06 May IDF Spirit (Part II)
Last week, I began with a discussion of the 10 Principles of the IDF. I did it on one of the most emotional days of the year for me, in honor of my uncle who I never even got to meet. This week, I want to continue.
Being professional means doing your work to the best of your abilities, and that requires constant learning how to do your work better.
This is one of my favorite principles. I love to learn and I think learning is evolution. Knowledge is so important in life and part of that is also the connection with other people.
The main way to learn in the army is through other more experienced people. In the first four months of your service, you’re called “tzair” which means “youngster” because you need to remember you are a white belt. You need to only be learning right now because everything you think you know is probably irrelevant and you have to study in order to be a good soldier.
Keep that attitude even when you start to know what to do. Learn from the people around you, listen, be humble and seek for feedback. When you learn, share what you have learned with those around you, and always be willing to learn more.
Even after three years in the army, when I was in the reserves, I learned so much from those older than me, who had wives, children and a vast life experience. I will never forget their lessons, they taught me how to live life to the fullest, and how to prioritize what matters. Learn from people of all ages and cultural backgrounds.
One of the most valuable parts of the army is that it bursts you out of your bubble. Your brother soldiers are people from all walks of life and beliefs and experiences. After they become your friends, you get to travel around the country to visit them and learn from them even more.
You don’t need to be in the army to have this attitude. Talk to people and make new friends. When you get to know people, you learn from them and you learn about life overall. So keep interacting, connecting and keep on learning.
Discipline is the key component of progression. Without discipline, we will always get to a point where we will feel a plateau of frustration in the face of a challenge that seems bigger than us and makes us want to quit. Discipline is the mental strength and self-trust to keep going despite frustration and hardship because we are committed to completing the challenge.
Discipline is the foundation of a system like the IDF where you take soldiers from all over the country. Remember, this isn’t a volunteer army like the USA, this is mandatory service and not everyone is happy about giving up the next three years of their life in service. That’s where you need discipline in all chains of command, to make sure that despite personal issues, the mission keeps going to the best of the army’s ability.
And sometimes, that discipline needs reinforcing. In my first month in the army, I was laughing with one of my fellow soldiers, when our commander overheard us. In the Israeli army, you aren’t allowed to say “sthok Tzair,” (quiet, youngster) at least until you have achieved eight months in the army. We might have been following that rule rather loosely by mumbling “shh” and “tzz” which is the acronym in Hebrew.
My commander had us doing push-ups, and we might have continued to mumble it. He didn’t seem to mind, telling us we had all day to keep doing push-ups. After around a hundred, I never said it again. It was a hard lesson in discipline then, but that commander is still one of my favorite people, because he taught me how to keep going.
This discipline became vital when we actually were in service. Every Friday, in the area I was stationed, there would be violent demonstrations. Protestors would stand on the other side of the border, throwing stones at cars and at civilians. Our job was to protect them from this life-threatening attack.
Many times, when the protestors threw rocks, it would get very close to our own heads. (I would use the duck and slip from Krav Maga) We needed to show we are strong and disciplined and we weren’t going to play their games to chase them. Eventually, they gave up and went away, because we had the mental strength to stand strong and protect civilians, with our bodies.
Be disciplined and stay strong, especially now during the Covid-19. Don’t let your workout or diet goals (or any other goals) fall away, have the discipline to maintain your focus and to keep going.
(8) Loyalty and Representativeness
Being loyal and willing to represent even when you don’t feel up to it. Even when you are tired and really want to go to sleep in the back of the bus, or put your legs up on the chair, you need to remember you represent the IDF, the country and the flag.
Our loyalty makes us disciplined enough to overcome our own wishes for the greater good. We want to represent our unit and our fellow soldiers with pride, and that means demanding more of ourselves, even when it is difficult. It means even if we are captured, we must be willing to die rather than betray your fellow soldiers.
In Tzahal, we must be loyal to our country and our army, which means always conducting oneself as a representative of the army, even when it requires tough choices. Our loyalty to our friends can’t ever outweigh our loyalty and duty to the uniform and the oaths we took. This principle is super-important because it encourages critical thinking and common sense. It empowers the individual to question and ask and use their intuition to know if what they are doing is right.
This is a gray area because sometimes, we don’t want to do something because we think its’ wrong, but the commander says that is what needs to happen right now, that is the decision.
That is why the soldier is told in Ruach Tzahal to trust themselves and trust their intuition and be willing to make their decisions based on their judgment and through objective view over the situation while also balancing the need to trust their commander’s decisions.
After boot camp, (where you definitely do have to take orders without question), you are a soldier who must have the good judgement to decide for themselves how best to carry out the mission.
Have that good judgement wherever you go.
(9) Reliability and Trustworthiness
Trust is everything. If you don’t trust your fellow soldier or commander, you will not be able to serve with them effectively. Since we might be encountering life-threatening scenarios, we must work together in complete trust with those we work with, since they are the ones guarding our back. We must have trust in our commander to lead us well and protect us, and our fellow soldiers to be there for us in our time of need.
Be reliable in even the smallest things. Be truthful, and build trust with those around you. On the first day, no one knows who you are, and you need to learn who they are. It takes time to build trust in your team and it is shown through the actions. You judge people by those who will be there when it counts. When you are ill and you need someone to cover your guard shift, who will step up to the plate? It’s those people who go above and beyond who will have the trust of others.
Unfortunately, people can also lose trust. If you are caught lying, you might not be allowed to continue as a combatant since you are not someone people will want to serve with. As a combatant, you are entrusted with weapons and power, and that is only for those who prove worthy of it. That’s why people who break that trust might end up serving in the kitchens or in another less prestigious position.
When soldiers are on duty in the pillbox guard tower, those can be hours of boredom. It means everything to have your fellow soldiers bring you food and come visit you.
That loyalty is returned. When I was doing my reserves, it was during a harsh winter. We were understaffed and were doing 6-3 shifts (6 hours duty, 3 hours rest) I came down with a very high fever, but I knew if I stayed in bed, I’d be letting down my fellow soldiers who wouldn’t be able to sleep at all. So I went to duty, sick and in pain, because I was reliable and worthy of their trust. My fellow soldiers returned that by bringing me hot food and tea to make it a little more bearable. I was shaking from fever, but I kept my friends and my mission in mind, and finished my shift.
Be the kind of person who others rely on. This is true on the mat when you help your partner learn, and in every action of your life. Be someone who others trust, by fulfilling your word.
(10) Perseverance in Mission and Dedication to the Pursuit of Victory
Perception is reality. However you walk and present yourself, that’s how you will be perceived. When you’re in uniform, representing Israel, you need to be confident and walk tall and proud, with respect. Once you show others you walk tall and proud, you also show yourself to be capable of facing any obstacles in operational duty and in life.
Stay focused. Know what is the mission and why are you doing this? Always think of the best, ethical and most efficient way to carry out your duties in life. Whatever the mission is, you need to be willing to keep going no matter what hurdles are in your way.
The last part of basic training is earning your beret. In the IDF, nothing is handed to you and you have to work for it. My unit and I marched for fourteen hours, with ONE twenty-five-minute break. (Students should think about that the next time they want a break during class) We marched in our heavy equipment, through the mud, uphill for hours without end. At the end of that march, we ended in the city of Afula in front of that beautiful brigade memorial in the picture, having proven we had the perseverance to not quit despite the enormous challenge. This would make us soldiers who would have the dedication to serve our country efficiently, effectively, and honorably.
Find your own mission in life and fulfill it, no matter what.
I’m really grateful I got to share this part of my life with the students here. It made me the teacher I am today,