‘We’re asking them not to mess with our families’

Lone soldiers tell ‘Post’ about ceremony postponements frustrations ; IDF: We make every effort to safeguard their rights.

May 19, 2013 03:33
4 minute read.
IDF soldier sits atop a tank just outside northern Gaza

IDF soldier sits atop a tank just outside northern Gaza 370. (photo credit: REUTERS/Amir Cohen)

They came from abroad to volunteer for IDF combat service and defend Israel, but now lone soldiers serving in the Paratroop Brigade have been left with a bitter taste in their mouths.

The soldiers and their families overseas are upset by the fact that the military has twice postponed their brigade’s key ceremonies, meaning that expensive flight and hotel arrangements by the soldiers’ proud relatives, who had planned on attending from far away, were made for nothing.

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The IDF said it was forced to delay the ceremonies due to unavoidable circumstances, adding that it makes every effort to care for the rights of lone soldiers.

The soldiers recounted how a day before their first ceremony, to swear them in at the Western Wall in January, the army postponed it by five days because of rain, while a second event, marking the completion of their advanced training at Ammunition Hill, set for June 20, has now been set back by a week because of a newly scheduled training exercise.

“I emigrated alone from Italy. It was really important for my parents to be there,” one of the soldiers told The Jerusalem Post on Friday. “The first time they changed it, my parents said OK, we’ll change the tickets, no problem. But now, the second time, my family is saying they can’t change it again.

“We were sure this wouldn’t happen again, not in June, because it doesn’t rain then. But it was changed again,” he added. “My parents really wanted to be at the ceremony. It’s a real shame. The families from the US paid much more for their flights.”

A second soldier, whose family from New Jersey has twice booked flights and hotel accommodations, said, “It’s really tough. Obviously there are more important things; we’re all healthy. But we don’t know what to do about this.

“We asked them numerous times to not alter the second ceremony,” the soldier said, adding that some 100 relatives of some 50 lone soldiers in three Paratroop companies have been affected. “We made sure the dates wouldn’t be changed this time. My family is coming for a week, and is leaving before June 27 [the new day of the ceremony]. But [the army] doesn’t care. They always blame it on someone else.”

The soldier stressed that his anger was directed at the higher decision-making level in the army, not his platoon or company commanders, who he said “do care and look after us, and know how hard it is for us.”

He added that the lone soldiers are seeking “some kind of acknowledgment from the army that this is difficult.

Instead of making up excuses, maybe they could do something for the families to make this frustrating situation a little better. It’s not fair that our Israeli friends will be with their families at the ceremonies, while we will celebrate without ours, again.

“It’s discouraging. In the future, if one of my friends in the US will ask if he should join [the IDF], I can’t tell him to join,” the disgruntled soldier added. “I’m very sour about this. My father asked why this is happening. I said they screwed us over. It’s the families that are the ones who want to see us. It’s not so much us. We accept that the army controls our lives. But we’re asking them not to mess with our families for a second time.”

A third soldier, whose family had purchased tickets for the June ceremony and is due to travel from California, said he was upset by the change.

“My first thought was, they spent all this money. My father wants to see me at the ceremony, and he’s very busy, he can’t change the dates or postpone. I don’t want my family to waste money,” the soldier said. “I know other people in the same situation. There are a lot of us,” he added.

An American brother of one of the soldiers, who resides in Missouri and requires three flights to get to Israel, said, “We as Jews and Zionists of course understand the mountain of issues that demand the IDF’s attention. We also understand the security concerns and current events that translate into these changes.

But to take for granted these lone soldiers and their families is a horrible message that these emissaries will then take back to their home countries.

“In January, my family traveled to Jerusalem for the swearing- in, only to find out the army moved the date to a week later,” the soldier’s brother continued. “We were unable to reschedule our flights and missed this once-in-a-lifetime ceremony.”

The IDF Spokesman’s Office said in response that the army “makes every effort to guard the rights of lone soldiers. In this instance, the swearing-in ceremony was delayed because of the weather.”

The Spokesman’s Office added that one of the lone soldiers was given a long weekend off with his parents then, and that his parents received a special tour of the base as well.

The second ceremony was delayed “due to operational reasons, and an announcement regarding the delay was given with a satisfactory warning of a month-and-a-half ahead of time.”

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