The sky's the limit for his ground forces

While Gabi Ashkenazi will have his hands full implementing reforms to rehabilitate the IDF's ground forces, he can be proud of the IDF's newest unit - the Kfir Brigade.

While chief of General Staff-designate Maj.-Gen. (res.) Gabi Ashkenazi will have his hands full implementing the necessary reforms to rehabilitate the IDF's ground forces, he will be able to take pride in the accomplishments of the IDF's newest unit - the Kfir Brigade. The largest brigade in the IDF, Kfir stands out with its stylish camouflage beret, unlike the rest of the IDF which sports single-colored berets, like red for Paratroopers and brown for Golani. Established just over a year ago, the brigade is stationed in the West Bank, where it's six battalions - Shimshon, Nahshon, Lavi, Netzah Yehuda, Haruv and Duhifat - conduct daily anti-terror operations. Ashkenazi can use the Kfir Brigade's success as an example of how to unify units, increase training regimens and succeed in creating better discipline while increasing pride and self-respect among soldiers and officers. Commanded by Col. David Menahem, the brigade is the IDF's main "contractor" in the West Bank. In 2005, the six battalions - stationed outside Ramallah, Jenin, Nablus, Tulkarm, Kalkilya and Jericho - carried out 51 percent of arrest raids in the territories. There are more than a dozen additional brigades that serve in the Central Command. But despite the heavy workload and the daily success in preventing terror infiltrations, new draftees were not interested in serving in the battalions until this year. "There was no pride in serving in one of these battalions that wasn't part of a larger unit like Golani or Paratroopers that have a heritage and traditions," explains a high-ranking officer in the brigade. To change that, the day Menahem took command he summoned the six battalion commanders to the 49th floor of the Azrieli Towers in Tel Aviv and looking out at the panoramic view gave his first military briefing. "I chose this unusual location since what we are doing by establishing a brigade is also unusual," Menahem said, explaining that he chose the 49th floor for the meeting since he wanted the commanders to understand that "the sky is the limit" when it comes to what they can accomplish. Soon the first recruits began to arrive at the newly-built boot camp in the Jordan Valley. Menahem has increased the level of training for the new conscripts to that of Golani, Nahal and Givati and brought in instructors to teach basic Arabic, a tool that helps at roadblocks and during operations throughout the West Bank. The results have been staggering. A year ago, only 42 percent of conscripts who were assigned to Kfir had asked to serve there prior to their enlistment. Soldiers were dropping out of the brigade and 21 cadets were expelled from the IDF officer's course. Menahem succeeded in doubling the percentage of conscripts who ask to serve in Kfir. In the last induction in November, 70 percent of those assigned to the brigade had asked to serve in it. Menahem's goal is to reach 90 percent by August. With the largest brigade in the IDF - he commands close to 5,000 soldiers - Menahem admits that he has his hands full developing doctrine, inspecting units, caring for his soldiers' welfare and commanding operations. But he never forgets that day on the 49th floor of the Azrieli Towers. "The sky," he says, "really is the limit."