Friday, 25 December 2009

Radio Man

Today is the 25th of December, exactly one month ago I joined the army. I have passed through one of the thirty months to come in the Israeli Defence Forces. It has been a fantastic month; I had my first taste of the army when sleeping at the Bakkum, I finished the gibush for Tzanchanim special forces, I got into exactly where I wanted to (Gdud 101) and am now into basic training. Although having never celebrated Christmas at all, it was always a big day in the calendar for me. Mainly because living in England meant that the whole country stood to a standstill, meaning no school, good television and family meals. However, when I woke up this morning at 4.15am on base, it was just a regular Friday, and I found it weird to look at the date on my watch.

Another weekend off, the fifth in a row, which is a luxury I am getting used to. Yet, this is about to stop as my class is going to be closing now for 21, two straight weekends, on base. For me, however, I will only be closing for the first weekend, I'll explain why later. This week was rather hard physically as we did a loads of 'madas' (P.E.), our seocnd masa and, generally, a lot of shlepping (i.e. moving heavy things from one place to another all day). For three straight days this week we were in the shooting range, which got really boring and is very repetitive. My shooting has got worse, probably because I lost all my concentration and patience after continually shooting for so many hours. As I said, we had quite a lot of running and physical activities as part of our 'madas' (literally translated as sport clothes but basically means P.E.). We ran 3km twice, as well as doing sets of press-ups, pull-ups and sit-ups. By the end of this week, I was sore all over and but the physical stuff is only going to get harder as we continue to train to be 'kosher kravi' (combat fit).
Our second masa was a major part of the week. This week's one was 7km, with the final kilometre being completed by carrying an open strecher filled with sandbags. Luckily I didn't have to carry the strecther at all, unluckily, though, the reason for this was because I was with the 'kesher' (contact) i.e. radio man. Before the masa started, my mefaked asked me how I found the last masa, I lied by saying I found it fine, so he chose me to have the radio. Being 'kesher' means carrying the radio, extra kgs on top of all your normal gear; vest, gun etc. Also, it means having to walk next to the commander at all times and passing on messages from him to the rest of the class, for example, "Speed up", "No talking" and "Don't look at your watches". It was a long hike, around 45 minutes, and was quite difficult, in terms of constant walking and jogging with all the weight on your back. I remember trying to name old Tottenham teams as a way of passing the time and not trying to think about the pain in my 'shrir masa' ("hike muscles", the shins). It felt good to finish together as a class and we sprinted the last little bit. This July, I climbed three mountains in Yorkshire with a few of my dad's friends for chairty and I'll always remember how they said to me at the end that whatever I do in the army can never be as hard as what we did that day. Well, I can safely say that I've barely started basic training and have already done things, like the masa, that have been harder. What also makes it hard is because after the masa I had to wake up in the middle of the night, dress in all my combat gear (gun, vest, boots) and do half an hour of guard duty. Not quite like the hour long bath I had after climbing those mountains!
A couple of added things this week, which I want to mention. Firstly, it has been a good laugh in the army so far. Whether it's seeing the commanders desparately trying to keep a straight face when something funny happens or just the general banter in the room or in the showers. Halfway through this week I also had my first haircut in the army. To squash the rumours, it's nothing like what you see in the movies, e.g. the first scene of Full Metal Jacket, in fact, the guy actually gave me a good haircut. Not only did he ask me what number I wanted, but he also used the clippers on my sides and back! Since I am a lone soldier I have the right to do my washing in the army, so in trying to take advantage of this benefit, I gave a packed bag of washing to my mefaked on Wednesday. The next day he gave it back to me; clean, but not folded, no-one's perfect (!), I still can't believe that my mefaked; my taskmaster and teacher, is cleaning my dirty pants and socks!!!

