Five months after the army prohibited paratroopers from carrying vials of patchouli
scent on their person, the controversy over the brigade's longtime good luck charm refuses to die down.
Eight combat troops were reassigned last week, ahead of a drill no less, after expressing "distrust" in their commanders amid the debacle. Another soldier was sent to military jail for refusing an order on the backdrop of the ban.
Legend says the golden patchouli vials, which have served as the Paratroopers Brigade's talisman for over 30 years, contain female bodily fluids. In actuality, the little bottles are filled with the soldiers' or their girlfriends' perfume.
Patchouli Lives. Graffiti at brigade's base
The brigade commanders have been trying to eliminate the tradition for years, and in August they resolved once and for all to prohibit the soldiers from carrying the vials, asserting that they are disrespectful of women. Many of the soldiers sought to protest the decision by secretly carrying the flacons in their pockets.
"If they were trying to dispirit us, they succeeded," one of the soldiers said. "If the situation continues other soldiers will decide to leave or refuse orders, only because of the officers' silly and childish stubbornness.
"We're not looking for trouble, we just want to preserve the tradition," he added.
When the ban was first announced the combat soldiers threatened with mutiny, and hundreds of former paratroopers staged a rally
outside the northern Zarit post in protest of the measure. A Facebook page was created as part of the struggle.
The troops said at first they would suspend the protest efforts during operational activity, but many of the soldiers acted out in a provocative manner even as the IDF geared towards launching a ground invasion of Gaza last month.
As the brigade resumed training activity in the Jordan Valley, some troops said their struggle was far from over.
Talisman remains on brigade T-shirts
"The frustration and the unpleasant feelings will stay with us during training," one soldier said. "Everyone knows there's nothing wrong with carrying this symbol, and that it isn't disrespectful of women. The brigade commanders have tried to eliminate it before and were unsucesseful, and they won't succeed this time either."
While carrying the patchouli vials is forbidden, their image remains on the brigades' T-shirts and on the sign at the entrance to the Nabi Musa training base. Nevertheless, top officers said that the brigade's commander, Col. Amir Baram, has no intention of going back on his decision. The ban wasn't meant to hurt the soldiers but to maintain the army's moral values, they said.
The IDF said in response that the eight soldiers were reassigned from combat to administrative roles at their own request.
"All of the company's departments are functioning normally and are performing all their duties," the army said, denying reports of soldiers refusing orders.