From pre-med in Texas to IDF officer

The day after graduation from the University of Texas, he began planning his draft.

asaf kagan 224 88 (photo credit: IDF)
asaf kagan 224 88
(photo credit: IDF)
For Asaf Kagan, the pre-med classes he took at the University of Texas three years ago seem like a world away. Then again, Austin is far from the Negev. On Wednesday, Kagan, 24, graduated from the Ground Forces Officer Course in a festive ceremony held at the IDF's Officer Training School near Mitzpe Ramon. Kagan, the oldest soldier to receive officer's insignia during the ceremony, was born in Israel but moved to the US when he was two. He grew up in Houston and after high school enrolled in the University of Texas, where he completed his pre-med studies at age 22. When his older brother returned to Israel to serve in the army, Kagan knew for certain that he would follow suit. The day after college graduation, he began planning his draft. Along with Kagan, 26 women received their officer insignia on Wednesday, as did an additional 26 new immigrants. "I always knew that I wanted to go to the army but wasn't sure if I wanted to do it before or after college," Kagan told The Jerusalem Post before receiving his brass first-lieutenant insignia. "In the end, I decided that I definitely wanted to do the army but that my degree was also very important." One of the biggest challenges he faced was serving alongside 18-year-old Israelis, four years his junior. "In the end, however, the kids here mature pretty fast, since they don't have much of a choice," he said. Kagan signed up for the Nahal Brigade and was enlisted in Battalion 50. After a year and a half there, including the Second Lebanon War, Kagan signed on for additional service. The media reports about the increase in draft-dodging among Israeli youth reinforced his decision to become an officer. In the last draft, the IDF reported that 25 percent of youth were not enlisting in the military. After he joined the army, Kagan said, many of his fellow soldiers asked him why he had left the US to come to Israel. "The draft-dodging is a problem in Israeli society today, and as someone who comes from the US with a college degree, I hope it inspires other people so they can see the importance of a strong army," he said.