On the 7th of January I have my 'tekes hashba'ah' (swearing-in ceremony), which for Tzanchanim, is performed at the Kotel. It's a big deal, not only is it the official way of showing one's decleration of commitment to the army, but on that day, we officially receive our gun and are allowed to go home with it. It's something I have been looking forward since I first heard about it, especially, since it is at the Kotel and will be a perfect way of giving my oath; in full IDF uniform, with the Western Wall in front of me, shouting 'ani nishba' (I swear) and then collecting my own M16 from the platoon commader. My zionist vision is actually becoming a reality. What makes this day even more special for me, in fact the reason why I am so excited, is that my parents are coming all the way from London to attend. I can't even begin to imagine the emotions they will feel when they see their son getting his gun at the Kotel, in front of hundreds of other Israeli parents. While my class have to stay on base the weekend after the ceremnony, I will be spending four days with my parents in Tel Aviv. Obviously it is nice to have a little break from the army but mainly I am just itching to be with my mummy and daddy, since I've been missing them a lot since going into the army (despite speaking them every day, sometimes even twice a day). It will defintely be a memorable couple of days and I am getting excited just thinking about it now.
This week is kitchen duty and guarding (the worst week of basic training), followed by staying on base for the weekend, which is then complimented by 'sada'oot', the whole week spent in the field, (the hardest week of basic trianing). However, then I have the ceremony and a long weekend with my parents, so things aren't that bad. Will not be back here in Ortal for three weeks, sad to not be with friends and missing New Year's Eve, may try and write a blog while in Tel Aviv but may be to busy cuddling my mummy!!!

Saturday, 19 December 2009

The First Masa

This week was really busy, which is why I wanted to write another blog about all the other things I have done this week. The biggest event of the week was probably our first 'masa' (literally translated as journey but really means a hike). The 'masaot' are used by the army to train soldiers for a situation where they would need to hike a long distance back from combat, with the possibility of carrying the wounded on stretchers. That's the official reason, but these 'masaot' are also used to build up your fitness and are a great way of building strong bonds between soldiers.

Our masa this week was 2km and is the first of many to come in the next eight months, leading up to the final 'masa kumta' (beret hike) at the end of advanced training, which for tzanchanim, is a brutal 74km finishing on Jerusalem. I can't even comprehend the difficulty of the later 'masaot' at the moment, as this week's one I found quite tough, even though it was only 2km. Now that may not sound a lot (5 times round a running track) but with all the gear on and the nature of how we have to do it, I assure you that it is hard. We wore our normal uniform and boots, which makes running difficult and also gave me blisters on my feet from the constant rubbing of the boots. I also wore my 'fod' (vest), which contains two full water canteens, my helmet and six magazines, each filled with 29 real bullets. The 'fod' is really heavy and was pressing down on my shoulders for the whole hike. Also, the gun was around my neck, which firstly is not light at all, but was also uncomfortable, both holding it and the strap around the neck. As you can tell from the description, during the masa, the gear is both uncomfortable and heavy, the reason why these 'masaot' so tough.

Before the masa started we all got ready and our 'mefaked' (commander) painted our faces with camoflauge, it really felt like we were going to war or something. They taught us songs, some specific to tzanchanim and some for battalion 101, and as we sang them (I wasn't singing that much, more shouting along, as I didn't understand the words!), and we all got pumped up for the masa. The masa itself was hard as I've said, you walk as a class (i.e. 11 of us), in two single lines behind your commander and try to keep up with his fast pace. It's pitch black and silent, no-one is allowed to speak more than a whisper. Due to the commander's quick strides, every 20m or so, we all had to jog up to stay close to him. For me, I tried to jog as close to the commander as I could, in order to be able to walk and rest for a couple of seconds. However, it seemed that for the whole masa we were just desparately running to try and stay directly behind him. Although it was hard, it was also really meaningful and we had a special ceremony afterwards to commerate the first masa.

As a reward for completing the first masa, we received the covers for our dogtags, which has the battalion 101, November '09 draft sign on it. It's the first of many things that we will get as part of the joruney towards having a complete uniform. Also to come will be the watch cover, the gun strap, the pin for the beret, the shoulder tag, the pin for being a fighter, the wings (after jumping) and, finally, the red paratroopers' beret. The mefaked called us one by one and presented us with the dogtag cover...

