This week was the 'Targad', which means a week of shetach doing exercises on a batallion level (i.e. the whole of gdud 101), basically, it was another (!) war week, my third in total. While the first two 'war weeks' have been extremely difficult, what I experienced this week was on another level. This is because while the first two were just for our company, the war week for the gdud is much harder because it involves a lot more people and it has higher status, since it is for a full IDF combat batallion (and Tzanchanim also pulls higher credibility), meaning it is constructed by high-ranking officers, like the commander of the whole Tzanchanim brigade. In short, it was a very important exercise for the army and, thus, they made the conditions as close to a real war, as possible. So, for three full days, my batallion (around 400 soldiers) walked through the Golan Heights doing all sorts of combat exercises, urban and anti-guerilla warfare etc. Since the Paratroopers are arguably the most prestigious brigade in IDF, the week was made as hard as possible, in order to test my gdud's ability to be ready for a war, meaning we had no sleep, very little food, exceedingly heavy weights on our backs and many, many kilometres to walk.
As I mentioned, Tzanchanim's reknown reputation meant that a lot of money and resources were put into this week, which made it feel like a real war (by seeing the full spectrum of the army) and also gave us 'simple' soldiers some great experiences. We started the week by going in helicopters and although it was the fourth time I've flown in a Black Hawk since being in the army, it's an experience that doesn't get old, especially when you have to try and sprint 100m towards the helicopters through the hurricane that is caused by them, while in full combat gear with the rest of your friends from the platoon. In addition to helicopters, there were also a range of weapons being used last week, some of which I never even knew about. Seeing a group of tanks moving over hills and ridges and then firing their cannons 20m from where your 'plooga' (company) is running up a hill to 'kill' an enemy, is something quite breathtaking. Due to a lack of personnel in my platoon recently, half the platoon went to a specific company and what remained were myself, three other soldiers (all of who are good friends of mine) and three commanders; my old class commander (by the way I'm on to my fourth commander already), the 'samal' and the platoon commander. I get on really well with all three of them, which meant the week was full of interesting conversations and funny moments.
Who said I wasn't famous? My collection of articles about me on my wall in my room in Ortal!!!
We walked around 60km in total during the three days of 'war', which is massive when you think of the type of weights we were carrying on our backs. Walking with weight on your back is definitely something that has been drilled into me since I joined the army and this is an intended by the army, after the relatively disastrous Second Lebanon War in 2006, where post-reports showed the soldiers were uncapable of carrying the heavy weights and, in fact, weren't even carrying enough as they lacked extra food and ammunition. Consequently, the army now spends a lot of time trying to train us combat soldiers how to deal with walking for long periods while carrying heavy bags on our backs. Rather than feeling more muscular in the arms or a faster runner, being capable of carrying is what I've gained since being in the army and I assure you that most soldiers in the IDF will agree to that. This little side-point about carrying weight is relevant to the next thing I'm going to speak about: that hardest point of the whole week, something that even compares to the masa kumta in terms of difficulty! As the final exercise of war week, my gdud was subject to climb the Hermon (!), in order to 'kill the terrorsits there'. When us soldiers heard about this final challenge for the week, a lot of people cursed the army, seeing it as an unecessary exercise, as per usual I saw it as one of those incredible experiences that I've been through since being in the army. However, I wasn't thinking like that for long.
Mount Hermon is 2,814m (9,232ft) high at its peak, and, of course, we were told to reach the peak! The 'aliyah' (ascent) of the Hermon took 13 hours and this was after 3 days of 'war'!!! It was simply one of those crazy hard challenges, so hard that there were some people who had to stop because of dehydration or blackouts. They told us "don't look down" because of the height, but I though "don't look up", to see what was left to climb. was more appropriate. The Hermon, Israel's biggest mountain, is gigantic and it's like a visual allusion, because you see this mountain, you reach the top of it and then you see that there's something else to climb that's even bigger. Climbing the Hermon wasn't a random torturous exercise, in fact, the Hermon has important significance in terms of military and strategic history, and climbing it to capture the peak is something that IDF soldiers have achieved in the past. It was a very hard night/morning but in the end, very worthwhile and one of those experiences I'll never forget, especially since I carried the MAG (the 15kg machine) for the last 5km, since our MAGist blacked out from exhaustion!
It is true that pictures say a thousand words and I'm annoyed that I wasn't able to use my camera this week as I saw some truly memorable sights. Whether it was the view at the peak of the Hermon where we were above the clouds, or the silouhette of the whole gdud walking through the Golan Heights at dusk or even the shocked faces of a bus full of Muslim clerics who we passed while in military formation!!!
Mount Hermon; beautiful, but very hard to climb!!!
That's it! I'm now sitting in my room in Ortal with my suitcase packed, ready to go home and visit my family and friends for a whole month. I'm so excited just to live in civilisation again and do all the things I've missed doing, like eating at Pizza Express, or going to the cinema, or going to watch Spurs with my papa (I'll hopefully be going to the game where we qualify for the Champions League)!! I will try at some point to write a blog from London, my last blog from England was on the night I made aliyah, so it will be very fitting. Wish me a safe flight....