In 1982, the US military invited allied countries to send a pair of outstanding paratrooper officers to attend the four-month US Army Special Forces Qualification Course (the “Q” course) at Ft. Bragg, North Carolina. This is the training ground for qualifying US Army Green Berets. The attrition rate is over 50%. Among the two selected by the Israeli military, one was a young Parachute Brigade company commander, Capt. Benny Gantz. I was a US Army captain competing for a spot to join one of the three Green Beret units in the US Army, the 10th Special Forces Group (Airborne).
The 150 soldiers in the Q course live, sweat and train together. Foreign officers participate, and are tested, no differently than their American counterparts. In the May 1982 class, foreign officers attended from Lebanon, Egypt, Sudan, Spain, Indonesia, S. Korea and Malaysia. Even among such a varied group, Gantz stood out. He showed himself to be an outstanding tactical leader and competitor. He remained focused on the missions at hand.
I was proud to work with him as we engaged in tactical parachute operations, long rucksack marches, survival training, land-navigation testing and hand-to-hand combat, as well as training in the basic Special Forces skills of communications, demolitions, weapons and first aid. Gantz led by example among the foreign officers. Even some more senior foreign officers rallied around him for guidance.
He did not fail to compete in other ways as well. During the limited weekend basketball and soccer competition back at the military base, Benny starred in battles by the foreign students against their US officer counterparts.
One night, during land navigation, Benny and I managed to be among the first three to complete the night course – locating engineer stakes three to four miles apart, in the dark, as part of a timed exercise. We sat, fatigued, and started a small fire. We enjoyed a soldier’s toast of C-ration coffee, cocoa, creamer and sugar. We shared a single canteen cup. We discussed the conflicts in the Middle East. We engaged in lively debate.
As we sat there, however, Benny’s parachute company had deployed into Lebanon and was then engaged in combat. Benny soon learned of his unit’s assignment and felt his first duty meant he should be with his troops. We returned from our field testing, and Benny requested to leave the US to rejoin his soldiers. He was instructed to complete the Q course. He did, but upon his subsequent return to Israel, Benny immediately rejoined his parachute unit in Lebanon.
I TRAVELED to Israel in 1983 and 1984, and stayed with Gantz. He proved to be a superb host. I met and visited with his family in Moshav Kfar Ahim. I listened, awestruck, as family members recounted the survival tale of his mother making it out of the concentration camps, and Benny’s father’s escape to Israel ahead of the Nazis.
Gantz is a proud Israeli sabra. He remembers the past, has served in the present and is best prepared to serve in the future. Benny brought me to the Golan Heights. He is both a leader, teacher and a brilliant military mind. He explained the successes and failures in the Yom Kippur War. We stopped at the point where the furthest Syrian tank advanced into Israel.
I followed Benny’s later successes as he commanded the Shaldag Commando Paratroopers Unit responsible for liberating Ethiopian Jews and flying them to Israel. His further commands, including the prestigious 890th Parachute Battalion, the IDF Parachute Brigade, the Judea and Samaria Division, the Northern Command and IDF Forces in Lebanon all demonstrated the respect he deserved. As military attaché to the United States, I shared time together with Benny from Washington to my home in New Hampshire.
Five years ago, my wife and I spent a week hosted by then-chief of staff Gantz and his wife, Revi, in their home. During that visit, he relayed a training experience he had with a young lieutenant. Benny challenged the platoon commander for not being forward enough in his defensive perimeter. This lieutenant and lieutenant-general then debated tactics. In the end, Benny expressed his confidence in the young platoon commander. It was classic Benny Gantz – teacher, motivator and leader.
Benny’s sisters asked during this visit if I knew, back in 1982, that Benny would rise to such levels of leadership. Yes, I knew, because even then I saw the glint in his eye and the unique qualities Benny routinely displays: unparalleled leadership, thoughtfulness, composure and dedication.
Benny Gantz will never let his country down. He is the leader Israel needs for the future. He served as a soldier’s soldier. He has developed into a respected statesman. He is a sabra dedicated to carrying on the dreams of his parents and protecting the future for his and all of Israel’s children. He listens to competing arguments, respects differing opinions and leads by example.
He is the right man, at the right place, at the right time. His life has been shaped by his family’s history, his service to Israel and his tenacity as a soldier/leader. Now is the time for Israelis to focus on the future of Israel. Benny Gantz will provide a steady hand on the tiller of government. He has the vision to deliver Israel safely into the future. I am proud to call him my friend, fellow soldier and colleague.
The writer is a West Point graduate and former US Army Green Beret officer who trained and served with then-Cpt. Benny Gantz.
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