The reason why I was able to leave on Thursday this week, rather than Friday, was because we did a special run for Hannukah and were able to leave home straight after. Only tzanchanim, and within tzanchanim only battalion 101, were chosen to participate in this event, which was called 'Mirootz Halapid' (the torch run). Basically, each soldier ran 2km as part of a route from Modi'in to Ramat Gan, which was connected to the route the Maccabees took in the story of Hannukah. In my section, I ran with my commander and four other guys, from the suberbs of Rehovot to Rishon Le'Zion. It was a fantastic experience. We ran along the streets, with the commander holding a torch and us soldiers carrying flags of Israel and of Tzanchanim. All the cars on the street were beeping us and people were shouting encouragement as we ran passed them. I also got a t-shirt from it, another first of many.

Going to the army tomorrow, as per usual. Getting up at a ridiculous time, 4.45am, in order to get there on time! This week I hope will be as good for me as the last two have been. I've heard that we will be shooting all week, which is supposedly hard mentally, due to being in the shooting range from morning to night. Actually am excited to go back to the army and be reunited with all the guys. Hope everyone had a good Hannukah, my first in Israel was defintely something to remember.

Friday, 18 December 2009


Back again for a free weekend. This weekend started on Thursday, as we received the treasured 'Hamshoosh' (a weekend that starts on Thursday not Friday, very rare), ah, the joys of being in Tzanchanim. I remember hearing once, that a soldier normally comes home once every two weeks, however for me, it seems that I am coming home every week! In fact, since officially drafting on the 25th November, I have already had four free weekends here in Ortal, absolutely no complaints about that. Yet, there is a rumour going around that at some point in January, my battalion, 101, will be staying on base for '21' (two consecutive weekends on base).

My bed - notice the gun under the mattress for sleeping at night!

Another great, exciting, filled-to-capacity but tiring week in the army. I can definitely say that my early experiences in the army and in basic training have been fun and enjoyable, especially since getting closer with friends in my 'kita' (class). My class has actually been increased by one soldier, we are now 11 guys, as someone from Sayeret Matcal joined (soldiers from arguably the best unit in the army do their basic training with Tzanchanim). The week started on Sunday, as it does every week, and I arrived on base two and a half hours later than everyone else due to living so far North. The first couple of days this week was filled with learning 'Ma'ar' (first aid), which was extremely difficult for me in the lessons as they used so much technical Hebrew that it was almost impossible for me to understand. So for the majority of last week, all the olim hadashim and chayelim boddedim (immigrants and lone soldiers) in my battalion had group lessons where the hebrew was a lot easier.

One of the most exciting points this week was throwing a 'rimon' (grenade). Yes, unbelieveably, on Wednesday I threw a live, real grenade as part of my training as a 'lochem' (fighter). We had a number of lessons beforehand, learning about the different types of grenades, the actual mechanism and when to use it. We practised a couple of times by throwing with rocks, while in the special grenade bunker. Then came the moment. In full gear I ran up this hill to meet with the commander of the 'mahlaka' (platoon - about 30 soldiers). We went through the procedure and then he handed me the grenade, I couldn't believe that I had a real grenade in my hand but, also, how much trust the army has in us 18 year olds with theses deadly weapons. I mean what could have stopped me just taking out the pin and holding it. Anyway, people do remain serious, of course, and I prepared to throw the grenade about 10m into this massive ditch. I pulled out the pin, shouted "Rimon!" (grenade), croutched down on the floor and counted "21,22,23,24" (the reason being that it takes 4 seconds to detonate and saying 21 lasts for a full second). What I didn't realise, is that the 'mefaked' (commander) then jumps on you! My platoon commander is a kippa-wearing, six-foot-something, giant, who, when holding an M16, makes it look like a minature toy. The shock of his massive frame falling on me was more terrifying than the defeaning bang of the grenade!!!

