Thursday, September 17, 2009

Space Age Socks

Enlisting in the army demands a great deal of sacrifice. For volunteers like myself, the sacrifice is part of the ordeal and may even be desired. But for our families, the sacrifice is involuntary and even unexpected. They do not choose to worry. Nor, for that matter, to invest in twenty-dollar space age commando socks.

Granted, soldiers have survived without slipping their feet into a snazzy pair of synthetic, extra padded, knee-high combat socks. The Maccabees, far as I know, got by sans socks with leather strap sandals. Then again, if the choice is between two years of bloody blisters and a pricey pair of socks, my vote is for the comfy stocking.

Comfort is actually only the second reason most Israeli combat soldiers invest in socks. The main reason is that the IDF simply does not provide enough. And so when the half dozen cotton socks the army provides fall apart in basic training, everyone scrambles for replacements. Some folks go for more cotton temps. But the gold standard is a jacked up, cushy pair of knee-length Thorlos. Only problem is they cost upwards of $18. Hence the sacrifice.

Haim Watzman, author of Company C and A Crack in the Earth, captured the enduring sacrifice of army socks on the blog South Jerusalem. Watzman wrote in May 2008:

When I reached reserve retirement age I thought I had done my part for my country and that I, and my bank account, could rest on our laurels. Surely, I reasoned, by the time my children reach military age someone in the quartermaster corps will have realized that a pair of socks does not last for six months...Instead, the opposite happened. The army cut back further on supplies, and technology advanced. We are now in the age of the laser rifle sight, the smart bomb, and the $23 commando sock… I’m proud to have a boy who has chosen such a difficult and demanding way of serving his country. But must I pay through the nose for the naches?

I came across Watzman's comments--and the endearing response his comments received from another blog--while searching for the right pair of socks. My sister had offered to bring a high class pair of army socks when she visited Israel in September for Sukkot. As we both quickly discovered, there are a blizzard of high class socks, designed for hikers and sportsmen of every persuasion. So in order to quickly find what I needed, I went right to the source, making a skype call to far off North Carolina to speak to the family owned company that is the world's premier designer of high-end stockings.

Between the trans-Atlantic static and a heavy southern accent, every word I could make out from North Carolina was precious. So it was a relief when the words "go for the moderate cushion Anti-Fatigue Socks" came through seconds before the line cut off. A week later and I will be the proud owner of three black pairs of space age socks. No doubt the first of many sacrifices to come.

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