Saturday, 20 February 2010

Black Hawk

This past week was a really hard one physically in the army, but it marks the end of 'shetach' and 'masaot' for basic training, which finishes in a month. This week, after coming back from a closed weekend in Hebron, we were back in the 'shetach' to do an exercise, whereby we work in a group of four soldiers and capture a hill in a certain way.

The last time I was in the shetach it was extremely cold at night and rainy during the day, which made those weeks a miserable experience, in terms of how we felt being wet and muddy the whole time. Well this week, everything was the opposite as suddenly it became really hot down south, with the temperature reaching the 30s. The heat made all the physical activites that we did, and we did a lot of running, crawling and carrying, a lot lot harder. Throughout the whole week my uniform was soaking becuase of the sheer amount of sweat, while the amount of water that I drunk must have hit the giga-litre mark!! Despite the conditions and the physical effort, it was an enjoyable week, which involved a lot of group bonding within my class and the platoon. All of that bonding was to be tested though, for the masa, which took place on the Tuesday night.

Me with my garin two weeknds ago.

This week's masa, which was led by our platoon commander, whose giant frame makes one of his strides equal to three of mine, was a staggering 18+3km. It was also the last masa that is done at a pace of 6km an hour, which I am ecstatic about as the pace of this masa was nearly unbearable. We now have only about four more 'masaot' before the final one, where we receive the famous red paratrooper beret; and those next four masaot are done at a slower pace but are obviously much longer (I think the order goes something like this 25(km), 34, 50 and 74!!!!). Back to this week's masa, it was extremely tough, especially as I took the water can for one hour (which contains nine 1 and a half litre bottles of water). It's hard to explain here on a blog why the masaot are so difficult; it's a mental and physically challenge, constant walking and running for four hours with a heavy weight on your back. Pain starts kicking in from all sorts of places; from the muscle on your shin (which always starts to strain after the first ten minutes) to the agonising chafing on the inside of your thighs. It did end eventually, but only after the final, gruelling, never-ending kilometres with the open stretchers, but it did finish.

Normally, we finish a masa by returning to the base, but not this week. We went back to the shetach after the masa and slept just four hours before they woke us up to get us back to the base in the morning. The reason for the primitive sleep and early wake-up was worth it though, as we were told that we needed to be ready on time for the day's special exercise... helicopter training. Yes, that's right, on Wednesday we spent the day learning how to enter into a Black Hawk helicopter as a class within 30 seconds. It was truly an experience and one I will never forget, I wasn't scared at all, surprisingly, and I loved every minute of being in the air. We were only up for about 20 minutes in total (10 in the day, 10 at night) but it was incredible. Each helicopter has 4 pilots, all of whom wore the special air force uniform, which had the Israeli flag sewn onto the sleeve (which I immediately noticed when entering the helicopter with my zionist instincts). Also, I saw how inside the Black Hawk, drilled into the side wall, was a 'tfilat haderech' (travel prayer), which only made me beam with pride of the Israeli army. A great day.

Me with the Nachal beret, what I would have looked like if I hadn't of gotten into tzanchanim.

I said in a previous blog that there are 'joys of being a lone soldier', well it doesn't compensate the absence of parents, which for me especially, is by far the hardest aspect of being in the army. I can deal with the no sleep or long hikes (or at least I think I can) but not being able to come home and give me parents a long hug after a really tough week in the army is so painful inside. Despite all the accomplishments I've achieved and all the independancy I've gained, I do still feel like that little mummy's boy that I always was and last week I had a really hard time trying to deal with that fact that I am so far away from my beloved parents. What triggered this was the fact that my parents are moving home next week, after living in the same place for practically my whole life. It's not that I was upset about them leaving our house, which has served faultlessly as a loving home for us for 18 years, as, in fact, the new place is going to be much better for my dad, physically and socially, as well as giving my typically Jewish mum the oppurtunity to spend lots of money on new things. Instead it was the reality that at this important stage for my parents I am not going to be there with them to help with the move or be involved with all the changes. It's something that I am going to have to learn as I am sure there will be more things that I will miss out on: birthdays, anniversaries etc. However, I think I just wanted to say how I miss and think about my parents and close family every single day and, depsite being completely happy where I am now and what I'm doing, I still want to be with them the whole time.

