A Year in the IDF Ground Forces Command Foreign Relations Branch

November 26, 2009 will mark one year in the Foreign Relations Branch at the IDF Ground Forces Command .

It has been an incredible year and a once in a life time opportunity. I’ve gotten to do fieldwork across the country, setup and run a field office during Army to Army Staff Talks, I’ve run examinations while standing on top of a tank, and along the way I’ve met some incredible people. All off the soldiers that I work with have also become my friends, and we’ve developed a close knit community which has made the experience half of what it is.

The only problem I and the other chayalim bodedim (lone soldiers) have run into is that the army really doesn’t meet our needs financially (for food, housing, etc). We’re on an open base (compared with a closed base, where you go home every few weeks, we go home every night). The army doesn’t take this into account when figuring out how much money we should receive each month. On top of this, my kibbutz still hasn’t been paid for the year that I’ve lived there (and I may have to seek new housing shortly because of this). All of us don’t make enough at the moment to cover “extra” costs…like…food, toilet paper, toothpaste, etc. This is currently a work in progress and a cause I’ve taken up on behalf of the lone soldiers in my branch. It is my hope to have it resolved soon, to the satisfaction of all parties involved. Through all of this, all of us remain committed to the State of Israel, the IDF, the Ground Forces Command and the Foreign Relations Branch.

That being said, any debt I’ve incurred due to my service in the IDF I’m writing off and considering part of my (eventual) graduate school tuition (I think I’ll file it under ‘pre-room and board’). I’ve started working in my field within one year of graduating. I oversee translations, run a growing ESL program and I’m in charge of testing and diagnostics for the entire Ground Forces Command. Awesome. I’m in a unit with eight other soldiers (right now there’s nine soldiers and nine officers in my branch) and I’ve been afforded with a rare opportunity to work alongside the leaders of this army. I’m thankful that my commander had both the command and common sense to let me do my own thing (within reason) and to allow me to define my own position in the branch. He’s a rare find in the IDF.

So, what’s next?

Despite what I do in the army, the army doesn’t recognize “linguist” as an army profession (there are army professions that you can have added to your file after a 30-90 day course. These professions range from medic to tank repairman). The army does, however, recognize both my degree and teaching certification (as does the State of Israel – I had my degree recognized by the state as part of the process I went through to enter the army). So they recognize I have them, they just won’t recognize them as something valid or worthwhile in keeping in the army (which makes signing on for more time as a contract soldier or future officer more difficult).

I’ve already extended my time to the maximum time allowed for someone without a military profession. My officer has been trying to convince the army to have them give me the rank of Academic Officer (which I qualify for). The problem that we ran into was that our branch doesn’t have a line budget item for an Academic Officer (welcome to the Middle East, home of red tape). I was invited to attend the Officer Candidate School. However, to attend the OCS you either need to a) already have a military profession, having gone through a course after basic training or b) attend the OCS for a particular profession. The program they offered me was the OCS for Human Resources…

…I’m in charge of English testing and diagnostics…I’ve sat with generals from around the world and provided linguistic support at meetings with the world armies…I write the correspondence for generals…I do what I love, working with languages and text daily and they want me to move from this to be a low level officer in charge of vacation time and making sure people properly log their days off? I declined (graciously) and instead of just signing the form that said “I’m not interested in the OCS” I sent them a letter enumerating the OCS programs that I would be more than happy to sign on for.

Either we’ll get the line item in the budget and I’ll be promoted to Academic Officer and then two years later Senior Academic Officer or I’ll be sent another letter in the mail telling me I’m invited to either the same or a different OCS program or I’ll finish out my service as a Staff Sergeant (I’m promoted to Sergeant May 20, 2010 thanks to time based, not merit based promotions) and then head to teach in Jerusalem. Ether way I’m happy with how things will work out…I just think it will be unfortunate if I only have a year and a half left to work with my current students.

The benefit to teaching in Jerusalem is that while I’ll be teaching in a High School or a Middle School I’ll have ample time to attend language courses at night. I’ll have plenty of time to study Hebrew and Arabic on my own, and with easy access to the Old City, native Hebrew and Arabic speakers are at my disposal and just a heart beat away. I’ll once again be able to purchase my food at the shook (oh…oh how I miss the shook…cheap, cheap, cheap amazing food)…and, as always, public transportation is my best friend and is in abundance in comparison to where I’m presently living.

Shirah’s (stoicdaydreamer) uncle is the mayor of Ma’aleh Adumim and he’s told me that I have a job teaching as soon as I finish my service. This has relieved a great deal of the “WHAT THE HELL AM I GOING TO DO AFTER I FINISH MY SERVICE” stress that most soldiers feel before they’re released from the IDF. I finish my service (if all things remain the same) on June 19, 2011. This means I’ll be able to begin teaching as soon as school begins in August 2011.

I’ll have my debt paid off after a year of teaching (if not sooner), two more years and I should have enough to cover the first year or so of graduate school (I’ve narrowed down my options to a M.A./Ph.D. in either Hebrew, Arabic, Linguistics, or something similar, a combined MA/MSW program in Judaic Studies & Social Work, or something in the realm of Translation, Judaic Studies and/or Anthropology).

Before I begin applying to graduate school I want to do some form of internship or work with the Dead Sea Scrolls (another benefit to working in Jerusalem is that it’s at the epicenter of Hebrew documents and lots of other really, really old things…). My plan of attack for getting into some kind of Dead Sea Scroll internship is to work off of past experience…find a place offering an internship, go there every day…pester harass stalk talk to everyone until they relent give up plead for mercy offer me an internship (or create one for me).

So, I was lucky (blessed) enough to move out of the US and gain dual citizenship right before the market crashed, I’m working in my field in a job that I can’t be fired from before my contract runs out on June 19, 2011, living rent free in a country where LGBT people have more rights than they do in the US, can serve legally and openly as a gay man in the army, and I have socialized medicine – thank God.

What I am not so successful at is my NaNoWriMo word count…which is pitifully low…it’s been a long month…

This weekend I’m going to be camping out on the beach at Ma’agan Michael, reading, and relaxing.

Peace, Love & Hummus,

Matan