UCity man has distinguished military career

Jonathan Eizenberg (above: right), who works at Scott Air Force base, has served for 16 years in the Air Force. Photo courtesy of Jonathan Eizenberg.

BY HARRISON FRIEDMAN, SENIOR, FASMAN YESHIVA HIGH SCHOOL

When Jonathan Eizenberg is out in his backyard, playing with his young, curly-haired kids or his small, cute puppy, he doesn’t quite look like the man who has served 16 years in the Air Force, is the executive assistant to a four-star general who reports directly to the President, and helped plan the destruction of a satellite (containing enough hydrazine gas to create a poisonous cloud the size of two football fields — right out of a James Bond movie, sans the scheming villain) plummeting toward Washington, D.C. in Operation Burnt Frost. 

But hear him talk, see his military cut, notice how he still keeps himself in tip-top shape (the 40-year-old recently scored a 94 percent on a fitness test intended for soldiers in their 20s), and you’ll notice the easy strength and quiet genius of a soldier who just so happens to be a member of the University City Jewish community.

“I’ve always had a calling,” Eizenberg said. “It was a sense of pride, a sense of desire to serve,” he continued. “Coming from a Holocaust family, which then went to Israel, I’m the first of my family to voluntarily serve. My dad was in the [Israeli Defense Forces]. I don’t know if that was my calling, but I knew I needed to serve my country in some fashion– at eight years old.”

Eizenberg currently works at Scott Air Force base, situated in Illinois and just under an hour’s drive away in the wee hours of the morning, which is when he gets up for work. Today he does all the engagements, schedules, and Pentagon meetings for the aforementioned general. 

“But what would I say I do?” Eizenberg asked, rhetorically. “I would say I lead.”

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To understand where Eizenberg is, you have to understand his path. In the military, there are two bases: officer and enlisted. For the foremost, once you get to a certain executive point in your career, you’re a supervisor. Eizenberg said he started as a pilot, volunteered to go into special operations, then transitioned into logistics with intent to become a commander.

The attempt to specialize in more than one field was crucial. “I put it this way,” he said. “Even a plumber could be the best in the world at his job but doesn’t own the house he’s working in. The pilot and Navy SEAL are never in charge. The best task force cop or top SWAT team shooter is never going to be Gov. (Eric) Greitens.”

That he is where he is right now is a testament to his hard work. He said he has consistently finished at the very top of his class.

“I think it’s where I come from,” he said. “Coming from having an Israeli father, growing up on a West Virginia farm, getting that work ethic, knowing you had to improvise, never having enough money, you figure out a way to get it done. To get where I am now, it’s a continuum of things, but I would say hard work, dedication, and exemplifying standards.”

It’s easy to talk about the work that Eizenberg has done in the past, such as in Iraq, and think of it as a given that he’s gotten this far and imagine it to be smooth sailing. But it’s not like that, and for two reasons.

“The first is that in terms of military success, it matters what’s important to you. I always say to my wife, I’m happier making the money I make in the position of success, the reward of it, than me being a doctor or lawyer and making far more money. I would take a pay cut and still do my job. I’m leaving in June to go to Kansas for a year and attend general war college to go play with the army, and that means leaving my family for that time. But it’s important to me, and us.

“Second, the career path that I took has so many factors. First, there’s school. Then pilot training. Only the top 10 percent go to pilot school, and of the top 10, only 50 percent graduate. And of the ones that graduate, those commissioned to be officers, you stack them all in the same squadron and have them all compete again. Then you take the number one lieutenant—of that, 90 percent make captain, and while that sounds high, look at the cuts. Then, when you make captain, 70 percent make major—and I’m not just a major, I already made lieutenant colonel—and 40 percent of those majors make that. But I’m a school guy (read: went to a public college after high school), which means only five percent of that get selected. It’s hard.”

Modern Orthodox Judaism, especially with respect to kashrut and Shabbat, is hard to keep without fail when deployed. Kosher food was rare—if it even existed—and Saturday was just another day of the week the other soldiers in his squadron, and thus business was as per usual. “I think they have kosher MREs now, actually,” he said. “But they’re even worse than regular MREs.”

The most difficult part of being in the military ties in the test mentioned earlier as well as the need to always be at the top of one’s class. “The military’s always a stratification thing,” he says. “You live in a glass house, to quote General Patton. Or, as I say it, you are always on parade. 

“There’s no silver bullet to success.”

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