Me with 3 guns!!!

Hannukah in the army was something I will never forget. The whole battalion stood out in the center of our building and they brought out this massive hannukiah. One of the religious platoon commanders took a candle and proceeded to say the brachot. At that moment, all those who weren't religious (i.e. not wearing a kippa), started to cover their heads. The commanders put on their red berets and us soldiers put on our mandatory sun hats. It was one of those moments, no-one needed to be told to cover their head, it was just an immediate reaction and it didn't matter in the slightest if you were religious or not. After the war-worn platoon commander sung the brachot like a tuneful chazzan, the whole battalion started to sing 'Ma'or Tsur'. As I looked around, I saw that every single person was singing and knew all the words, again I had that feeling of emotion and felt a lump in the back of my throat. When in Israel, you sometimes forget how it doesn't matter if you're religious to know the customs, as Judaism is the way of life here, even in a secular approach. That's the reason why I came here, to help protect our one tiny portion of land, in order to allow Jewish people to carry out a Jewish life without being in danger. Although we have still yet to find complete safety from those embedded on destroying us, nowadays I have realised, it is the Israeli army that is fighting on that front line to try and ensure our safety.

It was another really busy week, so I am going to write another blog tomorrow about more interesting things, such as the first masa and a special run we did for Hannukah. I want to finish this blog by telling you how I felt during this week. I hope I cause no offence to all my friends who went to university and are now on their month-long break, but this week I really felt that I was doing something important with my life. I've had to make an enormously hard decision this year in deciding to leave my parents and my life in England, all because of my ideals and beliefs. Not only was the decision difficult but now, in the army, it is also as hard as you can imagine. Physically, I come home sore each week from all the different exercises, mentally, I am tired from trying to keep up with a foreign language that I am still coming to grasps with and, emotionally, I am away from my home, both in England and in Ortal, for at least a week at a time. Having to make new friends from a completely different culture and language, being stressed about sorting out your stuff all the time and travelling for hours on end from one side of the country to other, only makes my situation even tougher. But, despite all this, I still don't regret what I've done for an instant and I feel even more Zionist than ever. I could have gone to university and had it easy, but look what I've done, I feel like I've achieved so much and have actually delivered on doing what I believe in. So while my friends are at home on holiday, probably bored stiff, I am painfully doing 30 press-ups in my pyjamas because we were four seconds late. But it's all worth it and it has already made me so much stronger as a person. Another blog tomorrow....

Friday, 11 December 2009

Gdud 101

Have successfully completed my first week of tironut (basic training), I am now back in Ortal for a free weekend. It seems that my early experiences of the army have been filled with these two-day (not nearly long enough) free weekends, but I am sure that will soon change and every week, I pack enough clothes to be ready if I have to close (i.e. not leave base on the weekend) for 14, or even 21, days.

I have had a really great week, which is saying something, since it was my first week of basic training. On Monday, we all sat in the basketball court and they started reading out the list of which unit we will be in for our army service. As I said in the last blog, I requested to be in Gdud (Battalion) 101, which is one of three battalions in Tzanchanim, excluding the special forces. They read out my name and I was ecstatic to find out that I was placed in 101. I think that since I finished the gibush for special forces but still asked to be in a regular 'gdud' (battalion), they gave me my first choice. Within Gdud 101, there are three 'mahlakot' (platoon) and, within each platoon, there are three 'kitot' (classes). I am in "Class Bet, Platoon 1, Battalion 101". So, in my class, there are ten guys and we have a personal 'mefaked' (commander), as does every class. Then, there is a commander officer and, higher up, the official commander of the platoon. Following this, there is the commander and deputy-commander of the whole battalion, as well as the commander of the all the battalions. Also, don't forget the two deputy-commanders and official commander of logistics for our battalion. What I am trying to explain is how confusing and intricate the army is, and this is just for one battalion in the paratroopers' brigade, a tiny part of the massive machine that is the army. Moreover, it means a lot of saluting (and every time I salute someone, I still find it funny, like something out of the British army in World War One!).

