Sunday, 28 November 2010

New boots and a first degree burn...

I'm once again at the end of another 17:4 and am back in Ortal, before I return to the army tomorrow to start it all over again. It was another regular '17', packed with interesting episodes of which I will describe in this blog. Also, I had a simply fantastic weekend in Tel Aviv, releasing all the steam that built up during the 17, by going out with all my friends. I'm now relaxing on the kibbutz, sorting out stuff for the next 17, like packing my bag and downloading movies for my iphone.

During the 17 just passed, I really experienced, for the first time, 'action', as they call it, and first-hand accounts of and personal participation in real security work being done on our border with Gaza. Describing to you in detail some of the crazy stuff that happened is obviously going way beyond what I can talk about as part of the security protocol, but, using my own judgement, I can hint at what sort of things I was involved with, in this last 17. All I'm going to say is that, relatively speaking the border with Gaza is considerably quiet and that the IDF is fully in control of protecting the civilians on our side, yet, incidents do still happen and, being a 'lohem' (fighter) on the 'kav' does mean that I am heavily involved in preventing and dealing with these incidents. One particular incident will forever stay in my mind as it was my first piece of real action and my first live contact with those on the other side of the border. Without talking about what is forbidden by the army intelligence, I will say that I was involved in a sort of "chase and catch" experience, which was definitely the real deal. This all sounds so surreal and I know that I have said many a times before that "I can't believe that me, this North London mummy's boy, is doing all this stuff" but now it has been taken to a new level! When all this action was going on and I was really in the thick of it, I have to admit that it wasn't thoughts of heroic zionism and powerful determination to defend the country that was going through my mind, I was, instead, a little scared and nervous about what was going to happen. Saying this though, the adrenalin was insane and I did enjoy the whole experience, in terms of finally doing something real and meaningful that effectively contributed to defending our country.

Grenades. Enough said.

Life on 'kav' is somewhat enjoyable. Despite the ongoing notion of being a 'toran' (duties, like kitchen and cleaning), which are very annoying, and substantial lack of sleep (I'm averaging about 20-25 hours of sleep a week, no exaggeration!!!), despite all that, I'm having a ball. Playing playstation and watching movies with the guys in my platoon in our surprisingly extensive free time, is all the more fun since we're in the army. These guys are really becoming very close friends (as are the commanders, especially my legendary MM), especially when you can consider that I'm with them for the best part of a month for 24/7 and am experiencing with them this 'kav'. So life in the army, is pretty much better than ever before, I think the fact that there is no shetach or physical challenges improve the morale! Personally, there are also the little things, which give me a morale boost, and help to making an epic 17 day period more bearable, for example, my football team Tottenham's wonderful recent form (I could spend a whole blog on this subject and how when receiving the news about the Arsenal result while on guard duty, a response team was almost sent out to investigate the source of screaming and shouting at the guard tower!!!).

My platoon.

The best bit of the 17 was wihtout doubt when I managed to see my mum, who was here for a week as part of a work trip. Since my parents surprised me at my tekes kumta, I decided to take a little revenge and, after explaining to my mum how there was no way I could take a night off from the army, I turned up at her hotel lobby and got the expected tears! I managed to spend a lovely evening with my mum and ten women from England, to who she was showing Israel and the projects of the charity (United Jewish Israel Appeal of Britain) where she works, in order to raise more money for the Galil region. Although just a short reunion, it was a much needed meet-up, since it was the first time I'd seen my mum since I've been home. Luckily, I won't have to wait much longer, as my parents and grandparents are coming to Israel over the New Year period to see me, and my two weeks holiday to be with them has already been approved by the army. A less-so enjoyable moment in the past month was when I got burnt on my arm from an oven door, while doing kitchen duty. The fact that I will have a scar on my arm from my army service is not a problem, the fact that it is from kitchen duty, instead of something more meaningful is what really got me angry.

Me with my mum (whose arm is around me) and the rest of the women on the trip.

