Wednesday, October 13, 2010

The Departed

One of the other guys dropped from my former unit has pretty impressive protekzia. On our first day in Tel Hashomer, my friend was speaking to his father when the IDF's number two (i.e. the deputy chief-of-staff) came on the phone and asked how he could be of service. When a senior general starts making phone calls on your behalf, we are no longer in the realm of protekzia. We are talking command and control. "Yes, sir. We will grant that young man an interview for our special unit. Right away, sir."

Sure enough, the next day my friend interviewed with Maglan, a special forces unit almost everyone in my situation would like to get into. Despite having one of the army's most senior generals on his side, my friend was not accepted. The truth is he never really had a chance. Maglan slipped a poison pill into the interview, asking him a question whose answer could only be no. His negative response was then used as an excuse as to why the unit would not take him.

My friend's experience is one of many anecdotes I have collected in my new position as a past member of an elite unit seeking reassignment. These stories give lie to the myth that someone in my position is assured of making it to a top-flight unit. The reality is that, for a number of reasons, finding a new home in the army is an unpredictable process with the choicer addresses nearly all out of reach.

For starters, there are no shortage of qualified guys. Forget about the sixty odd guys in my position that all have received some degree of special forces training. There are hundreds of others that have never spent a day in the army yet whose performance on tests and tryouts mark them as good material. The second-tier special forces units that my peers and I are seeking to join often prefer to start fresh with new soldiers rather than bring in "veterans" from another club. Just like in baseball, every team wants a good farm system.

Another reason top units are closing their doors is they simply have less room. A few years ago it use to be common in units like Duvdevan for numerous guys to drop out due to injury. Complains grew, however, and the result are stricter safety standards, less injuries and fewer guys dropping out. Duvdevan and other top units no longer have the empty spaces they once looked to fill with guys in my position. Nothing more than econ 101, supply and demand.

A former commander of Maglan introduced me to a third reason why making it to a unit like his is far from assured. "The truth," he sheepishly admitted, "is that Maglan has an unwritten rule not to take guys who once served in your unit. The reason is petty jealousy, a desire to be seen as just as good as the most elite units." No one in my former unit had ever mentioned any rivalry with Maglan, though both units are known to share similar agendas (then again, who at Princeton thinks Penn is their academic rival?). Nonetheless, I had heard enough from outside sources to put into context what the retired commander was telling me. Top army units compete for superiority in many ways since everyone wants to be assigned the key missions when danger strikes. The similar training of Maglan and my former unit only would increase this tension. It does not help that Maglan can argue that anyone who is not right for my former unit would not be the best fit for their similar approach.

This whole reassignment rigmarole is really unfortunate. And, I daresay, avoidable. If I had my way, after dropping from a unit, soldiers would have one week at home and then one week of meetings and interviews. Two weeks would be the maximum break before the soldier would be back in training with a new squad. My alternative of ambiguous limbo, hardly seems preferable.

1 comment:

  1. Penn doesn't see Princeton as an academic rival, Penn just doesn't like them.

    After all, at Princeton academia is an end in of itself while at Penn it is a means to an end.