Jay Tcath

Everyone in the IDF is special

Where are the army trainers, supply sergeants, vehicle mechanics, dish washers and engineers?

What are the odds? They seem mathematically impossible.

What are the chances that, over decades and hundreds of instances, of only encountering members of a sub-group comprising but 20% of the whole?

The odds against it must be a gazillion to one. It’s the type of long shot odds that makes exchanging pension contributions for lottery tickets seem reasonable.

So, what is this mysterious 20% subgroup that is unavoidable, omnipresent? IDF soldiers serving in “special” units.

Follow the math. According to one report (from 1997 and found after a rigorous 3 minutes of web-surfing), 20% of the IDF is comprised of combat units. The remainder is mostly split between combat-support, technical, and administrative. These three categories are each very important, but generally not what comes to mind by “special unit.”

What then are the impossible odds involving the 20%? Over three decades I have met several hundreds of Israelis and have heard others talk of many hundreds more. IDF service invariably becomes part of the discussion. Defying the laws of averages, logic and perhaps quantum physics, each – 100% — of those Israeli males has served in a “special” unit.

Where are the other 80%? Are all the recruiters, trainers, supply sergeants, vehicle mechanics, dish washers, admin staff, and engineers hiding just from me? Where are they? Have you seen them? Might you in fact be one of them, ashamed to come out of the “closet?”

Though unspoken, “special” is generally understood” to denote elite, especially secretive combat soldiers…those who can’t talk about what they do or where they do it or to whom. Think James Bond in fatigues or, when you’re really macho enough to pull it off, Ehud Barak in drag in Beirut, circa 1973.

So, how is that every single Israeli male I’ve encountered or heard about has only served in units that make up but 20% of the IDF?

Certainly there must be a simple algorithm to demonstrate just how far fetched this disconnect is between IDF manpower reality and my personal experiences. Perhaps the IDF’s Special Algorithms Unit will explain the phenomena and shortly thereafter sell it to Google.

Okay, confession time. I’ve exaggerated. When confronted with this statistical anomaly, one extraordinarily honest Israeli did come clean…quietly acknowledging, in a whisper tone as if it were a state secret, that he had not in fact been in a “special” unit himself. Blushing, he admitted to being merely a cook during his IDF service. But then, quickly rallying to his own defense and with a proud arch of his back, he insisted that the record also note that he was a cook for a “special” unit.

This bravado part of Israeli culture is well earned and endearing. Also endearing is the good nature with which Israelis listen to my potentially off-putting, 100% sarcastic observation regarding their beloved military service. Whether they do so as another indulgence of my “humor” or they actually recognize themselves or others in the caricature drawn, their tolerance is menschy.

Their kind disposition, and their IDF service (whatever it entailed), is especially appreciated today, February 8, 2015.

Today, my first born enters the IDF. Regardless of what color beret he ultimately wears or weapon he carries, or more likely — by an 8-2 margin – the size of the desk he sits behind, whatever IDF unit he serves in will be special. Very special. In the eyes of his proud and worried family, like those of all IDF soldiers, the most special.

In Israel, the odds of that are certain.