This wednesday was the 1st year 'pazamoledet' (draft anniversary) of the Nov '09 draft, meaning that we have been in the army for a year now, I have actually been a soldier for a little longer due to the Garin Tzabar programme, but November 25th 2009 was the day I received my uniform and went to the tzanchanim training base. A year in the army... wow, how time can fly and yet, I've done so much, I don't want to do a blog reminiscing about all I've been through, as I've done that before, however, it is definitely worth mentioning that I've spent the past year of my life as a soldier. For the rest of my platoon, it was a celebratory night, they'd got through a third of their service, however, the celebration quickly turned to depression as they came to terms with the fact that two years still remain. One needs to understand that as much as the majority of Israelis are happy to give and contribute their part towards the country (this is apparant mainly in 'kravi' and, especially in Tzanchanim, as they are both voluntarily conditioned) the army is still a massive chore; a three-year pause to an Israeli's teenage life, instead of enjoying the supposed best years of your life, they are subject to three years of restricted freedom, being away from home and tough times. This explains why, as much as we (yes, me included) can enjoy our time in the army and understand the importance of what we are doing, we also cannot wait 'till its finished and we can get back to being free!!!

Our 1st year 'pazamoledet', also means that Nov '10 drafted and our sons (children equals a draft a year below you, grandchildren two years!) have finally joined the army. I wish good luck to all those who just joined the army; those in Garin Tzabar, to you Robin and those coming to tzanchanim. I both envy you (because I know what a fantastic year I've had) and am pleased to be where I am now. This week, for the first time, since joining the army, I changed my army boots; giving in my old, worn ones and receiving a new, hard, uncomfortable pair. I was very reluctant to give in my old pair, mainly because of its nostalgia. In those boots I did everything; the gibush for elite tzanchanim, jumped out of plane with them, walked in them for hundreds and hundreds of kilometres including my masa kumta and slept in them for hours and hours. The new boots are very hard and uncomfortable, and wearing them in will take time; one popular method of speeding that process up is to drive over them with a car!! Also, I just wanted to mention how in the IDF olympic games this week, which of the infantry brigades finished in first place... tzanchanim!!

The new boots - not a sratch on them.

That's about all my news from this past month. I've got something coming up next week, where I am being filmed on television because of my personal story, with the blog definitely being an apsect of that. In fact my blog has become quite known in the army and in my company, I remember how the company radio man wanted me to post his mobile phone number on the blog as a way of getting American or English girls! It's another regular 17 on the horizon, once I'm back from that I will write another blog of course...

Sunday, 7 November 2010

Gaza ain't so bad after all...

Wow, it feels a very long time since I've been out of the army, 17 days to be precise, which explains why I'm only able to do one blog a month now, so I suppose I better make it a good one. I've successfully survived my first closure of 17 days; something that I'll have to deal with for the duration of my time in Gaza, i.e. the next six months.

Despite being in the army for such a long period, it was actually rather enjoyable (mainly due to interesting episdoes, good company and addictive games on my phone!) and, relatively speaking, I felt the time passed pretty quickly. I go back to the army tomorrow, after having the 4-day weekend, which I used to party in Tel Aviv and relax in Ortal, I am actually not dreading going back and have already got used to this new routine of 17:4. I actually want to go back to the army tomorrow as I'm quite stressed about a number of things here on the outside, mainly being the future of my garin, as many have started to leave the kibbutz and I'm not sure where that leaves me now. I don't want to get into the whole dilemna at the moment but it's causing me to worry insanely and I know that going back to the army will distract me from this problem that could have major consequences for my life here in Israel. It's not that I'm trying to run away from my problems, just that the army is an excellent antidote to worries in your private life and, currently, the army isn't so bad and I'm happy to go back (soldiers across the country will be spitting blood when they read that comment!!!).

No, my feet aren't infected. This is just what happens when you work in the kitchen and your shoes get soaked, causing the red of the boots to stain your socks and feet. Disgusting.