The Jerusalem Post article about me; pinned onto the battalion noticeboard!

On the bright side, that wish will be fulfilled, as my parents will be coming here for Pesach next month, which also marks the end of my basic training (don't forget that I have four more months of advanced training afterwards) and I will be able to spend at least a week them then! The next weeks are the closing period of basic training, which includes a week of education, guard duty and other simple days. I can't believe how I am nearing the end of my basic training; how time has literally flown! Next weekend I am closing again, but should be back here the weekend after to report back on everything I've done. By the way, can Spurs please start winning again! Stay safe everyone and Happy Purim for next week.

Friday, 19 February 2010


Am finally home in Ortal after a long and, as per usual, tough 2 weeks in the army (the longest time that I've spent in the army so far without a weekend off!). It was a busy period and I'm going to try and write two blogs, in order to tell you all about the things I got up to in the last couple of weeks.

My stint in the army started with another 'Yom Tarbut' (culture day) to Jerusalem, this time we visited the kotel, city of David and the Jewish quarter within the Old City. It was the first time that I had properly been to the kotel with my uniform and gun, and it certainly was an emotional experience. I felt so proud standing there, at the most important place in the world to Jewish people, knowing that I was saying the Shema while wearing the uniform of the IDF and holding my own gun; both of which are the symbols of the defense of Jews in Israel. Also, I found it extremely weird how all sorts of tourists were coming up to me and my friends trying to take pictures with and of us; just to think how less than a year ago it was me nudging my mum to take pictures of Israeli soldiers because I was too scared to ask them myself.

Last week in the army was advanced shooting, which for me meant advanced sharpshooting, it was a busy week, each day being spent from morning until night in the shooting ranges. One funny incident happened in particular, which only helped to enhance my reputation amongst the commanders as that funny kid from England with the terrible Hebrew accent. There was one excersize where the commander would shout different commands and if it applied to you then you needed to be ready to shoot, for example, "All here who have a sister, shoot!". Anyway, he once said "All those who would let there friends close Shabbat so they could leave, shoot" (i.e. in the army) and, of course, I was the only one who shot. So all the commanders started screaming "who's that terrible friend who just shot?". So I innocently said how all my friends are in university and that I doesn't really count for me. I didn't think it was that funny but they seemed to find it hilarious and one started to squeeze my head in like a loving sort of way! There have been a few moments like that, moments where I clearly stand out from the rest of my platoon, like last week when I counted the press-ups after a 'Madas' (P.E.), in French! Imagine it, all the soldiers in my battalion turning their heads to see what was this crazy thing going on, me, listing my class' press-up count in a very over-exaggerated french accent. Another example of this, is how my initials 'S.S.' are on every single piece of army equipment that I have in huge black markered letters. This obviously includes my gun-strap, and it seems each day someone comes up to me and accuses me of working for the Gestapo.

Weird to think how I'm now part of this:

A couple of people have warned me now that what I have been writing about on this blog is revealing army secrets and that I should be careful. I'm not disagreeing with anyone who thinks that but I think everyone should know a couple of things. Firstly, everything that I am doing at the moment is at the bottom level of IDF security (1 out of 4 levels) and is at a level, where the information is allowed to be told to parents and friends. Secondly, I have not done anything yet which is secretive or will give anything away to Israel's enemies, I doubt that Hamas, if they are reading my blog (!) would gain information from my complaining and winging. Finally, and most importantly, the army know about my blog and if I have written something beyond protocol they would have obviously removed it, like that time when we learnt about the secret *%£*%$", just kidding.

The three
'defenders' of Hebron!

