The 'Glue' that Keeps Israel Together
In Israel, military service is more important than education. During training, Israelis learn to lift up their comrades, take on responsibility, and hone the problem-solving skills they will use for the rest of their lives.
The 'Glue' that Keeps Israel TogetherBy Fuyuan Hsiao
From CommonWealth Magazine (vol. 549 )
Captain Augustina Corkorosa of Caracal Company wears a ponytail, and carries a 15-kilo pack on her back. She steps into a sand drift, where the footing is tricky, without missing a stride. As she moves she turns back regularly and shouts, "Hurry up, hurry up!" The 27 year-old Augustina is the commander of Israel's only co-ed combat corps, overseeing 164 soldiers, two-thirds of whom are female.
"I just love combat, which is why I chose the combat corps," says Captain Corkorosa, who trains her troops under the scorching desert sun for at least 10 hours per day, her resulting deep tan accentuating her muscular body.
Fourteen years ago when the IDF (Israel Defense Forces) first admitted female soldiers, the then 13 year-old Augustina decided right then and there that she wanted to be a combat soldier.
She got her wish, and joined the military academy's two-year desert training program. "Everyone, men and women, must train to fight and defend their country," she says. Curious, she asks this reporter, "Isn't it like this in your country?"
The world's fourth largest exporter of armaments, and only one of five countries worldwide with a co-ed military, Israel is perhaps the most battle-seasoned country on earth. Armed conflicts large and small have taken place every year since the state's founding 66 years ago.
Military Seasoning Outweighs Scholastic Education
While Taiwanese youths 12 or 13 years of age are fretting about which high school they can test into, their Israeli counterparts are taking aptitude and intelligence tests, and pondering which military unit they would like to join. As 18 year-old Taiwanese prepare to begin university, Israelis of the same age are getting ready for their military service. Although so different in nature, both experiences are turning points in life, bearing a significant impact on each individual's future direction.
"The IDF is a very, very good school," says Lieutenant Colonel Sagi, head of the IDF's Israeli Intelligence Corps cyber security unit, asserting that the military is an institution that changes one's life forever.
In Israel military experience is more valuable than academic attainment, which explains why Israeli youths are eager to become soldiers and vie for acceptance into the military's crack troops.
Taking the example of the Israeli Intelligence Corps cyber security unit, the war for cyberspace has captured a great deal of attention amongst the world's nations in recent years. So in 2012 the IDF began selecting from among the most outstanding seniors at 10 high schools for a special cyber defense training program. Out of several thousand applicants the first year, only 80 students were admitted.
Prior to their induction, the IDF puts students through interviews with 20 different experts. Only the top four, the "best of the best" as Sagi calls them, are selected for the cyber security unit.
Inductees serve for a minimum of four years. In addition to specialized expertise, they are expected to learn leadership and entrepreneurial skills. After their discharge, most of them start businesses in the high tech field, expanding Israel's spirit as a nation of innovation, relates Sagi.
Israelis look up to two types of people the most, entrepreneurs and military officers. It just so happens that many outstanding Israeli entrepreneurs have come from the ranks of the IDF's elite forces. The IDF also has the distinction of enjoying the highest public approval rating among the country's government agencies.
Captain Chai Maimon is a commander in charge of training combat corps officers. Sitting in front of a computer, he points at a training compass and says, a good officer is always a good person, with an upstanding character, proactive leadership skills, the drive to roll up their sleeves and get things done, and the capacity for self-improvement.
"It's not enough for an Israeli combat commander to be outstanding – he must be super outstanding. Because the nation is counting on him," asserts Captain Maimon.
Israeli military training places particular emphasis on simulation exercises to hone on-the-spot decision-making and problem-solving skills.
Captain Maimon once came up with an impromptu exercise, where an enlisted man with violent tendencies accosted a drill sergeant with a knife, ranting and raving at him. The officer had to make an immediate decision on how to handle the situation, without reporting back to his superior officer. "The issues they will face in the future are a hundred times more perilous than that," he offers.
ROC Air Force captain Tu Chang-ching, who spent three years posted in Israel, notes that IDF officers work their way up from the bottom, which is rare among the world's militaries. With a total of around 180,000 soldiers and staff, Israel's military is even smaller than Taiwan's, yet it is ranked as the world's fourth strongest fighting force. "They're solving problems every day. This requires quick decision making, not armchair strategizing," Tu relates.
No Comrade Ever Abandoned
During a break from exercises, Sergeant Dror Ginat, both cheeks smeared with camo makeup, rests standing in the shade of an acacia tree in the middle of the desert.
Sergeant Ginat grew up on a kibbutz in the south. Just barely past his twenty-first birthday, he leads around two dozen soldiers carrying heavy machine guns. Having been a grunt himself, he knows what they are thinking. He says he often has to make decisions under extreme pressure.
"When it comes down to it, you're leading a bunch of young kids armed with weapons. You have to teach them about responsibility," Ginat relates. His most critical mission is fulfilling the goals of his soldiers, as well as helping them foster a mature, responsible character.
The most precious thing about being in the military for Ginat is learning "responsibility toward others." Israeli soldiers are trained never to abandon a comrade, and never to leave a wounded fellow soldier on the battlefield.
CommonWealth Magazine was given access to an Israeli combat forces artillery range, where we witnessed one enlisted man carrying a comrade much larger than himself over an incline, running nearly all the way to the rest area. With less than 20 million Jews worldwide, every single life matters to them. The government once exchanged 2000 Arab POWs for one captured Israeli soldier.
Wu Wei-ning, who has lived in Israel for 10 years, says the safest place to be when traveling is with Israelis, because they will never abandon their people.
Military service is a universal experience for Israelis, acting like a glue that binds them together.
Revital S. Golan, who started a business in Taiwan a dozen years ago, gets excited all over again when she talks about her time in the military, her eyes still sparkling. An officer at the age of 19, she led a group of young men and women, armed with live ammo. Wound up tightly under stress each day, she had to be prepared for sudden emergencies at any time.
This experience helped hone her thinking, judgment, and decision-making, lessons from which she has greatly benefited, and which she assimilated in life.
Golan calls the military the "glue" that keeps Israel together. With every citizen a soldier, the people know well the country's true situation. "Only by serving in the military do you truly come to appreciate that all we have is this country, and that there is no retreating for Israel, only courageously defending it."
Up against the Wall, Bravely Defending the Country
During campus interviews, IDF representatives ask students, "What does your country mean to you?" Military officers must swear an oath to the country upon completion of their officer training, and must also answer the question, "Why do you swear an oath to the country?"
"If you don't believe in your country, you can't win even with the best weapons," explains Maimon, recalling the David and Goliath story from the Old Testament. Whilst Goliath had great strength and formidable weapons and armor, David had just a staff and a few rocks. Yet David was able to defeat Goliath, "because he believed in something."
For Maimon, that "something" is Israel.
Nearly every Israeli family has sacrificed something. Each May on the anniversary of the state's founding, sirens sound across all of Israel as those that gave their lives in service of the state are remembered. Even cars on the highways stop for this moment. For Israel the military is the voice of the nation's spirit.
"We cannot afford to lose any war," states Maimon plainly. Victory is the only way to guard the country.
Surrounded on all sides by enemies, Israelis are all claustrophobic to various degrees. Upon their discharge from the military, the state gives young Israelis a payment of around NT$100,000 and encourages them to go abroad and see things.
Sergeant Ginat has two older brothers who will soon complete their military service. They both have told him they plan to go out and do something crazy to relieve the stress of three years in the military.
What did they mean by crazy? "To go out and see the world, and experience life."
Translated from the Chinese by David Toman