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A Man’s Man

A Soldier's Mother

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Shmulik’s commanding officer pretty much defines the concept of a “man’s man” – at least as I would think of him. He’s the quintessential definition of an Israeli officer in war, in life, and in command. He’s been in the army since he first entered as a paratrooper somewhere back in his late teens.

He’s steadily climbed through the ranks, moving up very fast because he is charismatic, intelligent, young, handsome and dedicated. Shmulik met him just before he became a Major, now he’s a Lieutenant Colonel and I have no doubt the only limitation on where he will go is within him. Shmulik is convinced he could become Chief of Staff someday. He’s certainly capable, I think.

I heard him speak to a huge gathering of soldiers and parents. He’s a hero of sorts, a man of action. He epitomizes the Israeli commander who will command his troops with the traditional, “follow me” order. He was badly wounded by terrorist fire and when the doctors said he may never walk again, he prove them wrong. He walks – and he runs. Faster than Shmulik, longer distances. He guards what he eats (but he likes my chocolate chip cookies).

He’s a realist and he knows how to play the crowds. When we went up to the base for an introduction to what our sons would be doing in the next few months, S. was head of the base and did the talking. He introduced the weapons our sons would learn to fire, narrated the exercises the soldiers would learn to identify, quarantine, and eliminate terrorists. He walked us through an ambush of a terrorist hideout and explained that the soldiers there up on the hill were one session ahead of our sons. In four months, he told us, your sons will be up there doing this for other parents, “only you’re not invited,” he said with a laugh.

At one point, shooting the various weapons at a target in the distance started a brush fire. No problem, S. explained as a bunch of soldiers went out with what appeared to be poles or brooms, to fight it. This was the desert and there wasn’t really much to burn except brush so there was no urgency. People turned to watch the fire. I could hardly believe what I was seeing – they didn’t bring out fire engines and pour water – they beat the fire down. In a country always short of water, it was a fascinating display and we were glued to the progression of the fire, burning in almost a perfect circle because of the lack of wind.

S. wanted our attention for the program to continue. Like most of the audience, I watched the fire. And then, I turned to him and watched him watching the crowd. I videotaped (and later gave it to him) the part where he called out, “hello? To me…to me. It’s just a fire. Don’t worry…okay,” he said as the realist in him came through (and the humor), “ok, watch the fire for a few minutes and then we’ll continue.”

I thought it so funny at the time. The humor, the acceptance. I didn’t know then what a wonderful role he would play in Shmulik’s life a few months later.

S. waited a few more minutes while the soldiers did their work and got the fire mostly under control and then he began again. He isn’t ashamed of his emotions – another thing he taught Shmulik. Shmulik saw his fury when they went to the site of a horrible terrorist attack in which two parents were murdered, leaving orphans behind. The rage burned inside him and yet he controlled his anger as he ordered troops into action and monitored the situation.

Shmulik learned about humor when S. told him to use the fast lane meant for cars with many passengers, “and me,” S. told him. And he learned about humor when S. laughed endlessly because Shmulik had made some cute CDs for S.’s daughters, never noticing that they were in English with Hebrew subtitles. When he asked Shmulik about the English, Shmulik answered that there were subtitles, which made S. laugh even harder. S.’s daughters couldn’t read Hebrew; couldn’t understand the English that was so natural to Shmulik.

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