More soldiers complain against commanders

Ombudsman says officers have to be more attentive to troops’ problems, 55% of complaints received were justified.

IDF lone soldiers 521 (photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem)
IDF lone soldiers 521
(photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem)
Noting an increase in complaints filed by soldiers against their commanders in 2010, IDF Ombudsman Brig.-Gen. (res.) Yitzhak Brik presented his annual report on Wednesday to the Knesset and President Shimon Peres.
Of the 6,289 complaints that were received by the Ombudsman’s office, 55 percent were justified, Brik said, particularly those lodged by soldiers against young, inexperienced officers. Brik noted a drop, however, in complaints filed by reservists.
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Brik gave a number of examples in the report which showed how senior commanders occasionally covered up instances when soldiers’ rights were violated. One example brought was of a Lieutenant-Colonel who knew of a prank to be played on a junior soldier in his unit, but did not stop it and even participated in it.
“We occasionally see cases when senior commanders misunderstand their responsibility and back up the conduct of commanders beneath them,” he said, stating however that most commanders were sensitive to complaints filed by their soldiers and usually took immediate action to solve them.
In another case, a captain in the IDF complained that his commander – a major – would push his subordinates, curse them and kick in office doors. The captain complained numerous times to more senior officers in the unit but was ignored.
In evaluating the case, Brik decided to take disciplinary action against the abusive officer as well as other officers in the unit who ignored the complaints.
Brik told Peres on Wednesday that when he accepted the post it was on condition that he would be allowed to investigate not only the complaints themselves but also the underlying problems.
Brik said that it was the task of commanding officers to instill national pride and motivation in soldiers, and they could only do that by personal example and by establishing relationships in which the soldiers under their command had confidence in them.
“When a soldier puts his life on the line while serving in the IDF, he has to do so out of love for his country,” said Brik.
In another case in the report, Brik investigated a complaint filed by a female soldier whose commander posted a picture of her on Facebook and wrote insulting comments underneath it.
Brik said that even though Facebook is a civilian social network, when used between soldiers and commanders it has a military “connection.” He recommended that the IDF institute clear rules regarding the use of Facebook in such instances.
In another case, a group of officers pulled a prank on one of their colleagues and convinced him to wear underwear wrapped in aluminum foil when entering a room to protect himself against radiation in one of the rooms in the unit. Brik recommended that the officers involved be punished and that the incident be recorded in their personal files.
The ombudsman said that he had visited 280 units from all branches of the defense forces during his term, spending five hours on each visit talking to commanders and soldiers.
“The most important thing that a commander has to do is listen to his soldiers and respond accordingly, so that each soldier will get the feeling that he or she is making a contribution,” Brik said.
In response to the report, Chief of General Staff Lt.-Gen. Benny Gantz appointed his deputy, Maj.-Gen. Yair Naveh, to lead a committee to implement necessary changes to correct the flaws discovered by Brik.