I'm warning you now that this will probably be a very long blog but I'll try to wet your appetite since you've been waiting three weeks since the last one. So I'm now settled in on my new base and have started 'kav Gaza'. The initial never-ending, labour work that I was subject to in the first two weeks has generally died down, but I still have to do kitchen and company duties every so often. Apart from that though, life on base is very relaxed, when not doing something (like guarding or a patrol) then we pretty much have free time, which we spend together as a platoon watching movies or playing on the playstation. Despite this relaxed atmosphere in the company, we have started to do all the work that is needed to be done in the defense and guarding of Israel's border with Gaza. Obviously, I am unable to delve into the details of what that exactly entails but I can say that I have been doing some mounted patrols and other things of the sort. This all sounds very exciting and dangerous and at the forefront of the world's most delicate conflict, and you know what, it is. It definitely is all those things, however, after doing it all solidly, even for just the last three weeks, it has already become just a day's work and the norm of what we do over there. It is surprisingly easy to make the switch from being on a patrol, where one is disciplined, aware and poker-faced, to going back to the rest of the platoon and joking around.

This was a really meaningful day. I filled bags with sand!!!

Despite all this talk of being professional and how any of this stuff hasn't fazed me, I must admit that when we started doing things, I was like a little kid waiting to get his birthday present. For the past year we were in training and now we finally have the chance to put to effect all the things that we've learnt. Aside from that though, for me personally, it was sort of an expectation finally being realised, as when thinking of making aliyah and joining the army, I really wanted to do my part one day and actively help defend Israel, and that is certainly what I am doing now. I can say that during this past 17 alone, I have seen and done some things that will contribute to making sure the residents of the kibbutzim in the area surrounding Gaza will go to bed safe every night. In addition to all this, it's so cool!!! To be part of a mounted patrol, ready to strike upon any threat to our security is a life experience that only a few will ever go through. What I'm doing now, in comparison to my friends at university, really emphasises the gulf between our lives and to think where I find myself after a year's long journey in the army is quite incredible.

This was the final result after two hours of scrubbing a pot in the kitchen. Another really meaningful day!

Like I said, 'kav Gaza' is serious business, which is done professionally by the IDF and it's meticulous standards, nevertheless, in my time in Gaza so far I have noticed the very Israeli 'touch' that is put onto all the work we do out there, I'll explain. Amongst everything; the professionalism of carrying out missions and the seriousness of the work we're doing, there are those moments where you see something and think to yourself "only in Israel"!!! There are many examples of this and I have to share a couple with you guys. Like how in a night patrol, sitting down and drinking coffee is actually part of the routine and even written down on official army schedules!!! What about the time when we had a briefing for a particular patrol, which was then interrupted by half the company who entered the briefing room and turned on the television to check the Maccabi Tel Aviv basketball score!!! Or how when on a patrol on Friday night, everyone was called together in the shetach and we did kiddush together. Those sorts of moments will live with me forever, especially the latter one, since it reminds me of who I am and why we fight so hard for our land.

What a difference a year can make! A year later and I definitely look a more assured soldier (with better equipped vest, gun and hat!!!).

I have been very happy within my platoon, making friends with my fellow soldiers and my football-loving commanders. Of course, everyone in the company knows me and there is not a day that goes by where someone doesn't say, in a terrible english accent, "would you like a cup of tea?". I am also known as the Spurs fan, especially since I walk around the company area in a Tottenham shirt, sing Spurs songs in the shower and, like I did last week, go absolutely mental when we win. Recently, I was feeling very confident with my level of hebrew, but since the start of 'kav Gaza' my confidence has defnitely taken a bit of a battering. What with all the new place names and codewords, I'm struggling a little bit to keep up and at one point, needed to take round with me a little notepad and pen to make sure I knew what was going on. So, a message to you MM (company commander) and to you SMP (deputy company commander), I was listening, I just didn't have a clue what you were talking about for a week.

This is my company singing songs and insulting another company in 101. Great moments.

There's a lot more to talk about, but time is precious and I better be going; 4 days at home every month is not a long time. I tried to enlighten you all about what life is like on the 'kav', and I hope you can see that life in the army is really good for me at the moment. I have still been missing my family and friends quite a bit but I'm settling into this new routine of 17:4 and I'm sure everything will be alright. I start 17 again tomorrow, which means the next blog won't be for another three weeks, so check it out then, but continue to leave comments. Shalom.