One, two, three, four, what are we guarding for?

An excerpt from a Magazine feature article on reservists reporting for duty.

IDF reservists 311 (photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
IDF reservists 311
(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
Sitting in a dank, cramped room, in the middle of a tiny military base near Shavei Shomron in Samaria, Moti, a reserve soldier, voices his frustration.
“I hate miluim. It’sdisgusting, it’s terrible,” the 28-year-old from the center of thecountry says, shifting on his creaking bed. “Whenever I put on theuniform of the army, I can’t take it.”
For Moti, such feelingsof discontent have had plenty of time to fester. For nearly threeweeks, he has spent most of his days wandering among the small clusterof buildings which make up his base, engaging in idle conversation withfellow reservists between a steady stream of naps, meals and – onlyinfrequently – guard duty. Today, it seems the boredom has gotten thebest of him.
“This is a waste of time,” he grumbles. “I suffer, I guard and I don’t like it at all.”
WhileMoti may reflect an extreme case of bitterness, conversations with across-section of reservists reveal a general despondency whichpermeates their ranks. Almost every Israeli may understand the need formandatory service – a byproduct of the nearly constant existentialthreat which has hovered over the state since its very inception – butthere is no denying that enthusiasm for fulfilling the national dutyhas most certainly waned. And nowhere is this more evident than in thereserves.
Reservists play an integral part in the survival ofthe country, and if recent legislation is any indicator, they continueto function as the backbone of the IDF. According to the preamble ofthe Reserve Duty Law, which was fully enacted on January 1, 2010, “Thereservist draft is an indispensable part of the Israel Defense Forces,and constitutes a central layer upon which the army relies for thesecurity needs of the state.”
Although the IDF prefers to keepexact figures detailing the strength of its fighting force a secret, asimple calculation reveals just how critical reservists are. Thereserves are comprised of former soldiers who have finished compulsoryservice, and have yet to reach exemption age – 45 for officers, 40 foreverybody else. The rest of the army is made up of conscripts –theoretically all Israelis between 18 and 21 – and career soldiers. Itshould therefore come as no surprise that the former group numericallyeclipses the latter.
But such figures are hardly representativeof reality. According to unofficial estimates – the only ones availablegiven an army blackout on the issue – no more than 30 percent ofreservists actually report for duty. And of that percentage, a farsmaller number do so willingly.
Stemming from the Yom KippurWar, skepticism of the government has created an ideologicalrevolution, which both directly and indirectly caused military policyto fuse with political considerations. Increasingly conscious of thesechanges, reservists became self-aware individuals rather thanunquestioning members of a collective – and the result is a problemwhich threatens the very essence of the “citizen army” if it’s notfixed soon.
Sowhat does it mean when the bulk of reservists which Israel relies onfor its continued existence not only demonstrate a disdain for much ofwhat is asked of them, but an eagerness to avoid the service altogether?
“IFYOU look around you, you don’t see anybody serving in the reserves –maybe one or two other people,” Roye Ron, chairman of the BaltamOrganization for the Support of the Reserves Draft, explains. “Nobodyin the army will give you [exact] numbers, but I will tell you that inclosed meetings in which I took part, nobody contradicted what I’mabout to say. They understand the reality of the situation.”
Andthe situation, he says, is dire. “If you take today’s population ofthose who fall within the age of reserve duty – that is between 20 and45 – if you take all this potential of those who are meant to beserving the state, you’ll find that roughly 10 percent of them willshow up for reserve duty each year. Further, you’ll see something likemaybe 2% or 3% of that 10% actually does more than four days of reserveduty a year. That means that roughly one or two people out of everyhundred does more than four days a year.”
Oddly enough,shouldering the burden of the majority is not what bothers Ron, butrather the operational duty which often translates to guardingsettlements or remote outposts along the border.
The full article by Matt Zalen will appear in this Friday's Magazine.