A Tag, A Pin, An Exchange

When Elie finished his Commanders Course, there was a ceremony. After the speeches, his commanding officer approached each of the soldiers in his group and pinned up the pocket flap they’d left dangling down. In this way, they were uncovering the new pin each had been given. It would take too long to pin on each medal and so it was easier to go and fix the flap as a sign that each had been given the new rank and job of Commander.

When Or approached Elie, he seemed to be standing there a long time relative to how long he stood before the others. I wondered what was happening…and suddenly, Elie’s face broke into a grin. Or tapped him on the shoulder, a brief hug, and on to the next soldier.

I caught the grin on camera and asked Elie what had happened. He explained to me that there is a tradition. In each group, the army designates an “Excellent” soldier. There are many factors to this – how they do, but also other factors that make the army want to recognize this soldier. Another “undocumented” feature is the pin exchange. Put simply, this is a private moment between each commander and one soldier that he chooses. As he approaches, rather than give the soldier the new pin, he removes his own from his shirt, gives the new soldier this old pin as a sign of respect and honor, and keeps the new pin for himself in place of the old one.

This is what Or did for Elie – and Elie recognized and appreciated the honor. It is done quietly with no announcement – it is for the soldier and, if the family is lucky enough to see it and understand, for them too.

On Monday, as I watched Chaim receive his rifle and Bible, I noticed his commanding officer reach up to his own shoulder and remove something. Later I would learn it was his tag, that announced he was part of the Kfir Brigade. This time, I caught it all on video – all clear. The commanding officer placed his own tag on Chaim’s shoulder and then gave him a hard push – some other tradition I don’t know but saw was done with each soldier.

At this point, I was able to understand – he had chosen Chaim. My eyes filled with tears and I was afraid I was going to mess up the video. I blinked my eyes furiously to clear them, to keep watching and tried to hold the camera straight. This is an honor – from soldier to soldier; an exchange between a commander and his soldier, but so much more.

These are the traditions I knew nothing about the first time around and which mean so much now that I do understand. It is one more thing I love about the Israeli army.


  1. My son was noted as the “best” in his basic training group. Our son had told us not to bother to come for the ceremony (it was at a VERY inconvenient time for us), but all that changed when the officer called us and “warned” us that my son would get an honor- so I was able to get his brothers go, and share in my son’s pride.

  2. My elder son got his platoon sergeant’s beret – a ratty, dirty thing that was his pride and joy till he had to pass it on to a soldier he trained. On the other hand, when he finished the NCOs course and was best soldier in the platoon, he didn’t tell us. The ceremony was a Friday morning, so I went on my own with my younger son. When they called his name out, my eyes filled with tears. His mother almost killed him when we got home 🙂

  3. After my son Neil’s swearing in at Shivta on Monday, he got to come back to Tel Aviv with me…a little benefit for “lone soldiers.” Anyway, he explained these tradtions to me….the commander giving his pin or beret to an excellent soldier, and taking the new one for himself. He told me about alot of things like that, which brought it much closer to home for me. I am so happy for you that your sons have acheived this….and that you got to witness it!

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