Friday, July 9, 2010

Our Rollercoaster Rep

Israel's top military units, like my own, have a passive-aggressive approach to fostering a culture of competitiveness. "The gibush (tryouts) is over," my team was told during the first week of basic training. "From now on all that matters are team results." While that message is constantly reinforced, commanders make no secret that individual merit is also weighed in light of the rest of the team's performance. Hanging over everyone is the grim reminder that every few months a few guys on the team will be binned, and so staying ahead in the rat race is a question of basic survival.

Competition is also rejected with one hand and embraced with the other between the various teams that make up my special unit. The is especially the case between the teams that began their training at the same time. Creating a name for ourselves as the top team from 2009 is constantly invoked as motivation by our commander. Our reputation during training, our commander insists, decides whether we will one day be the team chosen for the best missions. Our name (and since teams are named after their commanding officers, literally our commander's name), our reputation, is critical.

Since commencing serious training in May, my team has received feedback to the extent that we are something special, not only in relation to the other teams from 2009 but in contrast to teams over the last half-decade. Buttery words, enough to make what happened a few weeks ago all the more devastating.

Halfway through an in-house introduction to urban combat skills, one of the guys suddenly announced he had lost track of a fancy bit of night-vision equipment. Anytime anyone misplaces anything the entire team drops what it is doing and does whatever is necessary to find the missing item. But this was not a regular search. Our commander quickly informed us that the missing item was of such importance that senior figures in the Israeli and even American defense communities would be informed if we did not find it soon. We overturned and enlisted the help of the entire unit. We searched through the night. All to no avail.

The next morning the search continued. But the damage to our team's reputation had already been done. Thankfully there are many more months of training ahead of us, enough time to take a few more spins on the all important rollercoaster reputation.

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