Today is the first day of my week long 'regila', a not-often-enough holiday given to combat soldiers. It's a well-earned break from the four continous months of 'kav' Gaza that tzanchanim have completed so far, although for me personally, it is like a second holiday, following the two weeks off I had with my parents recently.
The 'sho'alim' (wolves) that is my platoon.
The '17' just gone was another really good one, mainly because I managed to go home for a weekend in the middle, as part of an extended day off to sort things out on the kibbutz. It all started with this special navigation course that I was sent to, which was done with the elite paratrooper unit. At first, despite being very interesting, I just couldn't understand the whole navigation thing. Learning about topography and reading maps is not really strength of mine, but by the middle of the week I had slowly started to get it and was succeeding in the navigations. For the final exercise, we had a 12km night navigation without maps (!) and without instructors. My partner managed to get us lost for three hours in his part of the route, but I succeeded in finding all the checkpoints in my half of the navigation (albeit by luckily stumbily onto one of them) and I was able to memorize my 6km half of the route; including distances, directions and a detailed description of the surroundings. By the end of the week I had been converted to actually enjoying it all and the thrill of being in the 'shetach' (open land) alone at night with just a compass and your memory to find your way, was rather exciting. Did I forget to mention the 12kg radio that I carried on my back the whole week because my partner is more of a veteran in the army than me by a mere four months? O ye, that bit was kind of hellish. Anyway, I can now say that I am able to navigate, a skill only taught to the upper echelons of the army; like officers and elite units.
Carrying food as part of company duties in the pouring rain - but still smiling!!!
For the navigation course, we were mainly based at the paratroopers' training base, where I was situated for the first eight months of my service; completing both basic and advanced training there. Going back there was such a fun experience; watching all the 'tironim' (soldiers in basic training) running around, standing for attention and getting punished is always fun once you know that you have "been there and done that". Walking around with the red beret is also a great feeling and made me feel very veteran, as the 'kumta' (beret) is like the Holy Grail for soldiers still on that base, a right that only those who have finished the dreaded masa have. So walking around the base made us feel pretty good about ourselves and reminded me what a long time has passed since it was me standing in line outside the dining room before entering for every meal. Being back on the base also meant meeting up with friends who are now commanders themselves, which is surreal to think how they were once doing press ups with me as punishment but are now the ones punishing their own soldiers with press ups!!!
One of the funniest moments of the 'kav' so far - the patrol car getting stuck in the mud!!!
Despite all the trouble going on in Egypt at the moment, the border with Gaza has, thankfully, been pretty quiet. Nonetheless, I did manage to fire my gun over the border for the first time, albeit warning shots, which was really cool. Also, I met the regiment commander, an extremely high ranking officer, who came to visit us on base. He actually took my place on the patrol, in order to check it all out, so me and him swapped places, in a kind of football-style substitution. It was a ridiculous situation; an officer with 40 more years of army experience and 9 ranks above me (he's a general - two ranks away from chief of staff - compared to my lowly rank of corporal) coming to switch me! I decided against giving him a slap on the back and wishing him "good luck"!! These two events from the latest '17' gave me a realization of the journey I have taken. Looking at where I am now and what I've done (in this last fortnight alone) just shows how unbelievable it all is. To think about what I would worry about two years ago; whether it be to finish an essay on time or stressing about a weekend arrangement and comparing it to what I have to deal with now, not just the whole Gaza thing, but living out here on my own as a lone soldier. Looking at what I'm doing now in comparison to my old life or to my friends in university is a point that I continue to bring up on the blog, thus showing its importasnce to me and something I am extremely proud of.
My new 'kat' (butt) for my gun, which adds to the bling that everyone desires...
As much as I was looking forward to my regila this week, I could definitely tell that my Israeli friends were much more excited than me, which made me realize something. As much as I love my kibbutz, I still don't have that true "home" feeling in Israel i.e. a place I can relate to, like my home in London. This doesn't mean I am unhappy in Israel, as you know that isn't true, it's just that spending my weekends living out of a bag is sometimes very frustrating. I have come to realize that I will only have that "homey" feeling once I have a place of my own out here, which will probably be once I have been released from the army. This living out of a bag and travelling long distances at weekends is simply part of the army experience and something I have got used to. So while my Israeli mates were looking forward to a week of waking up every morning at home, like being on half term from school, for me, it's more like an extended weekend. Saying this, I do love my weekends and am obviously happy to spend a week seeing friends, spending time with my girlfriend and being out of uniform!!!
The company's goldfishes!!!
Got to go now and enjoy my week of freedom! Will be sure to post another blog at the end of the next seventeen...