December 10, 2008
Meet the IDF: Shimon Siso, 23, Golani Infantry Brigade
"Everybody in school wanted to be in that unit because it's the best. I wasn't the only one," he said, taking his weapon off his shoulder and placing it gently on the floor.
Dressed in the traditional olive-colored uniform with two stripes on his shoulders and wearing a pair of black boots, he looked younger than his 23 years.
"I was named for my uncle," Siso said, explaining that his mother's brother was killed in 1982 by Hezbollah while serving in the Golani. "He was a captain, and he was the only one who stepped out of the tank to look and was killed. Because of that, my mom didn't want me to serve in this unit, but she eventually agreed."
In November 2004, Siso was accepted into the Golani's basic training program. "It's a difficult unit, because for the first year, every four months they kick people out who aren't suited for it," he said.
After eight months in an officer training program, Siso was sent to serve in the Gaza Strip, where he was a commander for seven and a half months. One night under cover of darkness, he and the soldiers in his unit were sent to infiltrate the home of a wanted terrorist and take him into custody.
"The terrorists send missiles into Israel from schools in highly populated areas, so we have to go into their homes to get them without hurting innocent passersby or children," he said. "We usually succeed in our missions, but we sometimes have to give up the lives of our soldiers in order to do it."
By the time the Golani unit under Siso's command had captured the terrorist, the sun had come up. They were waiting inside with him until night fell again to leave, when three terrorists came to one of the doors of the house's lower level. The terrorists surprised them by firing an anti-tank missile into the room. Siso was upstairs on the second level when the explosion erupted below, stunning the soldiers under his command.
"I ordered all of my soldiers to come upstairs. Most of them were in shock and lightly wounded," he remembered. "Then I heard the medic call out that he has a serious injury, so I went downstairs."
He sent the medic and the heavily wounded soldier upstairs and decided to go around the building alone to stop the terrorists, even though he had no idea how many there were or what other weapons they had.
"They were shooting into the building through the second door, so I knew where they were," he said. "I came around the side and killed them."
His act of bravery saved the lives of the remaining soldiers in the house that day, and he was later awarded the Medal of Honor, which he proudly wears on his uniform. "It has an olive branch over a sword to signify that Israel wants peace, but we are ready to go to war," he said.
Siso, who is currently a lieutenant, went to New York last October with a group of fellow soldiers to tell his story, thank the Jewish federations for their support and explain to young Jewish Americans what it's like to serve in the IDF.
"I want to say thank you to the American groups that support us," he said. "We just spent a week in Ashkelon at a hotel with a pool relaxing, and one federation sent us gym equipment and a Torah. Their support helps."
Siso lost one soldier in the Gaza operation, and his best friend in the Golani was killed when a group of Hezbollah terrorists fired a missile at their base. Partially because of the people he has lost, he decided to serve another five years in the army, two of which will be spent in classes and the remaining three he will serve as an officer.
"I will probably serve five more after that," he said, a wide smile lighting up his big brown eyes.
"I have a mother and a father who go to work every day, and I have two younger brothers and a younger sister who go to school freely. I do what I do so that they and my children and grandchildren can live in peace as Jews in Israel. I've lost friends who gave up their lives for this. This is my path."