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Learning life lessons as a combat officer
By CARA DORRIS
21/07/2013
Modern-Orthodox combat training officer Lt. Mikey Soclof, who made aliya from Michigan, recruits soldiers, leads them through boot camp and then assigns them as drivers, gunners or loaders in the Armored Corps.
 
Modern-Orthodox combat training officer Lt. Mikey Soclof slumped against the bus seat one Friday afternoon, relishing his first free moment in weeks, as he tried to call two of his friends before Shabbat.

“Obviously practicing religion as a soldier is difficult. My free time often comes in contact with what I’m doing in the army,” Soclof said in a recent interview.

Twenty-two-year-old Soclof – who made aliya from Ann Arbor, Michigan – had just finished training a group of new immigrants in a two-week crash course.

As a combat training officer, Soclof recruits soldiers, leads them through boot camp and then assigns them as drivers, gunners or loaders in the Armored Corps. He is responsible for 36 soldiers, five tank commanders and a sergeant.

Being an elite officer has always demanded more than the standard amount of work. Officers are known to work long hours, organize activities and sit through late meetings. They are the first to wake up and the last to go to sleep. It is even harder when you are religiously observant.

“Israel is less religious than it is secular. The first time you see that is in the army. All of a sudden instead of your whole community practicing kosher, it’s maybe three or four guys. Usually you can’t even get the 10 people you need for a regular prayer service,” Soclof said.

Like many Orthodox soldiers, Soclof strives to reconcile religion with the rigors of protecting the nation.

“If someone needs to go to the hospital, it is okay to drive on Shabbat. In the army, it’s the same thing. Turning on my tank – something that is forbidden on Saturday – is okay to me because it’s for the purpose of defending my country,” Soclof said.

“I’ve come to the conclusion that people’s lives are more important than always keeping Shabbat.”

Coming from a tiny Jewish community, Soclof is used to adapting when it comes to Judaism. As a child, his family would drive miles to the nearest kosher supermarket. He commuted 45 minutes every day just to get to his Jewish day school.

Still, the army does what it can to support religious soldiers, giving them time to pray in the morning and afternoon, and making sure every kitchen is kosher and inspected by a rabbi in uniform. Even so, it isn’t always easy.

“When it’s four in the morning and you’re crawling in the mud and freezing rain with a lot of weight on your back, you’re not going to think about how great it is you’re defending your country. Because you’re a person. You might start to give up,” the 22-yearold said. That is why Soclof teaches his combat soldiers the most important thing is strong connections with fellow soldiers.

“They will bring you back up and make sure you keep going. Not everyone is broken at the same time.”

The combat training officer says that he has learned discipline and time management, and that thanks to his service, he is the fittest he’s ever been in his life.

“I knew coming out of high school that if I wanted to influence something, I had to be active. I didn’t feel comfortable speaking about Israel in the States before actually joining the army. After all, I could have protested what Israel is doing, I could have studied political science, I even could have become an ambassador to America,” Soclof said.

“But I’m a Jewish person and I believed I needed to join the army to keep Israel safe.”
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