Socks and the Man

Israel Independence Day is coming up next week, and I’m feeling very patriotic. So I went out this morning and bought $93 worth of socks for the Israel Defense Forces.

Often, however, I have to buy the socks without the inspiration. Every month I shell out sums like this for hats, scarfs, t-shirts, underwear and other gear that the IDF does not supply to its soldiers. And socks. My son is in combat training in a commando unit, so he goes through a lot of them.

Socks cost a lot more than they used to. You’ve heard about the modern, high-tech battlefield. Did you know that commando socks are high-tech now, too? The simple cotton (for summer) and wool (for winter) socks that I wore when I was an infantryman are no longer enough. I can understand why–I have traumatic memories of my feet freezing in the cold months and breaking out in blisters in the hot ones. Today’s commando socks wick sweat away from the fighting man’s feet, keeping them dry, warm, and ready to run up whatever mountain they happen to encounter.

When I enlisted in 1982, I was given three pairs of standard-issue, low-quality gray cotton socks. Apparently the army assumed I’d wear each pair for six months consecutively, because I never received any others. All the rest I wore during a year and a half of active service and 18 years of reserve duty I had to buy myself.

I devote several pages in my memoir, Company C, to describing how Israel’s people’s army belongs so much to the people that it couldn’t possibly function without all the gear that the people bring from home. My friend Falk’s red Ford transit was our main logistical vehicle during many rounds of maneuvers. If Achlama hadn’t shown up for each round of duty with a briefcase full of light bulbs, electrical equipment, tools, and whatnots, we would have spent most of our time in the cold and the dark.

When I reached reserve retirement age I thought I had done my part for my country and that I, and my bank account, could rest on our laurels. Surely, I reasoned, by the time my children reach military age someone in the quartermaster corps will have realized that a pair of socks does not last for six months.

Instead, the opposite happened. The army cut back further on supplies, and technology advanced. We are now in the age of the laser rifle sight, the smart bomb, and the $23 commando sock.

I’m proud to have a boy who has chosen such a difficult and demanding way of serving his country. But must I pay through the nose for the naches?

My son tells me that some of his friends, who are in other elite units, report that well-connected parents have actually roped in private overseas donors who write checks to buy their units gear–mostly clothing–that the IDF won’t pay for. I envision a day when these donors will demand recognition. Perhaps each soldier’s shoulder tag will display, instead of his unit insignia, a message saying “This uniform has been donated in loving memory of Sadie Schwartz.”

I’m sure that many of the wealthy people who read this blog are thinking: “Wow, I’d love to endow my own Israeli commando unit.” Until you find one, though, maybe you’d be interested in picking up the bill for some socks?

6 thoughts on “Socks and the Man

  1. This has to stop.

    As an American, I have been APPALLED at the numerous ways the US military tries to save money by passing costs that should have been born by the public onto the troops. (Wounded soldiers in rehab asked to pay for their hospital meals. Soldiers with PTSD denied treatment and told to handle the situation with will power. Soldiers buying their own body armour and other protective equipment.) And you’re telling me the IDF does this too?

    Ultimately, the solution isn’t to buy the socks. It’s to use the democratic process to DEMAND that the public pay for ALL the costs of their defense.

  2. Anne E wrote: “Ultimately, the solution isn’t to buy the socks. It’s to use the democratic process to DEMAND that the public pay for ALL the costs of their defense.”

    …or to end all wars! That whole swords into ploughshares thing! That would be cool.

  3. “Until you find one, though, maybe you’d be interested in picking up the bill for some socks?”

    Okay, how do we do it?

  4. Haim: I delight in your writings.They bring back memories of serving as a battery commander in Nam.I must say “socks” g.i. issue were an oxymoron .We did load up every chance at the PX which was seldom.We also had the case of the unexpected Quartermaster ( Viet Cong) who provided us with their dependable AK47s which almost every member of our support mechanized infantry had,along with their undependable ,highly refined M-16s,at that time, frequently jamming rifles.I can’t say the AKs were the essence of gunsmith skill but they fired after being dragged through all kinds of mud, dirt,grit ,and water

  5. So, can you find some conduits for donating socks so that one can supplement your activities? How about boots and gloves and high tech t-shirts?

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