Wednesday, June 22, 2011
My Tzav Rishon (First Command)
I arrived to the Lishkat Hagiyus (draft office – herein “LH”) for my Tzav Rishon (first command – army testing day – herein “TR”) not fully knowing what to expect. I had heard varying bits of advice and recollections from other people’s TRs, some proved more helpful than others. The day started out impressively efficiently. I checked in at the front desk and was handed a piece of paper with a printed barcode. I was told to go to the third floor and scan the barcode on the yellow machine to start the process.
Off I went. Not a minute after I scanned the barcode, a nice teenage girl in an army uniform asked me to follow her into a large room with small interview booths. Each booth had a chayelet (female soldier) on one end and a plain-clothed person, mostly guys in their teens, on the other. Each interview spot was separated by a divider – like small cubicles with the wall between two people facing each other was removed.
The interview started with a thorough interview of my personal and family history – everything from what I’ve done since high school year by year to my parents and sibling’s birthdates and occupations. After out interview, I had a Hebrew test. This started off dismally. My interviewer started me on Hebrew level 5 and asked me to read her a sentence and tell me how the words below related to the sentence. I understood the whole sentence and did not know a single word below. The test was especially painful as she asked me word by word: “Do you know this one?” “No.” “Do you know this one?” “No.” you get the picture. When we went down to level 4, it was similar – I knew a few of the words but not well. Level 3 was okay. From there though, I picked up my game. I was asked to write sentences to fill in blanks like “I wanted to” ______________ before I _________.” I am better at these kinds of prompts. At the end of the test, I joked with her asking if I would be able to draft despite my Hebrew level. She told me my Hebrew was excellent. This is (a) a lie and (b) made me weary of anything she told me thereafter.
After my Hebrew test, I was directed to the purple machine on the second floor for medical tests. This was one of the funnier parts of the day. My first stop was a urine test. I enter a room with two girls sitting at a desk both facing the wall. One hands me a cup, tells me to go to a half a flight of stairs down and fill up the cup. I oblige and return with the cup wrapped in paper towel. While I am sure it is a common site to have guys walking through the halls with cups of pee, I shied away from that and took the modest approach. When I returned to the room, one of the girls told me to put the cup on a tray at the other end of the room. I put it down and started to head for the door figuring that they tested a bunch of cups at the same time. As I was walking past the girls, one handed me a plastic strip with a bunch of colorful patches on it. She told me to dip the stick in the cup. After doing so, she instructed me to hold it up for her to see. She glanced over for a second asked a confirmatory “did you get the whole thing in” and then told me to pour the cup into the toilet and throw out the cup and stick… I administered my own urine exam. It dawned on me at that moment that those poor girls may have the worst job in the army – vending pee cups and test strips while watching people test their own urine. At least they have each other.
My next stop was the height and weight stats, blood pressure and eye exam. When the bloodpressure cuff was done the automatic test, I was told to take off the cuff and get on the scale. I then measured my own height as the chayelet testing me read my height from her desk. I say this indignantly as she read my height as 192 cm – 6’3” she robbed me of two inches. After measuring twice I decided to just let it slide. I then did an eye test for distance and color blindness and was directed to the next medical station. When I got there, a mean soldier gave me a form in Hebrew which asked for my medical history. The form was all in Hebrew. I asked if she had an English form to which she responded “no we are all out. Do the best you can and leave the rest blank for now.” Okay so I filled in the form – almost all no’s with the exception of do you drink alcohol? There were several that I didn't understand and one that I understood but didn't want to answer – have you had any stomach issues. You may recall that back in January, I had an ulcer, which while I am sure was a fluke of an occurrence, I did not want to have to report in case it would lower my profile – the score you get that determines what you can do in the army.
After “completing” the sheet I was sent to see a doctor. We chatted for a minute and then he asked me to step into the examination area and strip down to my boxers. The physical exam was pretty simple – he looked me up and down, listened to my lungs and heart, asked me to touch my toes and stand up – this was to see that my back was okay, and then noted that I had bunions on my feet. He asked if they hurt and I told him that they do not. I knew that if I said that they did, they generally don't hurt thank G-d, my profile would be much lower and I may not be able to serve.