The 'giyus' (draft) to Tzanchani-m from my program.

So now I am settled in my 'kita' (class) with the nine other guys who I will be with for the next eight months - both basic and advanced training - at least. As someone once told me, it doesnt matter where you are in the army, what makes one's service memorable, is the people you're with. I can truly confirm this, as the reason for why I have enjoyed the army so far has been because of the boys I am with and the jokes that we have had so far. Already, I feel close to these mix of Israeli guys and I get a lot of attention from them, being the 'English one'. They all are really patient with me and try and help me with the language. It's not like they sympathise me, instead I am part of the group and have managed to show my father-inherited-English-dry-sense-of-humour to them in Hebrew. I can already see how friends from the army become friends for life, and I even can't wait to carry on from where we left off when I go back on Sunday. Our 'mefaked' (commander) is an absolute cutie, being 19, and has been constantly checking up on me, albeit between the times when he is shouting at us to stand in line or clean the room. The other higher-up commanders also seem to know me already, in fact, it seems that everyone in 101 seems to know 'Sam'.

There were points this week where I missed parents and friends but those moments were rare. I realise that there will be both ups and downs coming up in the next three years, but right now, I am absolutely loving it; being with my class, learning and doing interesting stuff and just being a soldier in the IDF (the lifelong dream has become reality). This week has been filled mainly with lessons and introductory talks by the doctor and dentist etc. During these talks, nearly everyone falls asleep, causing the commanders to shout at us and make us stand, or jump up and down or do press-ups. The reason for everyone desperately trying to keep their eyes open is because the army lifestyle (and basic training, in particular) is the most tiring experience due to the endlessly long days. There is morning inspection at 6, which means waking at 5.30 to get ready; organising your locker, cleaning the room and getting dressed, which is a whole mission in itself. The day is filled with lessons and physical activities, with breaks only after mealtimes. Then there is the 'sha'a tash' (hour of free time) directly before bed. An hour is not nearly enough time to shower, shave (which luckily for me I only have to do once a week!!!), speak to parents and friends on the phone, polish boots and organise all your stuff for the next day. The army has to legally give you at least seven hours sleep, so they give you seven hours sleep, however, the seven hours are normally interrupted by the mandatory guard duty, which lasts 20 minutes a night.

Arriving back home week.

This week also contained something else rather exciting... receiving and shooting our guns!!! That's right, after two days of basic training, we were presented with our own gun, which we will keep and use for the rest of the service. My gun is a short M16, and since receiving it, have had it with me at all times, including sleeping with it under my mattress (not entirely comfortable!). The gun must be with me at all times, except in the bathroom, when you can leave it in the room with someone else guarding it, or when you place it in the 'neshekia' (weapon storage). After learning about the 'neshek' (weapon) for a couple of days, we were finally allowed to use it on Thursday. Surprisingly, following my disgraceful performance at Gadna where I got one bullet on target, I shot the best in my whole class! We shot six bullets and although mine were not that near to the target, they were are located near each other (which apparantly is more important). The distance between the two furthest bullets was 2.5cm (considered very good) after shooting at a distance of 25m. Despite not being the type of person who gets excited by guns, the moment when I was given my gun and shot with it for the first time, I felt the adrenaline and some sort of unusual bond with it (by the way, I have yet to name my weapon, so am open for any suggestions).

Next week basic training continues. I am excited to return to the modern and relatively comfortable base, and be with my new friends. I am not too sure what is planned for this week, but I do know that we have our first 'masa' (hike) of 4km.

I fiddled with the settings of this blog and now anyone can comment, so feel free to, because I love knowing feedback. Happy Hannukkah everyone.

