Saturday, 30 January 2010

The joys of being a lone soldier

This week really highlighted for me how I have been rather lucky since being in the army, mainly due to the benefits of being a lone soldier. Now of course being a lone soldier in the IDF means not having parents nearby to support this massive challenge that is the army. It also means travelling long distances every week to get back to the kibbutz where you live, in addition to the constant stress of coping with the language and generally being a soldier. However, despite all this, without forgetting those hardships, I am also able to see that I get treated in a unique way and I personally feel that my army service has been made as comfortable as it can be. For instance, I have been in the army for two months now and I have still only spent one Shabbat on base (compared to some other people on my garin who have closed up to four times!).

This past week started on Sunday with a trip to Ammunition Hill in Jerusalem, which was the site of a famous battle for Paratroopers in the Six Day War. I do feel very honoured to be part of the same brigade that has such a colourful history of successfully defending the country that I love. Anyway, we got back to base in the evening and were subjected to a really hard 4km 'madas' (P.E.), it was hard due to that fact it was taken by our commanding officer, who runs at the speed of light. I have to say at this point that I have really noticed a step up in the difficulty of the army recently, in terms of the physical challenges. Each day is a gruelling challenge with running, carrying and punishments, and by the time the weekend comes your body is drained from the past week. Right now, my back and shoulders hurt, my heels are sore since the skin has come away and my right calf is quite tight, (however, this is simply standard soldier injuries and is just intensified by my moaning).

The majority of this week, like last week, was spent in the 'shetach' (in the open), meaning combat rations for all meals, sleeping in the cold and rain and doing lots of physical activities. We were in the shetach from early Monday morning until Wednesday evening, during which time the temperatures at night in the Judean desert plummeted to 0 degrees. Luckily for me though, I was back on base after lunch on Monday for a talk with all the lone soldiers. I took full advantage of the time I was away from the 'shetach'; eating snacks, going to the toilet in comfort and using my phone. So while the rest of my battalion were suffering in the cold I was in the heated auditorium eating pizza with the rest of the lone soldiers in Tzanchanim! I assumed that I would be going back to the shetach after the talk, but for some reason there was no space for me to go back, meaning I spent the night and following morning still on the base. I ended up sleeping for 11 hours and ate breakfast in the dining room. The time that I did spend in the shetach this week was filled with doing this 'targil' (exercise), whereby two soldiers run up a hill together in order to take down an enemy. We practised it over and over again, and it soon become quite tiring, due to the continous crawling and diving up this steep hill.

The week in the shetach was finished by a masa, but not just any masa, the dreaded 'masa samal'. This particular masa is led by the 'mefaked samal' (commanding officer) and is considered the hardest masa of basic training, the first four months. Our commanding officer, as I've mentioned before, is crazy fit and in any sort of activity that he takes with the platoon, always pushes us to the limit. So we knew that it was going to be hell and I can safely say it was by far the most difficult couple of hours of the army so far. The masa was 14km + 2 (16km in all but the last two being done with open strecthers) and it lasted around 3 hours. The reason why this particular masa is so infamous is because the 'samal' leads it at such a fast pace, in fact, practically the whole three hours were running! I'll never forget how the masa started; the samal stood in front of us, said a couple of words and then sprinted off into the distance. I took a deep breath, shifted the closed stretcher (which I voluntarily carried for the first hour) and attempted to catch up with him with everyone else. Despite this being the hardest masa so far, I actually found that I finished it better than any of the previous masaot. For the first time, I felt that I started to help my friends, whether that would be by carrying the stretcher for as long as possible or pushing people from behind, in order to help them. I have started to understand the popular army phrase "it's all in the head", as halfway through the masa even though my muscles were burning, I carried on going because I knew I had to and because I looked around and saw everyone else was killing themselves to finish this thing. The reward for finishing the masa is the beret pin that says I am an infantry soldier, which I will get when I go back to the army tomorrow and will permanently put on my beret as part of my uniform.

Each combat soldier has a special role within his class and within the battalion as a whole. This role can be something to do with a specific weapon or resposibility. For example, within each class, there is one soldier who has a grenade launcher attached to his gun, one who carries the radio and one who is the commander's right hand man. Last week, we were told our roles and, to my disbelief, I am a 'kala' (sharpshooter). I was in shock because, firstly, my shooting is pretty average and also because being a 'kala' means having a lot of responsibility and I don't see myself as one of the best or hard-working soldiers within my class. It's a massive honour to be a 'kala' as it is probably the most important role within the class, so I am really going to try and live up to the reputation by working hard. I think that they chose me to be a 'kala' (one of two within my class) because my commander really likes me and maybe due to the lone soldier status. Anyway, the coolest part of being a 'kala' is that I get to give back my current gun, a rubbish M16, and instead will receive a awesome M4. The M4 is supposedly much better than the M16 and even rivals the Tavor (the new Israeli gun). I also get a Trijicon scope and a 'Lior' night vision scope, rumoured to be worth 500,000 shekels!!! This new gun will be mine permanently from tomorrow and I will come home with it next week and will be definitely be taking lots of pictures!

Another week in the army looms, the coming five days are going to be spent in the shooting range from dusk till midnight, as I learn how to shoot with my new gun. Since I am a sharpshooter (sort of a half-sniper), I will be doing massive amounts of shooting as part of my training for my specific role. Next weekend is my garin's reunion, meaning that everyone will be coming back from the army and spending Shabbat together here at the kibbutz, which I am really excited for. It also means that we should be getting another 'hamshoosh' (leaving for the weekend on a Thursday and not Friday), ahhhh, the joys of being a lone soldier...

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