The next and last part of the exam is well known and a popular point of discussion. The doctor told me to drop by boxers so that he could “inspect my testicles”. I abided, and as he took inventory he smiled at me and said in English “don’t worry be happy,” and with that, the medical test was done. He looked over my form and noted that I had left a lot of the lines blank I told him I hadn’t understood them. Again in English he said “don't worry about these” and drew a line through the no column for all the questions. The doctor told me my physical profile was an 82 due to my bunions (an 82 is the second highest profile level after a 97. There are set levels, 97, 82, 72, 60 something… I don’t know why they don't just make it 1 – 8 or something like that, but I have already been told by several people – “it’s the army don't ask questions.”) After I received word of the 82, a fine profile may I add, I looked at the doctor with what must have been an overly serious face and asked “Does that mean I can’t be in the Sayeret Matkal?” the Sayeret Matkal (or just the Sayeret – the Unit) is widely regarded as the most elite combat unit in the army. The best of the best go to the Sayeret. Here I was a 26 year old with crap Hebrew joining the army for 6 months (he may not have known that) asking if I am now precluded from the most elite unit in the army. Without batting an eye, or getting my joke at all, he looked at me and said “I’m afraid so, but don’t worry you can still qualify for several good fighting units.” It was a considerate consolation to give, but I was disappointed that my joke was so missed. It wouldn’t be the only time that day.
I was then told by the mean soldier who gave me the form to go to a room on the first floor. This was where things got loopy – I should have been suspicious – things were moving along so smoothly. Till this point, I had not waited in a line all day – I had been warned by friends to bring a book because the TR is full of lines and waits, but I was flying. I got to the room downstairs, present my id to the group of teenagers huddled around iPod speakers and got one of the guys to break away from the pack and take my ID. I wasn’t sure what this room was for, but knew I wasn’t done my test because I had not yet taken the computerized test. He looked me up in the system, asked how old I was and then told me “you don’t have to serve because you are 26.” I explained to him that I knew that, but he ignored me and called over his buddy who also told me I didn’t have to serve. As though I weren’t there, the second guy took my ID card and went into his officer’s office, one of the few adults in the building, and told her that I was 26 and to confirm that I didn’t need to serve. At this point, I saw things getting out of hand. I walked into the office – this is a popular move for me at the LH– someone tells me to wait somewhere, I just follow them. I explained to both of them that I wanted to serve and had received permission from Bakum, the head draft base. That got things back on track. Guy #2 and I returned to Guy #1’s desk and Guy #1 checked the status of my testing. He looked up from his computer and told me I was done. “No I’m not done yet, I haven’t taken the computer test,” I argued.
Guy #1 “It says here you did.”
Me: “Well I’m telling you I didn’t.”
Guy #1 to Guy #2: “Go out and ask them [the girls at the front desk].” [I follow Guy #2]
Guy #2: “Pull up this file” [hands them my ID card] “Is he all done?”
Girl at Desk: “Yes he is finished”
Me: “I still haven’t taken the computer test yet.”
Girl at Desk: “Take him up to the yellow machine room and talk to them”
When we got up there, the idiocy continued – I was told again that the computer said I was done. At this point I wised up. I asked them “what score does the computer say I got? If it’s good, then I’m done.” For some reason this line got them to believe me and they shuffled around some papers, punched a few keys in the computer and told me to wait on the green chairs in the hall for the computer test.
The electronic test was interesting – I had to first take out the battery from my cell phone and read a bunch of rules. One was that I could not use a calculator. Interestingly, there was no math on the test. The test was a series of visual questions – find the piece that completes the pattern, identify the special change analogy – circle : oval as equilateral triangle : ?, where the ? is an obtuse triangle. Someone had warned me that it was difficult to finish in time – they were correct. I had to blink guess the last 5 questions on the second/last section. I hope Malcom Gladwell was right that when you know something it comes to you in an instant. When I finished the test I was told to go speak to the social workers. This was the last stop – in case you are actually still reading this and are wondering how much longer this post can go for.
The social worker was a girl who was maybe 20 years old. She was interviewing me to determine if I would qualify for lone soldier status – if I didn’t have my parents here, in which case I will be given extra rights from the army. The interview was very thorough although I was under the impression it is fully determined by whether one’s parents live in Israel. She asked me about my job, apartment, my salary, my family… when she asked if I had a car or motorcycle, I said “no but the army gives me one right?” Again I got nothing. I don’t think these were the best lines ever, but this level of humor in the corporate setting would definitely earn a chuckle or a smile. I guess I’m gonna need to up my game for the army or just stop trying to be funny.
At any rate, I left that interview and was again reassured by the girl at the front desk that I was done with my testing. I was also told that I should receive my draft date within a month. I am now planning on returning to the office on Thursday (tomorrow) to (a) show them my diploma, which I was told would verify my degree and raise my overall profile – not the 82 physical profile… sadly a magna cum laud degree in accounting doesn’t up my qualifications as a special ops soldier, (b) to get in people’s faces and make sure things are moving along and (c) to make sure I actually finished all the tests. I’m still irked that I did not need to do any math despite being told I could not use a calculator.