Talking of army secrets I have now actually done something which can't be fully told about on the blog. I am able to say how last weekend I was closed, but instead of being on the base, we were situated in Hebron to assist with guarding there. Naturally, being soldiers who have still not even finished basic training, we weren't doing anything too dangerous, but we were there in Hebron nonetheless helping to guard the area. Due to security (how cool does that sound!!!), I can't say where I was specifically but I can tell you how I was at a guard point, with my commander and two other guiys from my class, which overlooked a certain area. The four of us were stationed at this place and did hours of 3:6 (that's 3 hours of guarding, 6 hours of resting) i.e. our commader left us to do the guarding!! When I say guarding it isn't as exciting as it sounds, it's extremely boring; standing by the radio, watching the view for something suspicious and occassionally walking around the roof that we were on. There were some inspiring moments of the weekend though...

Me and my friend attempting the
"Tinactic" scene as he put it, over the roof in Hebron.

1) Having Friday night dinner (along with candles and kiddush) on the roof, overlooking the lights of the Hebron skyline.

2) Hearing my parents bless me over the phone, while getting ready to stand guard.

3) During my 11pm-2am guard on Friday night, having to open the gate to let in the army truck with the newspapers for the next day, okay so that one wasn't so inspiring.

4) Best of all, receiving an order from the radio to watch over some Jews who were walking home from shul on Saturday morning.

Receving orders on the radio.

It was a hard weekend; mainly because we hardly slept, rested, ate or took off our uniform, so it didn't feel like a weekend at all. However, it was an interesting experience to be there and physically feel part of the protection for the Jewish inhabitants there. We were back on base by Saturday night and ready to start the new week the next morning, which, as I will explain in the next blog, was one hell of a week...

Thursday, 4 February 2010


This weekend is my garin's reunion, which I have been dead excited about all week. Firstly, I got another precious 'hamshoosh'' (Thursday weekend) - I have had so many that I'm starting to feel like a 'jobnik' (non-kravi soldier) - secondly, because it has been another really hard week but, most importantly, since it is the fisrt time that the whole garin will be back here in the kibbutz together and it will be so nice to catch up with everyone, since my garin is like my family here. We have some activities planned for this weekend, one of which is paintballing; after the week I have had, it could be the whole garin against me and I'd still win...

The view from my room - Mount Hermon covered in snow.

As hinted, this week I did lots and lots of shooting, since we were each divided into our roles, mine being 'kala' (sharpshooter). So, I was not with my class at all this past week, instead all the sharpshooters from my battalion were together; as were all the machine-gunnists and grenade-launcher guys etc. At the start of the week, I officially handed back my M16 and received my M4 flat-top, along with both day and night-vision scopes. I said in the last blog that I heard them say the 'Lior' night-vision is worth half a million shekels, well, I completely misunderstood and it's actually worth around $500. This misunderstanding (because of my still very average hebrew) does sometimes happen and it reminded me of a particular incident that happened at the 'tsav rishon' (first draft). In the interview to confirm all my information, I was asked who would get my money if I died (quite a shocking question, but all part of the procedure), so I said my Mum. I remember the soldier suddenly started writing stuff and then asked me "when died my mum pass away?", clearly she had asked me at the start if any close family members had died and because of my mistake, she had to start the whole interview again in order to restart the questions on the computer or something!!!

Me throwing a snowball yesterday with Mount Hermon in the back-ground!!!

Back to this week, I was with the sharpshooters from all three platoons in my battalion, meaning it actually gave me the chance to make some new friends (many of whom already knew me; because of the newspaper article and simply because my name is odd to Israelis and people just know who I am). Everyone thought it was hilarious how I turned up on Sunday with my Austin Powers-style glasses and then went to the shooting range, in order to be a sharpshooter. In fact, I am actually surprised that they let me be a kala, since my eyesight is so bad it nearly caused my profile to be lowered, which would have meant I couldn't have been a combat soldier! This week was spent in the shooting ranges, the whole week, from 8am until 11pm, non-stop, no meals in the dining room - combat rations as a result and, to add to all this, it rained miserably and was freezing. The shooting was fun, especially with the new gun (enhanced vision and tripod legs), and we shot different types of targets, such as, shooting a balloon with one bullet from 300m and moving targets. I shot quite well, especially since all the people there were supposedly the best shooters in the 'plooga' (battalion), and I feel I have earned my right to be a 'kala', confirmation of which is still to be determined by how we performed.
Me with my new gun.