Saturday, 5 December 2009


I felt that a couple of paragraphs would not have given the gibush enough credit for what it is. As explained previously, this past week was not the start of basic training, one of the reasons for that was because no-one was in their permament units or groups. Instead, there was a gibush (physical and mental test) for certain special units either within or connected to tzanchanim. The gibush was for Maglan (weapon experts), Palsar (reconnaissance), Palhan (special combat engineers) and the famous Duvdevan (who are known to infiltrate Palestinian areas). However, only some people were chosen to participate in the Duvdevan gibush, which was done in conjunction with our one but quite a bit harder.

So, I was contemplating doing the gibush not because I wanted to be in a 'sayeret' (elite) unit (the general reason for doing this gibush) but for a number of other points. Firstly, I wanted to experience it. Apparantly it is the fourth hardest gibush after Shayetet, Yahalom and Duvedevan; even harder than the five day Sayeret Matcal gibush, which is less intense, according to someone I met who finished both. So, I really wanted to know what it was that gives this gibush such a formidable reputation and was interested to see if I could handle any of it. Also, anyone who didn't do the gibush had to spend the three days doing work on base, like cleaning and meaningless work for tzairim (newbies in the army). I have never wanted to be in an elite unit as I don't feel that I suit the serious and competetive lifestyle that is an elite service, instead, I really want to have more jokes, fun and friendships that come with being in a 'gdud' (regular fighting battalion). I went into the gibush with the aim of just trying it out and seeing what it's like and if I could do any of it.

Anyway, on Tuesday morning at 5;30am, after being put into groups, having a small warm-up and being passed onto our mefaked for the gibush (a miluimnik i.e. someone who was in an elite unit and who's reserve service is to take gibushim), the gibush started. With our gibush equipment on our back (a bag containing a tent, matress and a 10kg sandbag), my group of 25 set out on our first 'masa' (hike). The mefaked took us out the back gate of the base into the 'shetach' (land) and started walking up and down these steep sand dunes. After about 5 minutes I was already struggling to keep up with him and the rest of the group, what with the early start and the heavy load on my back. I remember thinking how I wanted to quit already but forced myself to see through the first exersize at least. The masa lasted about 45 minutes and was tough, especially since the mefaked would taunt us by striding up the sand dune, turn around to the bottom and then climb once more. I lasted that session, but that was just the start. The rest of the morning was filled with sprinting continuously, drinking our water canteens quickly (causing some in my group to be sick) and, worst of all, crawling. I can't explain how hard I find crawling. About two hours into the gibush, he told us to crawl from one point to another (around 20m, uphill, on rocks) and count how many times we can do it. He didn't tell us to stop until after about 40 minutes, by which time I was physically exhausted.

By about lunch on the first day, my group had shrunk to about 14 people, with some dropping because of injury but most who found it too difficult. The physical challenges continued until the evening with more crawling, sprinting, some group challenges and a killer masa. The masa must have been at least 4km, which doesn't sound much, but for this masa we opened up two strechers (each carrying 7 sandbags), as well as jerry cans full of water and our other gear. Under the stretcher it was very hard and going up the steep hills, which our mefaked did consistently, needed everyone to get involved and help push the people who were carrying the strecher. The first day was really, really hard but I just kept telling myself to carry on and make it to the next session, whether that was until lunch or until the end of a particular sprint. Within the group I was very average, as I wasn't interested in trying to impress the scouts from the different units (who were constantly watching us and writing down our specific numbers). The mefaked pressured us the whole time to come first in the many competitions, but I sort of blocked off the competitiveness and just concentrated on trying to continue.

Every meal during the gibush, breakfast, lunch and dinner, was 'manot krav' (combat rations), which included: tuna, vine leaves (disgusting), sweetcorn, chocolate spread, jam, pineapple chunks and bread. For meals the mefaked would give us around 20 minutes to eat from this box of rations and, trust me, even by dinner on the first day, I was sick of tuna sandwiches. During the night we had to do 'shmira' (guard duty), which meant being woken up in the middle of the night by the guy before and having to stand in front of the tents for twenty minutes. I must have only done ten minutes at most, as I didn't have a watch and just guessed when I was finished! About an hour after going to bed on the first night, we were woken by the screaming mefaked, telling us to get ready and prepare for a masa. We couldn't get ready in time (30 seconds) mainly due to the laces on our boots, resulting in many press-ups as punishment. Eventually, once ready, with stretchers and jerry cans prepared, he told us to go back to bed. What an absolute...

