Thursday, January 27, 2011

Shavuz Blues

Impotent may be the simplest definition. Despair, depression and disinterest are the three Ds that sum up how one feels. Yet to truly understand the term shavuz, you must enter the mind of the disappointed soldier. Like elderly men before Viagra, shavuz soldiers cannot rally any excitement to perform their tasks. Their will is broken. Or as the source of the slang acronym suggests (shavur zayin), it is not only their will that is ailing.

Losing out on course makim dropped me into my own cycle of shavuz. It is not simply the disappointment of not getting selected and losing out on ever serving as a junior officer that threw me for a spin. It is the frustration of being caught in stasis, of feeling that I am not progressing in the army and am now merely counting the days until I can escape from the shackles of life as a military trainee.

Such feelings are not simply in my head. They reflect a reality I naively brought upon myself. In what my peers call the biggest mistake in the history of Sayeret Tzanchanim, I agreed on my first day in the unit to go down a draft class and repeat three months of training. If I had remained with my November 2009 draft class, this week would have marked the end of training and the start of active duty. Instead I joined the March 2010 class, lured by an assurance from a senior officer that dropping from November to March was the way of making sure I would be selected for course makim this February. With makim no longer relevant, I find myself recycling training from my days in the Air Force. Except this time, the same routines are taking place amid a culture of mediocrity and malaise that stems from the negative attitude my peers have towards our training. A negative attitude that is slowly infecting yours truly.

The lack of self-respect in my current unit compounds the shavuz engendered by my sorry life outside the army. I write such harsh words despite having a wonderful host family and caring garin friends on kibbutz. These friends and family have not succeeded in providing me with a sense of progress in my personal life. Maintaining a dynamic social life as a soldier may be nigh impossible. But when both my service and social lives seem to be going nowhere, neither can provide the ray of light to distract me from an ever quicker descent into a severe state of shavuz.

As the lights fade, all the petty annoyances of army life loom larger. The constant exhaustion, the language hang-ups, the maze of illogical routine, the constant arguing with cocky teenage peers, the twenty-two year old officers scrutinizing and recording my every action, and the gulf that remains between me and a company of young men who only seem to grow more misinformed about me by the day.


The background for my January blues were four weeks of navigation exercise. Doing the same exhausting thing one week after the next wore everyone down. This week, finally, I snapped out of my own shavuz funk. Part one of the antidote was a very frank discussion with my commander. Part two was an especially intense krav maga session with my peers. Together I was reminded that my team boasts solid guys, an easy-going and intelligent commander, and, for all our flaws, a respected name as a special forces combat unit deeply involved in the work the IDF does on Israel’s borders and in the Palestinian territories. If I have a problem, it is fundamentally my attitude. Do away with the shavuz and there is what to cherish in the here and now.

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