Friday, May 21, 2010

Fate & Future at Stake: Va'ada

Backed into a corner, most anyone will fight to protect himself. That instinct served me well the morning of the fifth of May when my fate and future was decided. Following last week's sociometry, I was one of three members of my unit called in for interviews to decide if we would stay on or be sent packing. Known as a va'ada (or va'adot in the plural), the process is trauma incarnate. A senior officer took me apart for twenty minutes, grilling me on my faults and questioning whether I even deserved to remain as a combat soldier in the IDF.

I was the very last soldier to be interviewed. Before entering the sparse room, symbolically situated right outside the base I would never enter if I was kicked out, a few junior officers came by to offer some verbal encouragement. In the grim atmosphere, their passing words echoed scenes from Dante's Inferno, as friends and foes share messages with the wanderer on his journey through hell. My fellow soldiers' response to their interviews did little to dispel the gloom. Both emerged in tears. One was spared, the other told that his service within our special unit was over. Moments later our officer arrived to collect the dismissed boy's gun. The scene reminded me of the infamous sketching of Dreyfus, standing upright as his sword was broken by the gates of French military headquarters.

"Do you know why you are here?" was the first question I was asked. I answered in the affirmative and then for twenty minutes spoke as clearly and confidently as I ever have in Hebrew. I owned up to my failues, and added as well that my inability to communicate with my peers had often frustrated my ability to live up to my potential within the unit. The officer asking the questions was far from friendly, cutting me off and challenging my word throughout the interview. But when I answered the final question, "Why should we keep you on," without a trace of hesitation, I left the room composed. Whatever they would decide, I knew I had finally had my say.

Five minutes later I was called back in to hear their decision. Not guilty, your honor! Not guilty in that I would remain with my unit. However, they spared no words in insisting that I raise my level of soldiery, advising me that verbal challenges aside, I needed to let my actions speak louder than my words.

The next day I rejoined the rest of my unit. Everyone was in shock at the loss of the dismissed soldier (and, to be frank, that of the two of us, I had remained). He was one of the better athletes, best shots, a medic, and a kid as mature as he was sociable. The reason he was kicked out, ultimately, is that he could not own up to the faults the commanders saw in him. My own ability to do so, my desire to improve and my success at communicating that to my officers, is what got me through that harrowing Wednesday morning.

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