Us 'kalaim' were with a couple of commanders this week, all of whom had been sharpshooters in their early service. In overall charge of us happened to be my 'mefaked samal' (commanding officer), who I have talked about before in the blog. He is an amazing character; small but insanely tough, and he loves to punish us. I both love and hate him because he makes us laugh the whole time but then will give us 40(!) 'smohkum' for being late, a 'smohkum' is a press-up and then jumping in the air and clapping your hands. He excelled in his ways this week, for example, telling us to "go" to the 150m line because we weren't really working, but "go", meant crawling! However, there was one part of this week that I will never ever forget and neither will anyone else who was there. One of the types of shooting we had to do was called 'kriya savlanoot' (patient kneeling), this means being in the kneeled position and shooting 10 bullets over a minimum period of 10 minutes i.e. being ready and fixed on the target as the commander will say "esh" (fire) at any point. The kneeled position is very painful as you sit on your vertical back foot, with gun close to the body and all the time steady with your eye on target. Of course, 10 minutes is the minumum and my commanding officer wanted to make us suffer, so he made us stay in that position for one hour and two minutes...

It's very hard to describe in words what that actually means. After 15 minutes your back leg goes numb and you can't feel your feet. The whole time we needed to be fixed on the target, which meant arms were aching from holding up the weapon and even my eye started hurting from constant concentration. Now this is not my usual moaning of the physical extremes we go through, this was something completely different, something non-human. After one of the bullets, I fell off my back foot and because I couldn't feel anything it was impossible for me to get back up, meaning the gun instructor helped put my foot back into place! It was crazy. I'm not embarrassed to say how at one point I actually cried a little bit from the sheer pain of my legs, shins and feet, and I was not alone, several of these hardcore Israeli boys could not help to shed some tears from this unbelievable sitaution. The battalion medic arrived to make sure we were all ok, as did the battlaion secretary to take pictures of us! Eventually it all finished and when we got up everyone fell back down, since no-one could stand on their feet. We were given about half an hour to do ankle exercises and to try and get the blood back into our legs, I mean, writing about this just sounds ridiculous, but we did it and finished it and I feel great about it now. We found out after, this is the best bit, that the reason for the crazy amount of time was because my commanding officer wanted to break the base record for longest amount of time in 'kriya savlanoot' and we smashed the measly 53 minutes set by Duvdevan a couple of years ago. If you have time just try this position for five minutes and let me know what you think. My commanding officer, what a guy!
This is 'matsav kriya' (kneeling position).

Forgetting all the physical stuff, (which has become increasingly diffcult recently), I am finding the army a really rocky ride. Being away from my parents, family and friends is hard, but just being in the army (especially, combat) is so psychologically tough. No sleep, combat rations (these last few weeks), the language, being timed for everything and the relentless discipline makes it hard for me to always be motivated. Thinking about it now, on the weekend and in civilisation, I am actually coping well, in fact am having a great time, but once you're back on base it all becomes hard again. I am enjoying the army but I just did not realise how mentally tough it was going to be and missing my parents has been extremely painful. By the way, all you people who despise Monday mornings have no idea about the hatred I have for Sunday mornings, it is the worst!

This is my beret pin, which says that I am a foot soldier. This was my prize for doing the 'masa samal' last week.

Next week in the army is advanced shooting (for everyone), which means more long, hard days but that is what happens in basic training, I suppose. I also wanted to say how when walking in Tel Aviv yesterday on my way back up North, it felt so weird holding the gun, because in my head I still feel like that little immature boy from London; and now I am supposed to be this M4-holding, red-boot-wearing, Israeli combat soldier. I don't think I've changed that much in my personality, which I think makes this whole experience so amazing. Today is exactly six months since I made aliyah, in that time I have settled in Ortal, got 3As in my A levels, passed my Israeli driving test, finshed two 'gibushim', successfully arrived at Tzanchanim and 101, and now am well into my basic training. it has been everything I wanted it to be up until now, let's hope things continue like this. Shabbat Shalom.