Saturday, 10 July 2010

Masa Kumta

The Masa Kumta (beret march) for Tzanchanim is the final thing you do in your eight month training period and is said to be the biggest of all the challenges you face during that time. I can safely say, having successfully finished the 78km masa last week, that it was definitely the hardest physical experience I have ever faced in my life!

The masa kumta was the storm hanging over our heads for the past month now, ever since we did the previous masa, we knew that coming up next was the big one. Actually though, the masa kumta is something that is on your mind from the moment you start basic training. Not only is it the last and hardest day of a very tough eight months of combat training, but, probably most important of all, it is the day when can finally put on that famous red beret. Ever since I drafted I have been wearing the standard green kumta (beret) that everyone receives when they join the army, for people in kravi (comabt) it is a sign of embarrassment, as it shows you to be very young and inexperienced within the army . Us soldiers have been looking at our commanders' red berets for eight months now, thinking how far away it was for us to look like that and how cool it is to have the kumta sitting on your shoulder. Also, for us paratroopers, walking around in public with the red kumta is a real honour as everyone knows about the paratroopers and its respected history. But those were just distant fantasies for us 'tironim' (soldiers still in training), until last week... after months of waiting we completed our masa kumta last Thursday.

Me with my friends at the start of the masa.

The route is 78km long, from Tel Shachar to the finishing point at Givat Ha'Tachmoshet (Ammunition Hill) in Jerusalem, lasting around 17 hours. The route goes through some small towns in the beginning, forested areas for a big chunk in the middle, before finishing with the ascent on Jerusalem and the final four kilometres walking through the streets of our capital city. Preparation for the masa is a story in itself; I put special hiking socks over sport socks (after drowning my feet in talcom powder), tight cycling-type underwear (after drowning that area with anti-chafing cream) and then 'lekoplast', this special plaster thing, on my hips and sides, in order to prevent a 'shwarma', (extreme chafing)!!! In addition to all this, my comabt vest was packed to the brim with magazines of bullets, energy bars and toilet roll!! This all might seem a little bit over the top, but think how much preparation a runner goes through before a marathon and now think how my masa kumta was almost two marathons put together (48 miles), then remember that we were in full uniform, boots, vest and gun (15kg) and sometimes carrying the stretcher or jerry can.

It is very difficult to explain how hard the masa was, and although I have sort of described all the other masaot up until now, this masa was just so much different than all the others. The first 20km were like all the others in terms of difficulty, but starting at 4.30 in the afternoon meant the heat was a little problematic. Everyone started in a good mood, "wow, we're on our masa kumta", "this isn't that hard", but the night came and the sky went dark, as did the mood. For about two and a half hours in the middle of the masa, we simply walked uphill in a forest near Beit Shemesh. Think about that. Two and a half hours of uphill walking. Some people are carrying heavy weights, while the rest are desparately pushing the ones with the weights up the hill. It was a crazy tough point in the masa, people started to break down a little a bit, saying they couldn't or didn't want to continue. It was a real struggle. We eventually finished the 'aliyah' (uphill bit) and got to the 50km point, to a place called Begin Park, just outside Jerusalem. Personally, up until that point I was okay considering the circumstances, I mean it was very hard but I was concentrating a lot on helping my friends and that really kept me going.

After about 4 hours, 25km. Notice how my shirt is so dark from all the sweat!!

From the 50km point, I remember taking the water canteen (the heaviest thing there is to carry) for an hour and I was fine, and then it just hit me. Suddenly, with about 18km to go, I just couldn't walk anymore, I found my legs taking one step at time and having to think about every solitary step. This wasn't just me though, I mean everyone was just physically finished by this point and this caused the pace to slow right down. The ascent into Jerusalem was unbearably hard, people were stopping mid-walk, some were huffing and puffing and crying their way to finish. By the time we reached the streets of Jerusalem, about 4km to go, it was around 9.30am and already hot. To be honest, I was enjoying it, where else in the world could I hike all night with young Jewish guys towards our holy city of Jerusalem in the name of protecting Jews in Israel and around the world under the banner of the IDF. But forget the ideology a minute, it was also a fun experience, unmistakenly painful, but what a thing to say that I've done and finished the longest masa there is for a regular combat soldier.
Running the last couple of kilometres through the streets of Jerusalem.

Walking through Jerusalem was amazing, every car that passed honked its horn, and for the last kilometre we ran with stretchers to Ammunition Hill. Finally, we finished it, and I remember standing there under the stretcher at the end (with an Israeli flag on my back - obviously, it's me we're talking about here!!), smiling and looking forward to the tekes (ceremony), where I would be getting my red kumta...

At the finishing point under the stretcher, holding both the Israeli and Paratroopers' flags. After a torturous 17 hours I couldn't believe I was still standing!

1 comment:

  1. Really, respect.

    i'm joining the idf in july and hope to succeed in tzanhanim as you did !