Tuesday, May 08, 2007

Israel Salutes Her Reservists

Chief Reservist Officer Speaks
By Amir Kidon, IDF

When I was called into the modest office belonging to the Chief Reservist Officer, I was stopped at the entrance. The officer's personal assistant, who bears the rank of Major, stood in the threshold of the door as she was leaning against the door. She then turned to the Chief Reservist Officer. "We need to reserve your place on stage for the ceremony at the President's Residence," the officer said. "Forget about the stage, I'm sitting with the reservists," retorted Brigadier General Danny Van Biren.

Being a reservist is in Brigadier General Van Biren's soul. Most of his military service was spent alternating between the military fatigues of reservists and civilian life. Van Biren's ascent through the ranks reached a pinnacle at age 38, when he was promoted to commander of the brigade in which he served. "The reserves is home," he said. "There's no equal to the friendships that you form in the reserves compared with anywhere else in civilian life or even in compulsory army service. Whenever I talk to people in reserves, I tell them, not to show condescension but rather to identify with them, that nobody can blame me for not understanding the difficulties of reservists. I spent many years as a reservist, in conjunction with my civilian life, such that I'm aware of the whole gamut of problems, not just conscious knowledge but also knowledge from the gut."

More than an anecdote

This year's reservist appreciation day, the fourth in total, will be observed under the banner "The best, on to the reserves".

"This day is, from my perspective, a platform upon which to emphasize the importance of the reserves and their value before the nation and the IDF as well as to solidify the reservist's image as a dedicated, quality individual," Brigadier General Van Biren said.

Does the need to solidify an image of "unique" stem from a lack of motivation among the reservists?

"If we look at the surveys that are done with reservists, there's an interesting phenomenon. On the one hand, when we ask the reservists how they feel about their service, the result is very high percentage of those who say that they are proud to be reservists and feel that their service is Zionism, a mission unto itself. But, on the other hand, they don't feel that society feels that way towards them. They feel a lack of appreciation that finds expression primarily in the way that the society tags them as suckers. This is what we want to change."

That desire to change has moved from the theoretical to the practical. A series of activities and initiatives which have been devised for some time are beginning to be implemented on the ground.

"In the updated, proposed legislation we instituted a number of clauses which permit the state to grant preferences to reservists without it being considered discriminatory," Brigadier General Van Biren said. "We want the law to state that a reservists is a citizen who receives preferences, that it is permissible to give preferences, that it is acceptable to express gratitude and that nobody needs to view it as a form of discrimination. The proposal has already been approved by the Justice Ministry, which leads us to believe that the clause will be approved soon."

Aside from the legislative aspect, the IDF's top reservist is active on other fronts. "We are trying to create initiatives that will give added value and incentive to employers to hire reservists," he said. "Take for example 'Reserves Shield', the special award that the defense minister will give out this coming Monday to companies with exemplary policies towards employees who serve in the reserves. When we came up with the concept, we found that 50 companies were proposed as worthy of the prize, and that the idea was making its way through word of mouth. Among the companies were some of the biggest public and private companies in the economy, and all of them are proud of the fact that they see the reservist as an asset. We hope this will turn into a phenomenon and not just remain in the realm of an anecdote."

What solution do you propose for those reservists who are fired from their jobs because they are called up for service?

"In terms of sanctions, we seem to be covered. The law states that it is forbidden to discriminate against a reservist, whether that reservist is applying for a job or whether the reservist is being dismissed from his job. The real problem is that these sanctions are not always practical. The head of a company that decides one of his or her employee's reports for too many days of reserve duty each year and wants to fire the reservist has many ways to circumvent the law. So we feel that along with wielding the stick we also should offer a carrot. After all, it's not easy to employ a worker who is absent 30 days out of the year."

In March 2005, the government approved the recommendations of the Braverman Committee, which was headed by Professor Avishai Braverman and included among its members then-Chief of Staff Lieutenant General Dan Halutz, former Finance Ministry Director General Yossi Bachar, and the previous Chief Reservist Officer, Brigadier General (res.) Ariel Hayman. The committee was tasked with re-examining the structure of the reserves and how to maximize its usefulness. One month later, the Knesset approved the first reading of a proposed law based primarily on the committee's findings. Among the recommendations was the removal of reservist soldiers from routine security activities. Reserves are to be deployed only in times of emergency. The Second Lebanon War left the implementation of these findings seriously in doubt.

"The Braverman Committee realized that the reserves is the State of Israel's insurance policy in the event of war, bar none," Brigadier General Van Biren said. "The significance of that fact is that during periods of calm, it will be possible to call up reservists for training only. Before the war, and also afterwards, we heard much criticism from battalion commanders in the reserves who claimed that they cannot keep up the routine of their units and building the battalions without having taken part in operational activities. Even after the war, when a committee headed by General Avi Mizrahi studied the readiness of the reserve forces, one of the conclusions was that there is an unbreakable link between the readiness of the conscripts and the readiness of the reserves. As a result, we changed the wording of the law so that the reserve forces will be utilized for emergencies and operational needs only. We don't want to assign reservists with fruitless missions.

There will be no more guarding of towns, reservists won't be called up for guarding communities, shooting ranges, and bases. We canceled all these things. We do want to limit the reserves for emergencies but also operational needs.

Currently, the cap figure for the number of days a reservist in combat is called to serve, as stipulated in IDF orders, is 36 days per year. "That is no small figure when you consider that reservists are also civilians who have private lives," the chief reserves officer said. "The intention is that the law which is taking shape will limit the number of reserve days to 54 over a period of three years and 84 days over three years for an officer. Nonetheless, the new limitations are expected to go into effect only after 2010.

What do you say to a reservist who tell you that he feels like a sap?

"First of all, most of the reservists don't feel as if they are suckers, and this isn't me trying to paint a pretty picture of the reality. I talk to the soldiers, the commanders, and over the course of 16 years I was also a reservist. If someone were to say that to me? I think that in due time a reservist understands that this service will not be repaid in money. Whoever isn't motivated by a certain drive - it could be Zionism, it could be a sense of mission and duty, or it could even be a desire to be with his friends in the reserves - will find it very difficult to survive a number of years in the reserves. These soldiers are really the best people in our society because they have no leadership challenges, they do not lead forces to follow them, their work is sometimes very Sisyphean and boring. Despite this, though, they still continue to come. We really need to tip our caps to these folks."


During the night IDF forces arrested 29 wanted Palestinians...


Two qassam rockets were launched during the night from the Gaza strip into Israel; one of which fell near a community in the western Negev