, they taught him to think. I gave them a beautiful boy, they return to me an amazing man.

11 comments:

George said...

There is somebody you can thank - his name is Gabi Ashkenazi :-)

A Soldier's Mother said...

I do thank Gabi Ashkenazi - for many things...how he conducted the Gaza War - with dignity, with bravery, with compassion, with brilliance and efficiency...and for the many things done for Elie under his army...but I was kind of hoping there was a way to really thank someone...like in person, not just via a blog.

George said...

That's what I meant - send him a letter.

bataliyah said...

If Elie decides to comes to America, please let us know if there is anything at all we can do for him (well, between now and July :-)

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mamma-mia said...

Thanks Paula for that wonderful information! I hope that Jered will be able to get into that class when his time is up.

Hope you are well...
Shelley

Nathalie K. said...

Dear Paula,

I think the army is a wonderful catalyzer, for better and for worse.
I am delighted to read it worked out for your son, who, I allow myself to guess, had and still has a terrific family to support him. This situation was reflected when he enlisted. People don't arrive at the army equal, it's a fact.

Secondly I'd like to say that I am a volunteer on a hotline for a rape crisis center and you wouldn't believe the number of people who report 1 year, 5 years, 10 years , even 20-30 years later, sexual abuse from their commanders in the army. Complaints come from women as well as men. These events usually go unreported and destroy lives. Some of our callers are young family men who never recovered from the trauma.

The "good" army is a myth and a myth thrives on people willing to perpetuate it and market it.

Ask your son how many people committed suicide in his company during the time he served. How many people from his unit were transferred to the psychiatric ward in Tel-Hashomer? How many people in his unit were harassed and abused sexually? Don't bother asking because he will say *no-one*. Nothing of the above is reported to the other soldiers nor published in the press except for some cases of sexual harassment.

If you were the mother of a soldier, wouldn't you like to know that in the first 3 weeks of his basic training, 3 soldiers from his company broke down from abusive mental or physical pressure and are presently on anti psychotic drugs in the hospital, one hanged himself and another shot himself on the day he was given a loaded weapon. Believe me, you are , as a parent, the last person who will know.

You probably tell yourself "those kids were already in trouble, their psychiatric disease was just about to surface anyway". Well ... this is exactly, but exactly what the Army will claim when the soldiers' parents have the audacity to submit a complaint. The army will say it is not to blame for the unfortunate fate of theses soldiers. How convenient. What is also convenient is that there will be no report of harassment and abuse of any sort leading to mental break downs and death. So all is good, I guess.

But if you ever want to know more, go to Tel-Hashomer psychiatric ward and talk to the mothers of the soldiers there. They come from all realms of life, teachers, lawyers, artists etc ... They have a story to tell, but the Israeli society gives them the message the Army is Good and their son is Garbage. So they shut up and they spend the rest of their life taking care of their child.

A Soldier's Mother said...

Deat Nathalie,

I think the world is neither black nor white; the army neither all perfect or all bad. I have no doubt that there is much abuse...but I also believe the abuse is still the exception and not the rule. No, I don't believe the army ever says they are not responsible for what happens to these boys while they are within the army...I know one boy who was in a terrible car crash...on the way home after visiting with his girl friend. He was a soldier...not coming from or to his base...and yet the army has gone to incredible lengths to take care of all his medical needs, gave him a laptop computer and is helping him as much as possible.

No - I would never say that kids who are in trouble deserve more abuse...or any abuse. Please don't put words in my mouth or assume my thoughts.

I am all for accountability and when a soldier is harassed by anyone - a commanding officer (male or female)...that officer must be held accountable - legally, morally...by army standards and by civilian law.

No, Israeli society does not give the message that the army is good...or that any of our sons are garbage.

As I said, so long as you someone writes in absolutes of good and evil, of black and white, I will always believe in the middle ground. The army is a reflection of our society - for the good and the bad. Both need to be more tolerant; both need to be improved...and both are worthy of our efforts.

A Soldier's Mother said...

Deat Nathalie,

I think the world is neither black nor white; the army neither all perfect or all bad. I have no doubt that there is much abuse...but I also believe the abuse is still the exception and not the rule. No, I don't believe the army ever says they are not responsible for what happens to these boys while they are within the army...I know one boy who was in a terrible car crash...on the way home after visiting with his girl friend. He was a soldier...not coming from or to his base...and yet the army has gone to incredible lengths to take care of all his medical needs, gave him a laptop computer and is helping him as much as possible.

No - I would never say that kids who are in trouble deserve more abuse...or any abuse. Please don't put words in my mouth or assume my thoughts.

I am all for accountability and when a soldier is harassed by anyone - a commanding officer (male or female)...that officer must be held accountable - legally, morally...by army standards and by civilian law.

No, Israeli society does not give the message that the army is good...or that any of our sons are garbage.

As I said, so long as you someone writes in absolutes of good and evil, of black and white, I will always believe in the middle ground. The army is a reflection of our society - for the good and the bad. Both need to be more tolerant; both need to be improved...and both are worthy of our efforts.

A Soldier's Mother said...

Deat Nathalie,

I think the world is neither black nor white; the army neither all perfect or all bad. I have no doubt that there is much abuse...but I also believe the abuse is still the exception and not the rule. No, I don't believe the army ever says they are not responsible for what happens to these boys while they are within the army...I know one boy who was in a terrible car crash...on the way home after visiting with his girl friend. He was a soldier...not coming from or to his base...and yet the army has gone to incredible lengths to take care of all his medical needs, gave him a laptop computer and is helping him as much as possible.

No - I would never say that kids who are in trouble deserve more abuse...or any abuse. Please don't put words in my mouth or assume my thoughts.

I am all for accountability and when a soldier is harassed by anyone - a commanding officer (male or female)...that officer must be held accountable - legally, morally...by army standards and by civilian law.

No, Israeli society does not give the message that the army is good...or that any of our sons are garbage.

As I said, so long as you someone writes in absolutes of good and evil, of black and white, I will always believe in the middle ground. The army is a reflection of our society - for the good and the bad. Both need to be more tolerant; both need to be improved...and both are worthy of our efforts.

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