Day 2. Wednesday. More crawling, sprinting and masaot, all just as hard, all just as long. Right before lunch we had to run up and down a sand dune as many times as we could with the sand bag on our back. It lasted for 45 minutes and everyone was struggling for air by the end. But wait, the mefaked then told us to do it again, to see if we could improve on our score. The day continued on in much the same way. This blog doesn't explain effectively how tough those two days were. There were plenty of moments when I just wanted to quit and stop running to and from a rock as fast as I could for 20 minutes on end, but I kept carrying on. The second evening came and we went to bed, everyone was exhausted and most needed help getting up or sitting down. That night I slept with my boots on, in preparation for the likely mid-night masa, but, luckily, it didn't happen. On Thursday morning we were woken to be told that the gibush was over and I felt over the moon that I had succeeded in what I wanted to do by finishing.

Once the physical aspect of the gibush had finished, the interview followed. Like in the gibush to get into tzanchanim, they want to see what type of person you are and to see if you can impress to get into the unit. Now, as I've said from the start, I never wanted to be in these units and just did the gibush for the experience. So, after questioning my commitment for elite units, I told these officers how I don't actually want to be in sayeret. They were surprised to hear me say this, obviously as everyone else went in there and tried to show how they really wanted to be in sayeret (elite units). However, I told them how I did the gibush for the experience and they were happy, even proud, that I had shown the spirit to finish this physical nightmare without actually wanting to succeed. I came out of the gibush feeling fantastic, I had taken everything they had thrown at me for two long days and then politely told them how I don't want it, even if they would have offered it to me on Monday. Soon after, my story became relatively famous amongst all the soldiers and, while some thought I was mad to say 'no' before finding out if I would even get in, most were impressed and in awe of the fact that I finished the gibush and still decided to request gdud. People came up to me and congratulated me, it's something that hasn't really happened before and I didn't do it to be original, but because I genuinely don't want to be in an elite unit but still wanted to try and finish the gibush.

So on Monday, we find out which unit we will be placed in, whether that will be a gdud or a special unit. I have requested to be in gdud 101, which has a great history and is normally really good for olim. I know some people in that unit, who all say that it's a great experience with great guys and lots of fun. Hopefully I will be placed there and know that some of the other boys from my programme have also requested that unit.

This week, tironut (basic training) starts on Monday once we are in our units, with the guys and commanders who I'll be with for the next 8 months at least. I am excited to start basic training and all that it entails, although I do know that it is going to be very diffciult. The first week may not be so exciting, more standing in line being shouted out than actual training, but, nonetheless, it all starts this week. I am not sure if I will have next weekend off, if not, then the next blog will be filled with the experiences from the first two weeks of tironut and with confirmation of where I am in the army. Need to get some sleep, it's a big week.

Week Zero

Once again I find myself back in Ortal for a free weekend after being in the army, remarkably, since drafting last Wednesday, tzanchanim have had two weekends off already. Now this may not sound so much, but spare a thought for the November '09 Golani draft, who, since drafting two Mondays ago, have still not been allowed off base (that's closing for '21' i.e. two weekends on base). This only enhances the idea that tzanchanim are just stuck-up, lucky Ashkenazi boys who get whatever they want. Not only that, but the tzanchanim base, where I was this week, is brand-new, American-built and complete with dormitories, bunks and lockers for the soldiers (unlike the cold, stinking tents, where Nachal and Givati soldiers sleep in during basic training).

