I started this post a few weeks ago and called it "The Army Box" - now, weeks later, I guess it should have been named, "And Sometimes the Army Doesn't"
The army is a box. It thinks like a box when it comes to its soldiers. Not, thankfully, in warfare - there, it uses its creativity, its brilliance, its unconventional way of looking at a situation. It refuses to accept that there might not be a solution and so instead it comes up with new and amazing, often daring solutions. And this is what they teach their soldiers. There is no option. And that's why war after war, battle after battle, we find a way to overcome, to outsmart, to neutralize the threat, to save the day. It happens so often here that sometimes we take it for granted.
The army will find the van carrying the terrorist with the suicide belt - there'll be traffic for us, hours of waiting in line, but we believe that something won't explode, and we'll be safe. Years ago, intelligence reports suggested that a major truck bomb was heading into Tel Aviv to blow up one of the largest buildings. When they couldn't find it...Israel called the US and told them - call Gaza. Tell them if that building explodes, not even God can help you. It was done with enough conviction that the US didn't doubt our sincerity. The bomber was called off. We have flown across seas to save people, set up field hospitals in hours where others took weeks. The army does not ask how...only what needs to be done...and then, for the most part, it simply does it.
So, the army thinks outside the box when it comes to battling our enemies. But, when it comes to our soldiers and how they are treated - that's where sometimes, the box looks like it is going to win (and undoubtedly, sometimes it does). Sometimes, the army overcomes it, sometimes, they don't.
Elie was an example of their overcoming the box - he told them that he didn't feel, as a religious soldier, that it was comfortable or proper for him to be commanding a unit with female soldiers (see Two Rights Don't Make a Wrong). It was, according to the rules of the army, his right. And yet, they forgot and assigned him this type of unit. It looked, for a while, like there would be a problem, but the army found a solution. Elie went to be the commander of a unit on a checkpoint; that commander was brought down to the base to take over the incoming unit.
Where the army really fails, too often, is when it comes to health issues. They simply don't have the capacity to deal with long-term medical problems that can't be fixed with a bandage, an aspirin, some anti-biotics. So here comes a sad story about an amazing young man...and the army box.
I can't tell you too much about J. before I met him and his mother. My first introduction, though, says more about the man he is, than anything about his background or what came before. I met J. at an army ceremony - his army swearing-in. His parents flew from the States to be there, to watch him be recognized as an "Excellent" Soldier - something usually given to one (at most) from each unit. He came from far...to join our army, to make aliyah, to be in the illustrious Paratroopers unit.
It was a beautiful ceremony (see A Missed Ceremony Recaptured). A few weeks after the ceremony, J. was running uphill, carrying another soldier in a training exercise. It was a rainy night; it was muddy. J. fell and was hurt. I don't know all the medical terms; I just know that it was bad enough that now, almost a year later, he is still in pain.
It took the army too long to finally authorize an MRI; too long to figure out that they probably should have operated on him. For the first few months, J. remained in his unit; after a while, as the unit's training moved on, J. was forced out of his Paratroopers unit. It was painful for him, horrible for his parents and it wasn't, by most accounts, handled correctly.
J. was moved into a jobnik position, not even one that attempted to give him the thanks and dignity he deserved. This week, he was released, months ahead of time, and still in pain. The army will continue, through the Ministry of Defense, to care for him and try to help him heal.
For all the army's great thinkers, this time, the box defeated them. This was a young man that crossed the world to serve Israel and Israel, or at least the army, did not do right by him. J. is angry at the army, but most of all, he just wants to get better.
This is the army's loss but I believe that in the end, what drove J. to excellence and set him apart in his dedication will see him through. He doesn't know it yet because he is young, because he is in pain, but he will come out of this stronger.
May God bless J. - a son of Israel who came home to serve his homeland. We salute you and love you more than you might feel now...but the day will come when you will see and feel our thanks. You may not have served Israel long, but you served her well and true aliyah, true service and dedication to Israel, is living here day in and day out - even more than it is about serving in the army.