I Don’t Like Being Controlled

Two weeks ago my unit closed its first Shabbat. On Friday night, while I was waiting for my shift at being Maazin (army slang for watchman, the job is to stand guard near the battalion’s armory and look out for intruders who want to enter into the Battalion’s part of the base). I met another soldier from another company. He seemed tired, his words were slow to leave him. But he was lively, and he had a good piece of advice: “just do your job the best you can”.

One week later, this soldier was punished with having to stay on base during the last day of Passover (a holiday on which everyone gets to go home except whichever unit’s turn it is to stay on base). My unit was the lucky unit to stay and guard, after having already closed two Shabbats in a row.

He said he was punished because he was missing one bullet in his magazine, which isn’t usually a problem in the IDF. So his commander must have decided he needed to be disciplined in general, but to him, he was overly punished for something no one else is punished for. His morale dropped, he was insulted, and he was unwilling to “do your job the best you can” to say the least.

He wasn’t alone, he and several other men from different companies were punished similarly. None of them would come on time to our formations, none of them would wake up in the middle of the night to replace whoever was currently guarding, hence I classified all of them early on as “the rejects”.

Before the holiday began, my unit was busy fixing up the battalion’s part of the base. We did things like clean and camouflaged buildings so they wouldn’t stand out when looked on from above. The rejects busied themselves by stuffing their faces with the snacks left out for us. They didn’t do a second of work.

Eventually the holiday fell upon us, and after a good dinner and some down time in our rooms, it was time for me to guard…at 5 in the morning. In the night hours, we guard in pairs. So, 5 minutes before my shift began I arrived at the post. “Good night” I said to the reject who was sleeping while he was standing. He didn’t even have a “thank you” for me, maybe he wasn’t aware of the time.

I noticed I didn’t recognize the names of the people on the list who must replace me, but they are also rejects, so he must know them. After all, they all slept in the same room. But instead of help me, he walked faster to go to bed, and maybe avoid having to stay there for 5 more minutes.
My guard partner arrived 5 minutes after the start of our shift, in a sleepy daze. When the time came to wake up the next two, he went off to find them. He came back with bad news: “They wont get out of bed.” I went off to give them a warning:

I stood in the middle of their dark room, and said “If so and so does not rise to replace us, the commander will hear of it. We also want to sleep.”
Nothing but snores was the response.

My guard partner was not willing to stand guard for even one minute more than he was supposed to. However, as I would not acquiesce to leaving my post without being relieved, he stayed with me. Israelis don’t like to feel like friars, and they especially don’t like to be screwed. This was why he had no problem waking up our commander so early in the morning, when I wanted to tell him about the incident when the day starts.

The commander arrived, in a haze. It was awkward to say the following but I did say it: “Good morning, Commander, sorry for waking you. No one is coming to relieve us.”

He looked at the list and said “I did not cross out and change what has been crossed out and changed on this list.” He then looked through the marks covering the names that have been changed and demanded the original person he wrote for that time to come and relieve us. “I don’t care what, he is to come and change you.”

The new person was someone I had befriended, he was not a reject, and I thought for sure I would be in bed soon once he hears Robert is waiting to go to bed already. My guard partner went to get him, and came back with the news: “He already guarded, he said he wont get up for it again.”
In the end, I stood at my post for an hour and a half longer than I was supposed to until someone replaced us.
The entire company learned of this. Later in the day the soldier I mentioned above was on guard duty. I struck up a conversation with him and found out he was completely broken. He wanted an apology for making him stay on base during the Holiday, and even told the Battalion Commander “Don’t step on me, I’ll fall.”

The next time I saw him was days later. After 14 hours of kitchen duty, it was my turn to guard our battalion’s section of the base. I went back to my room to get into my combat vest, and arrived at my post 5 minutes early. The soldier who was standing there was not the soldier I was supposed to find there. Before I could ask what he was doing there, and where was the other guy, he waved me off with the words:

“Robert, I’ve only been standing here for 5 minutes. You can go, my shift has only begun.”

I replied that the list of shifts says my shift starts in 5 minutes, and you aren’t supposed to be here at all right now.

I looked for the piece of paper that would clear up our confusion, but it wasn’t in its place. “I asked him, where is the list?”

“I don’t know, when I got here the post was abandoned. I didn’t see any paper.”

I looked on the ground, and saw it despite the dark of night. There I was, in Hebrew, to start my shift at the ordered time.

He was unhappy. Our battalion was supposed to go do the obstacle course, and the soldier I was speaking with obviously was hiding so he wouldn’t
have to do it. I understood what he was up to so I offered him to stand on the inside of the three walled post, while I carried out my shift on the outside. He didn’t want to stay, perhaps he felt he was discovered, but on his way out we had the following conversation:

Soldier: “Robert, you are carrying out every order you are given”

Me: “I didn’t come 5000 miles not to carry out orders.”

Soldier: “But many of the orders are just stupid.”

Me: “That’s the whole point of the order”

Soldier: “But you shouldn’t carry out every order, or they will give you shit work to do.”

Me: “Actually, I haven’t been given any crap. If anything, I find in my four months of being in the army that doing what I’m told keeps me out of
trouble and they usually give me less work in general since they rather put other people in line”

Soldier: “But you are letting the army control you!”

Me: “It’s the army, yes, we are under their control!”

As he walked away, he said slowly:

Soldier: “I don’t like being controlled…”

I hope he regains his morale, I forget sometimes that the guys I serve with are only in the army for a month and a half now. Its during this time that a soldier has to come to grips with uncomfortable facts like the army has no logic, punishments are arbitrary, and whatever happens just be a man. The things that I realized when I wrote “What its like to be a soldier” are only crystallizing now.

I’m not worried, the guys that don’t manage to deal with it can drop out. The training period is also a filter process, because if you can’t handle what the army does to you, imagine what the enemy will do?

A few minutes later I watched two lines of soldiers leaving with their commander in the lead, in full combat gear, heading to the obstacle course. Part of me wanted to go with them, but the other part was happy to get to just relax at my post. My company’s Sargent came up to me asking who I had just relieved. I told him the name, and he gave me a look of confirmation that this was the person he had been seeking the last few minutes. He asked where was the soldier now, and I pointed him in the direction he walked in. The Sargent went that way.

I guess the soldier found somewhere else to hide.

Aside from him, I know another soldier in a different battalion who decided he would rather be a jobnik after all. He decided to go awol when he saw he wasn’t getting the answers he wanted, so he didn’t report back to base for three days.

Someone in my unit decided he would rather leave combat as well, and made use of his family circumstances to be excused. Now he is waiting for his eventual excusal.

With every one that falls out or opts out, I feel more comfortable knowing that every man to my side is someone that wants to be here.

Song called: “Not Easy, Not Simple”

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