'It's not for ourselves, it's for all of us'

Reservists honored for Operation Cast Lead speak of sacrifice.

IDF Gaza 224 88 (photo credit: AP [file])
IDF Gaza 224 88
(photo credit: AP [file])
IDF reserve soldiers left wives and kids at home, and put jobs and hobbies on hold as they departed for the battlefield willingly and with valor last winter. On Monday, some of those reservists were recognized at a ceremony at Glilot, near Tel Aviv, as Chief of General Staff Lt.-Gen. Gabi Ashkenazi presented them with special honors for outstanding service during Operation Cast Lead in Gaza last January. Speaking to The Jerusalem Post before the ceremony, two of the soldiers spoke of what that service meant to them, and what their comrades' sacrifices meant for the country. "My parents live in Kibbutz Carmiya, near Ashkelon, which is well within rocket range," explained Captain N., an infantryman from a Givati Brigade reserve unit, whose full name could not be used due to military restrictions. "When I was going into Gaza, I truly felt like I was fighting for my home, because my home was under attack. That said, when the fighting started, my soldiers, who are from from all over the country, were calling my phone nonstop, asking me, 'Why are we still sitting at home? We're ready to go.'" "Everybody wanted to help out, to do their part, to give something," chimed in air force Major M. "I felt no different. Throughout the war, my unit backed up forces on the ground and preformed routine searches for targets." Captain N., who fought in Gaza in the past, led his troops on reconnaissance missions deep inside the Strip. "I spent the entire war inside houses and buildings," he said. Both Captain N. and Major M. admitted that returning to the battlefield was not the same as heading there for the first time. "Frankly, it wasn't easy to go back," said Captain N. "As an officer, there's more expected of you, and as an officer in the reserves, you have to refresh yourself before you go back. I also served in the Second Lebanon War, and it was difficult to go back then as well. It's never simple. The saving grace is that I'm with Givati, which is a very organized unit, with an echelon of higher-ups that's well in place. I always felt that I had someone to speak with, someone to ask, if I had questions." The burdens on a reservist's mind are much heavier than those of young enlistees, the captain said. "You bring with you things that wouldn't cross an 18-year-old's mind," he continued. "The things you're leaving at home - whatever's going on at home. If your kids are sick or something like that, you have to set it all aside." "When you're in the air force reserves, you're always doing training," Major M. said. "But suddenly, during the war, it becomes a 24-hour job. I have five kids at home, and I left them with my wife. That certainly made it more intense." Both men said they were proud to don their uniforms again, and dismissed reports of unethical behavior by troops as a misrepresentation. "The level of ethics, the dilemmas we went through when identifying targets were extraordinary, and those who say otherwise are a minority misrepresenting the majority," said Major M. "I always try to look at the positive side," Captain N. said. "I look at the sacrifices my soldiers have made, what their families give, and what the the wounded have given. As far as the negative stories that came out after the war, it's a shame, because they undermine all the good that goes on. I feel like I was in every house on the ground [in Gaza], and from my experience, I never once felt that we crossed the line." "At the same time, I appreciate the debate," he continued. "It's a positive process that refines our ethics. We have to talk and debate, so that we all know very clearly what is allowed and what isn't." Captain N. lamented the attitude some hold toward reserve duty, telling the Post that while the army's treatment of reservists has improved, the public was often ill-informed about reserve duty. "Within the last couple of years, since the Second Lebanon War, I've gotten a lot more out of my service, as I feel that the army has improved its attitude toward reservists, be it with regard to training, supplies or just overall treatment," said Captain N. "But it's important that the army, and Israeli society as a whole, knows who we are, and know what we're doing."