Surprisingly I am back home this week, after a very momentous couple of days in the army, where I finished both jump school and my 'masa mechin kumta' (last masa before the beret march).
At the start of this week, I jumped and landed safely for the fifth and final time, thus completing the paratrooping course. Once again, the thrill of jumping out of a plane was amazing and I made sure, of course, that I landed with my legs tightly closed together. Doing the last jump seemed a bit irrelevant, since we had done that type of jump already (in the day with the chest bag) and because we were expecting to finish the course the week before. Anyway, it didn't matter to me as I enjoy the paratrooping and was happy to do it again. However, the best bit of going back to the jump school base was to receive the wings for our uniform. Getting the wings is a really big honour and is definitely something to show off when I am on the bus going home every week. It is my first pin that I've received and is easily the nicest looking thing there is to put on your 'aleph' (ceremony/travel) uniform.
The wings on my uniform!!!
In a really intensive couple of days, we jumped and got our wings and immediately went back to base in order to get seven hours sleep before the masa on the next day. The masa this week was the second last one I ever do and the preparational masa for the 'masa kumta' (beret march), where will receive the coveted red tzanchanim beret. The masa took place outside the grounds of the base, which is where we normally do masaot, instead we walked from Sderot (a town very close to Gaza, which has been bombarded by rockets in the last five years) all the way back to the base. This made it much more interesting as it was a different route with things to see on the way, rather than the regular monotonous route that we normally walk through on masaot. It was supposed to be 45km+5 (if you still don't know, the second number represents an extra 5 kilometres done by carrying people on open stretchers), but we soon learnt by the end of the masa that it turned out to be 55km+5. Sixty kilometres, that's 37 miles!!! It took us 11 hours, which is a fantastic time, especially when you remember that the time includes all breaks (one every hour to drink and two big breaks where we ate snacks) and that it's not like a marathon with shorts and trainers, no, it's full uniform, boots, gun, vest and other added weights, like the water canteen.
Wings on some famous people; from Defense Minister Ehud Barak, current Chief of Staff Gabi Ashkenazi, Idi Amin (!) and now, Sam Sank!!!
It was a very, very hard masa and it should be, considering it is our penaultimate masa and that it was 60km. For me personally, I managed to get through it quite well. While most people just want to die on during masaot, I am comforted by the fact that I know thousands of young Israeli guys have done it in the past and will continue to do it in the future. Although time on the masa goes ridiculously slowly, knowing the time, in general, always passes also reasssures me. Since there is a break every hour for water, you start to break down the hour, step-by-step, minute-by-minute, constantly looking at your watch and counting the time away. On this masa, I started to question what an hour is; I rememeber thinking that for me it can be the first half and half time of a football game or a ninth of the "Lord of the Rings" films or two "Friends" episodes. The time did pass eventually but it was an extremely hard night/morning and for many, the most physically tough thing in the army so far. The last five kilometres were with open stretchers and with considerably heavy people lying down on them. Due to lack of numbers and some lazy people who didn't want to help out, it ended up being 'aloonkot shorot' (black stretchers), which means that for full five kilometres it was the same people under the stretchers the whole time and I was one of those people.
As a reward for finishing the masa, we were given new gun straps, which say our battalion's name - 101, our company name - 'plugat hakrav' (fighting company) and our 'mahzor' (draft) - Nov' 09. When my platoon commander handed me my strap, he gave me a big punch on the shoulder and told me that he was proud of me! The scene the next morning was like the aftermath of some sort of war, people were limping and some couldn't even walk! Also, our 'masa mechin kumta', 60km, is the same or even longer than all the other combat brigades' beret marches, for example, Givati's masa kumta is "only" 50km. On the matter of masa kumta, my one is coming up in the end of the month and is a terrifying 90km. More on that nearer the time.
This is my company's sign on my new gun strap.
Next week I have 'war week', the summarising week of my whole training up until now, which is said to be the hardest week imaginable. It is seven full days in the shetach; little sleep, little food and a lot of walking with heavy weights on our backs. In fact, we were weighed at one point this week, in order to determine how much we are able to carry. I was shocked to find out I weigh as much as 70kg, which means this week I'm going to be walking for 18 hours a day with 28kg on my back, since we are allowed to carry up to 40% of our own body weight!
Anyway, I have had a relaxing weekend watching the World Cup (I'm annoyed that I will miss most of it) and spending time with my garin friends. This week is literally going to be hell but it is going to be one of those experiences, where, on the next blog, I'm going to be proud to say that I survived it. Enjoy the World Cup everyone, when you're watching it this week, just think of me crawling through thorn bushes while wearing a gas mask!