One week in the army down, only 129 weeks to go!!! My week at base this week is known as 'Trom Tironut' or 'Shavua Efes' (week zero) as, essentially, tironut (basic training) will not start until Monday, once we know which unit will be in for our service. Thus, this week was filled up with three main things: 'klita' (absorption into the army), the gibush for special units and 'avodat rasar' (work around the base). I surprised myself by deciding to take part in the gibush and my experience from it deserves a whole post on its own and will follow this blog.

Last Saturday night, I travelled to Tel Aviv to stay at a friend, in order to arrive to the meeting point on Sunday morning on time. This won't be a regualr occurance and this week, I have already told my temporary commander that I will meeting up later than everyone else, since I'll be travelling straight from the Golan Heights. It will be easier to sort this out once I have a permanent unit and commander, and I should be able to use my rights as a lone soldier and 'tzphoni' (northerner) to exit earlier and come back later every time. So Sunday morning, 600 tzanchanim draftees met in an army bus station 5 minutes from Be'er Sheva, along with hundreds of other soldiers from different units, meeting to get to their bases in the south. I couldn't help to quickly call my parents and tell them how overwhelemed I felt, standing there, as one of the of thousands of young Israelis called by the country to serve its army. From this point, we were taken by bus to the tzanchanim base to start our first week in the army.

This week there were a lot of form-fillings and introductory speeches by people like the 'rasar' (the secretary of the base), whose hour long rant was filled with rules regarding both the upkeep of the base and general army do's and dont's. Uniform perfection was heavily emphasised and we were told about the rules regarding what colour t-shirts, being clean shaven, polishing our boots, wearing our dog-tags, using elastic bands for our trousers and many more. Of course, the army discipline has started to appear (although it will escalate from Monday), from standing in line for the dining room (which serves relatively nice food) to being on time for every activity. We also received our tik bet (a bag of stuff), which contained our 'madey bet' (uniform while on base), water canteens, a sleeping bag, a shovel and a helmet. The uniform for base is not all new, unlike our travelling uniform, and the trousers on me could fit two people.
All in all, I actually had a enjoyable week. The boys in tzanchanim are all really cool guys and by the end of the week I had made friends, despite having problems with the language. In my temporary group they called me 'London' for the first couple of days, but by Friday everyone knew my name and my story. That's another thing, being an oleh hadash (new immigrant) gives you unbelieveable respect amongst the Israelis. Everyone I met was interested to hear about me and always, without fail, said 'kol hakavod' (well done) for what I've done. It felt good knowing that these guys appreciated my big step and I felt honoured to hear people calling me a hero. However, as much as I received praise for making aliyah, I also was asked if I was crazy to leave London (which is considered the best city in the world in the eyes of these Israelis) and voluntarily join the army. But joking aside, my decision to do what I've done and follow my beliefs certainly impressed these guys, both soldiers and commanders.

The army is hard. Having little sleep and trying to be on time in perfect manner is stressful, to say the least. But what's really hard is how being in the army really made me realise how much I miss those around me. Being in that environment alone, depsite having friends, (both new Israeli soldiers and other boys from my programme), and experiencing those moments where I just wanted to drop everything and run back to my parents was hard. I missed my host family, my garin and the kibbutz; but hearing my parents' voices on the phone during my free time was extremely hard for me and showed me how, sometimes I am still just a little mummy's boy who's made a life-changing move by leaving everything. Nevertheless, I have stayed strong, I do not regret my decision for an instant and I realise that the army is hard, even for Israelis. The point of the army is to break you down and its environment emphasises how much you appreciate loved ones, and also time, space and food. It makes the time when I speak to my parents (either on the phone or skype) and when I see them (whenever they come to see me) even more special.

I know it's a long blog, but it has been a long and eventful week. It's hard to fit in all the funny stories that have happened, like when my commander looked at my bum-fluffed face and asked 'ma ze?' (what's this'); I told him I would shave but I never did, what a rebel! I also want to say how I feel so independant at times, especially when travelling the length of the country in army uniform. I am going to do another blog now, dedicated to the mid-week gibush and also what's to come next week. So read on...