I returned to Ortal yesterday from the army with the news that I had finished 'tironut' (basic training) after a total of nearly four months. It marks the end of a momentous period, a period which is meant to turn me from a citizen into a soldier. I find it hard to believe that I have been in the army for such a long time already and its even crazier to think that I'm done with the infamous basic training of the Israeli army. To top it off, I've had a really great weekend here with my friends, doing some things I haven't done in such a long time; like playing football and sitting down in the sunshine.
The last week of basic training was supposed to be a bore; guarding and kitchen duty, but for me it turned out to be anything but that. While most people did guard all week, some of us were in the shetach, having been specifically chosen to be a part of a special group. I now have a new role, being the sharpshooter for my whole platoon, which means, when in combat formation, I stand in the front with my platoon commander and a few other soldiers. It's kind of scary because in times of war I would literally be on the front line and I have the responsibility of finding the enemy from afar with my scope and take them down with my supposed shooting skills. Personally, I don't see myself as a very good solider, I'm not as much of a team player as I'd like to be (which is extremely vital in the IDF), plus, because of the language, I am sometimes a little bit behind everyone else. Despite this though, it seems to be that every time there is some sort of place to go and new skill to be learnt, I am part of the same trusted group of soldiers who are involved. So, it was another week of shetach in the boiling heat, so much so that at some points we weren't allowed to do anything and were ordered to just sit in the shade. The week was hard but also interesting, however, the worst bit was when I fell over and my gun hit me in the face. What's more is that it caused me to chip my tooth (!), nothing dramatic, just a tiny hole, yet still my first considerable army-related injury!!
The end of tironut also marked the end of some of the commanders' time with us, which unfortunately included my class commander. I was upset to hear that he was going to be leaving as he had been a super commander to me, always looking out for me and helping me with any problems I'd had. One of the most anticipated things when a commander leaves is the 'distance breaking' that occurs, this is when the commander finally stops putting on the 'face' and talks to you like a normal 19 year old. It was so weird to go up and give your commander a hug, the guy who's been teaching and punishing you for the last four months.
The end of tironut makes me think back to my whole journey up till now. I remember the vision of aliyah and the army that I had back in London. I knew it was going to be hard but the reality of what I'm doing is the most difficult challenge I will ever face in my life; to leave my family and friends and the wonderful opportunitites that I had, in order to come here is just the beginning. It's hard to explain the toughness of the army service itself, to be on base for days on end, struggling with a foreign language, trying to fit in with guys who have a completely different culture and, to top it all, being physically destroyed each day with gruelling challenges. How can anyone who hasn't done this truly understand what I've been through and will continue to go through. The reality of life here is so different to the zionist dream that I used to have. However, despite all this, I cannot, for one moment, contemplate about doing anything else than this. Despite all the things I've just said, this experience is the most meaningful and worthwhile thing there is; some feelings are simply undescribable, like finishing a 21km hike with a sprint while carrying a stretcher with your new friends or being offered to have your groceries to be bought for you by this random woman in the supermarket, after she realised I was a lone soldier. To anyone out there thinking about doing this, I would say to think carefully because there will be some very tough times ahead, one where you think to yourself "what am I doing here?" and you just want to go back home. But, come here and do it. I don't for a second regret what I've done because it has been the most amazing experience ever. Although it's been unimaginably hard, I have realised my dream and I can't wait to go on to the next stage.
That next stage is advanced training, four months of combat exercizes, shetach non-stop and the period where the army takes you from a soldier into a fighter. They've told us that the real hard stuff starts now, so what have I been suffering through up till now? The transition to advanced training does come with some advantages however, we can now call our commanders by their first names and there is no more pathetic punishments. Basically, from now on they treat us like fighters, and forget about the pointless rules, which were instilled merely as a way of disciplining us, like folding the gun strap meticulously when holding the gun by your side. Before advanced trianing starts, we are priveliged with a five day holiday, which for me is going to be postponed until Pesach when my parents will be here. So while all the other soldiers have their 'regila' (5 day holdiay) this week, I am back on base tomorrow doing absolutely nothing for a week, apart from maybe going to the dentist....