Learning Leadership

Elie came home Monday night to attend his grandfather’s memorial learning session this week and asked if he could take the car back to base. This will allow him to come home whenever he gets released for the weekend.

“What time do you think you’ll be home?” I asked.

“Well, hopefully Thursday, but it might be Friday.”

Why? For the most part, when at a checkpoint, the soldiers in his unit are released some time on Thursday. It seemed strange that it would be Friday, and stranger still that Elie wasn’t sure.

As it turns out, the soldiers haven’t been listening to their commanders. They’ve been showing up late and clearly more action is required. Perhaps they are restless, perhaps it is the weather. Whatever it is, clearly, Elie’s unit will not allow discipline to slacken. So, the soldiers have been told that they won’t get their weekend release quite so early. They are being held in suspense as to whether they will be released at all on Thursday, or only on Friday.

“I blame the commanders,” Elie said. It was an interesting discussion. Commanders are, according to Elie’s way of thinking, supposed to set an example and are ultimately responsible for their soldiers. If a soldier does something wrong…anything, it is the commander who must take responsibility. Elie is currently the commander of the commanders…and so he too takes responsibility.

Israel has a long history of such behavior. In many cases, commanders take responsibility for training accidents when they weren’t even in the area during the exercise. It isn’t that they did anything wrong, but rather a sense of responsibility for all things that happen under their watch. When something fails, it is they who take the blame and so, this week, because many of the soldiers haven’t been getting up on time and doing things according to schedule, Elie and the other commanders have ordered that they stay late…and so, by extension will the commanders.

Elie wasn’t angry about the inconvenience, the loss of a day at home. I’ve been in this thing long enough to understand how much soldiers prize their “out” time and yet he accepts that if his soldiers must stay, so will he.

I spoke to him a few minutes ago. He called to tell me that he’ll be home late tomorrow afternoon. I asked him about the cookies I had sent back with him on Tuesday morning. “All gone,” Elie said.

It was a big box of cookies. It was Tuesday morning. Now it is Wednesday night. “You didn’t eat them all, did you?”

“Yeah, we did,” he answered.

“WE did…who is ‘we’.” I love that he shares. “A bunch of us, five, maybe 10.”

“Were there enough cookies?” I asked, “Did they like them?” Obviously they did, I thought to myself. “Yeah, everyone had one or two. Except one guy…he’s on a diet.”

“So, he didn’t have any?”

“He couldn’t stop eating them. And then he had brownies that somebody else brought.”

“Some diet,” I said to Elie.

It was a nice conversation – no pressure, no really important message. He’s fine. He’s good. He’s coming home tomorrow night. There are few things more in life than any soldier’s mother could ask.

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