(photo credit: AP [file])
If Gilad Schalit had come home, he would be serving as an IDF reservist, Defense Minister Ehud Barak told some 300-plus reservists on Monday at Beit Hanassi.
"He's already old enough," Barak said at the annual ceremony in which outstanding reserve units receive public recognition for their performance, their responsibility and their devotion to duty.
Barak was not the only one to mention Schalit, or to express the wish that he return to his family safe and sound.
Chief of General Staff Lt.-Gen. Gabi Ashkenazi and Lt.-Col. (res.) Benny Yanai included Schalit in their remarks. Ashkenazi also mentioned the need to keep working to bring home all MIAs and POWs, and Yanai said his prayer was for Schalit to be returned home safely.
The reservists took pride in each other, in their respective units and in their 19 officers as one after another they stood to attention as the citations for their units were read out and then handed to them.
There were loud cheers, whistles of approval, banners and applause from members of each of the units. It was obvious that they were familiar not only their own stories, but with those of all the other units singled out for distinction - five of them for their courage, initiative and motivation in Operation Cast Lead.
It was the sixth consecutive year in which reserve units received special recognition at Beit Hanassi.
At the ceremony, President Shimon Peres reviewed IDF history, going back to the pre-state era when Lechi, Etzel, the Hagana and the Palmah were all outgrowths of political parties. Former prime minister David Ben-Gurion knew that if this were allowed to continue, it would have a ruinous effect on the nascent state, said Peres.
In creating the IDF, he continued, Ben-Gurion insisted that it be free of politics, and in doing so ensured that there would be no civil war and no senseless killing as there had been in the American Civil War.
Nothing is more unifying than the IDF, Peres said at the ceremony, "but it's not only a unifying army, it's a victorious army, and it's victorious because of you. I can't imagine how Israel could exist without the reserve units."
Alluding to the sparse remuneration and long periods of service, Peres said to a burst of applause: "I know the sacrifices you make. I know it's not easy for you."
Barak described the reservists as "the best of the best" and said to them, "Your collective quality, strength and responsibility make the IDF what it is. You are the beautiful face of Israel."
In the same breath as he praised the heroism and courage of the soldiers, Barak made it clear that he preferred that they not have to continue fighting, saying, "We have to develop a region of peace."
Ashkenazi, however, warned that reservists would still be needed to face future challenges, "no matter how much we improve the IDF."