I am finally back in my home, Kibbutz Ortal in the Golan Heights, after not being here for a weekend for nearly five whole weeks! I have been closing quite a bit in the army and also spent the whole of Pesach in Tel Aviv with my parents. The time I spent with my parents was wonderful and although saying goodbye was painful, I appreciate the days that I was with them and will look forward to the next time I see them. I could write all day about how I had the best time with my parents and how much I love them and stuff, but I've done that so much recently in blogs and its been said (don't get upset mummy!!).
My class, just before leaving last Saturday for the shetach, a really great group of guys.
My first couple of days back in the army were not great, I was quite depressed about my parents leaving and was generally feeling low about the army. In the end, I was fine and after speaking with my parents on the phone a few times, I really think that I have turned a corner in terms of how I feel. I mean, missing my parents is never going to stop and I have now accepted that it is just part of this experience and part of making me a stronger person. Also, regarding the army, I sometimes forget why joining the army and being in combat especially, is so important to me and how it is supposed to be hard and frustrating and it is what every other 19 year old Israeli goes through. I returned to the army to a relaxing weekend but was in for a shock for what was to come last week, but that is to come in the next blog.
One thing I want to mention is how I have become much closer with my friends in the army. When I came back to the army last week they were all really happy to see me and supported me when I was feeling a little low. They say that your friends in the army are your friends for life, I am starting to really understand that. It's not that I am more friendly with these guys than my friends back in London (because I still consider my friends back at home as my best friends) but I have experienced things with the army guys that put them apart from my English friends. I mean I will always share with them that afternoon in Hebron when it was so cold that we cuddled together on the roof of a Palestinian home or the time when we finished a particular masa and everyone got under the stretcher to lift it up together. Those sorts of team-bonding, brotherhood moments is what makes the IDF and its soldiers so strong. They are the things that my friends in England can simply not understand or get their head around; and that is the true difference and why friends from the army will always be for life.
My boots at the moment are 'pazam', (worn and torn) and show me not to be a newbie in the army.
This past week has physically been my toughest yet and I was pleased to just survive and make it to the weekend with all my limbs intact. The first half of the week was advanced class combat, which involved a lot of walking with heavy loads and 'abach' (chemical warfare), which means running and carrying stretchers with gas masks on. It was three days of little sleep, little food and physical torture; it's difficult to write in words how tough it actually was but believe me, every minute and every step was like a challenge in itself. In the second half of the week we learnt all about urban combat, one of the most interesting and dynamic things I've done so far. I can now successful enter a house, move through a street and walk up stairs in the way that a soldier has to in times of urban combat. This week definitely shows how advanced training is a big step away from tironut (basic training) as we are learning how to be fighters, whether that means understanding the shetach of the hills of southern Lebanon (first half of the week) or the dense buildings of Gaza (second half of the week). The week ended with our latest masa, 22+5, a total of six never-ending hours. I happened to take the water canteen, the heavy thing there is, for two hours, a third of the whole masa! I currently can't feel my shoulders!!!!
Camoglauged up - with a camoflauge goatee! Also notice my night vision scope on my gun.
As I said, even though it has become much harder and more serious, I am starting to enjoy the army more, rather than concentrating on why it is so hard. One thing I never really mention is how it is also such a good laugh; imagine the amount of jokes that a group of boys in the army have all day, as a way of chilling out from all the stuff we go through. The latest thing is how half of my class are now wearing the Sheraton hotel slippers that I brought back for them from when I was with my parents. It really is a sight to see, everyone standing at attention before going to bed, with about five boys in matching fluffy, white slippers! Also, my samal broke porotocol this week by bringing me a newspaper in the shetach, why? In order to prove to me that Spurs lost in the semi-final. At least we beat the scum 2-1 though.
This week is Yom Hazikaron (memorial day for fallen soldiers) and then Yom Ha'atzma'ot (independance day), which I'm sure will be memorable in the army. Advanced training is continuing as scheduled but what I'm really looking forward to is the end of next month..... paratrooping (!) ahhhhhhhhhhh