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Last Updated: 10/27/2006Mother of a Soldier
This is the first publication of a series. The Monitor, in the coming issues, will be publishing personal accounts from areas of conflicts.
The letter below is from a mother of a soldier to the Office of Public Affairs, a department in the Israeli government responsible for facets of military proceedings. Her discontent is articulated in response to a perceived neglect of Israeli soldiers.
Office of Public Affairs:
Everybody is writing and talking about the malfunctions and the crises during the war. I want to speak about the leadership before the war: in training, in the field, and in the everyday military life. This has been cooking in my head for a while. And the phenomena that have been revealed during the war act only as a catalyst for my letter.
I served as a ktzina (officer). As an officer I was dismissed as a segen (lieutenant). Since 1969, I have been tied to the parachuters and have been through all Israeli wars since 67’ as a partner of a warrior who fought on the front line and even as a mother to babies who also fought.
Based on my knowledge and experience, I know something about leadership, management, and professionalism. You have army bases with facilities, barracks and buildings that others can only envy. Yet, some of the commanders are not worthy of the military equipment and fighting theories you possess. Of course, I am generalizing; I do not know the whole staff. I am addressing to you in general terms, but I actually have reason to be critical of particular staff members.
The information that I have has came to me by random occurrences, but legimately as the information does not challenge the bitachon sade (field securities). From all the information collected, I was able to build a puzzle from all of the pieces, as you would be taught to do in the army, in intelligence and in business. I know that there is more unrevealed than what has been revealed to me. With that being said, the most recent disclosures are testimony that my impressions are unfortunately true and address your breakdowns in leadership.
There is policy that does not let parents come to the base on Saturdays (the Jewish holy day). I accept that and respect that, and I even believe in that attitude. But I ask what do the commanders do with the soldiers during these hours? There is no training, so what is left for there to be done? Bonding and creating a team spirit, a together spirit, an acquaintance with each other, is the most important part of the military. This is the foundation of a fighting unit that is going to feel “all for one, and one for all”. In this military base though, no one has the sense to create that atmosphere.
Vacations are meant to be a soldier’s right, however they are not given according to army laws or not given at all. When a soldier wants to go to a professional authority for health matters, they need a reference, but the military procrastinates, risking the soldier’s health. It gets to a point that the non-medical staff is taking responsibility for these issues that they don’t know about, or have been trained to administer.
Soldiers are training and there have been mishaps before, yet lessons have not been learned. Everybody is concerned with clearing their own record, afraid of their own shadow, up until the point that a mefaked machlaka (commander of division) has no authority. Sometimes it appears that a commander elects not to have the authority to make a decision and stand by it. Moreover, it seems that he does not have the authority in any facet of his job. It seems that sometimes the commander of division was no one more than a novice soldier handpicked to lead. This situation detracts from leadership development and the health of the decision making process.
Where is the leadership? And what happened to a soldier’s right to being able to take care of his military and personal problems in momentary crisis. Most soldiers do not come from a background of problems at home nor are they of a character of a difficult past. They are great guys that come from a civilian life and have recently finished high school. We have all had a tough time getting in the mindset of the military. It has always been like that. For that, there are commanders with experience.
As you commanders know, the soldiers are intelligent and they understand everything, even if they know nothing about military strategy. Often times what happens in the field is that some of the staff does not have orientation with the training program. When soldiers are going home, they are not always told where and when they are suppose to be back. They are receiving all their orders on short notice. This is right for training periods and for war periods, but not when a soldier is free of war circumstance.
I recall when a parachuter was parachuting. He threw an orange ribbon (the fight color of settlers that were being evacuated) and it was photographed and spread all over the newspapers. The next jumps were cancelled or postponed, but a real investigation regarding who broke the order was never done. No one was called in for an interview on this matter and there was a rumor going around that the staff is afraid to discipline the “orange”, soldiers coming from a settler upbringing. They also refrain from giving them assignments so they will not have to handle the ‘orange’ disobeying orders. This is a problematic situation command-wise and leadership-wise – this is a bankruptcy.
On a medic trip exercise to retrieve someone with a stretcher, there are few soldiers there to participate. Some of the commanders do not make everyone contribute. How will the soldier learn to lend a hand in a real fight carrying a wounded friend from Lebanon when they will not lend a hand in training?
When there is a team of night watchers, securing themselves at the base, it does not seem so important to the commanders. Nevertheless, it is training, it is practice. There are some soldiers that would not wake up for their shift. The staff is not handling these disobeyed orders. Some of the staff is unprofessional, unserious, and leave other staff members a disproportionate amount of work to do. The mefaked ploga (lieutenant) knows and does nothing. He is comfortable leaning on everybody that is doing their job. There is no criminal matter here. And also not a violation of the military law, but there is a felony of leadership.
I won’t get into the dragging details of the war inside Lebanon and on the northern border. Nevertheless, these breakdowns touch on every field starting with equipment that had to be carried and was not organized to replenish the lack of food and water inside Lebanon.
There is a lack of clarity in the military organizing. Soldiers are given military leave in Israel in a little town that ends up being shot at with Katyusha rockets, while they do not have shelter or some other safe area. This followed the disaster in Kfar Gila’adi. Lessons were not learned from past mistakes. Much has been written and will continue to be written about this.
Your soldiers are wearing uniforms, yet can’t speak or give information about operational situations, so I am not going to go into these fields. I am going to talk about the human aspects of these perspectives. When you are on military leave and there is an opportunity to swim in a swimming pool, for instance, as a lieutenant, why do you not let the soldiers unwind? Who is going to fight for these youngsters, for their unwinding, if their “dad” has abandoned them? Are you aware that you have soldiers that came directly from Hevron to the war, and have not been home for seven or eight weeks.
I understand the need to dismiss the reserve to return home and to give regards to the retired military people, but the youngsters have feelings too. They have also experienced the war. They have carried the equipment, wounded and dead people. They hide from the enemy, from bombs, from Katyusha rockets.
On their leave, who hears them, who thinks about them. Civilians are being treated by psychologists and experts say that the closer you treat to the event of trauma the better the chances of recovery. How do you know that you don’t have traumatized youngsters in the military? Why are the worried parents of the youngsters unable to see them at home?
There are enough other divisions that did not participate in the war that could have been rotated in so others could have leave. There is a rumor that you are afraid to let them go for 24 hours because they might not come back.
While I am sitting on the backlines with my son up front fighting, what security can you provide me when there is not a commander there that knows how to say, “follow me”, or set an example of charisma, leadership, or self-security? I grew up on the value, “it is hard in practice, so it’s easy in the fight”. Why would I let him go and fight when you did not prove your leadership throughout training?
The purpose of this letter is not about moving my son to a different job. I sent the army a successful guy with motivation that reaches the sky. Due to what you have just read and other related problems, I know why my son does not want to move up the ranks to be a commander. It is because of you.
Waiting for your response,
A mother of a soldier