Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Back to the Beginning: Ready, Set, Protekzia

Day one of my rebooted army career brought me back to Tel Hashomer, the central induction base outside of Tel Aviv. Nine months ago I left the base with the guys with whom I hoped to spend the next four years of my life. Today I am back with eight of those guys, all of us looking to latch onto a new army unit after losing our spots in my old unit.

After waiting around for six hours, an officer gathered us together and explained our options. We can interview for two special units that would love to have us. We can request immediate reassignment to one of the regular infantry brigades (Golani, Givati, Nachal, Paratroopers, Kfir). Or we can wait till November when a dozen special units run interviews for the sixty some guys that have dropped recently from elite units.

The other guys quickly gave me the real lay of the land. Neither of the two special units that want us, they insisted, are good options for soldiers seeking real combat roles. Going straight to a regular infantry brigade means sacrificing any chance at ending up in a top unit. And the November option is swollen with desperate young guns all of whom have fancy former units (pilots, matkal, shaldag, shayetet 13, Unit 669) on their resume. Sixty guys fighting for maybe a dozen open spots. So much for the options, hey?

So, I asked my far wiser peers, where does that leave us? What can I do to make it to a good unit?

Protekzia, they uniformly answered. The Vitamin P of Israeli society. Russian for protection, Israeli speak for working your way around bureacracy through well placed contacts. Protekzia is essentially the local version of guanxi in China or the wasta of the Arab world. In my case it translates to having well placed friends in the IDF help me land an interview for a top unit. Considering everyone else in my situation have their older brothers and fathers tapping old army buddies, I can only hope that my few contacts on and off my kibbutz will be enough to open the necessary doors.

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