Saturday, 30 July 2011

"Mefaked Sam"

This may well end up being the best three weeks of my whole service and I still can't believe how lucky I have got in this past week. Aside from starting my 'tafkid' (role) as a commander of newly-recruits in the tzanchanim yesterday, we were also given a random two-day holiday from the army in preparation for the 'tafkid' and, therefore, spent more time with my mum, who was here in Israel for work.

When I arrived at the 'Bach' (tzanchanim training base) with the other commanders last Sunday, I was expecting a couple of days of training for this new 'tafkid', before we would eventually meet the new soldiers at the Bakkum yesterday, which was the official draft date for the August '11 draft of tzanchanim. However, we all soon became extremely happy, after learning the schedule for the upcoming weeks ahead. The preparation ended up being just a couple of hours, meaning that we literally had nothing to do from Sunday afternoon until yesterday, Wednesday, the day the new soldiers drafted. So, we were given two and a half days of holiday (!), now this is something that never happens in the army; if you've got nothing to do then they find something for you, there's no such thing as a two day break from the army for no reason. So you can imagine our joy and also our shock to find out about this little gift we were given. It doesn't end there; following the draft day at the 'Bakkum' (the base where every soldier first drafts) yesterday, we then went home for the weekend! That's a 'ravush' (wednesday weekend), meaning that I was in the army this week for a little under two days, without actually having any official holiday. The best (and also spooky) part of it all meant that for the one week where I was hardly in the army, happened to be the same week that my mum was here for work. Consequently, I managed to see my mum for nearly her whole trip here, which came from nothing as I expected to hardly see here and this was of course the greatest part of it all, as we spent some real quality time together.

Yesterday was the big day for me; my first day in my new 'tafkid' as a commander and the day where I received my soldiers for the first time. Being at the 'Bakkum' again brought back some interesting memories and reminded me how far I've come since the day when I first became the army's property!!! I, along with the other commanders, arrived at the 'Bakkum' yesterday with the expectation of a long and tiring day, and we were not disappointed. Before receiving our own soldiers, we first had to help all the newly-drafted tzanchanim in the infamous changing rooms. This is the part where after going through the long process of getting the army ID, having injections, being photographed, form-filling etc, you finally arrive to the room where you get your uniform and make the last transition from citizen to soldier. This is always the most stressful part of the day, as I remember, not only are you being rushed but also have the difficulty of knowing how to dress correctly in this new uniform. Our initial role as commanders was to help the new soldiers with this scary process by... well... dressing them!!! Those couple of hours I spent in the changing rooms may be the funniest I'll have in my whole service. I cannot begin to describe some of the stupid questions I was asked; from "how do you put on shoes?" to "why didn't I get the red beret?", to some of the ridiculous things I ended up doing; from buttoning up shirts to tying up shoelaces. I don't blame them though, we were all like that at the start, but when you get to the position that I am in now, it's hard not to laugh at their naivity and how 'tsair' (young and unexperienced) they were.

Following the hilarious changing room incident, I then proceeded to stand in front of my new soldiers for the next two weeks. Thirty eight soldiers (yes, that's right 38, the size of a platoon, making me effectively a platoon commander because of the sheer number of soldiers) all of whom are 100% reliant on me and who I am now 100% responsible for. It's a huge responsibility, no I'm not leading them into war tomorrow, but I am in charge of their welfare and well-being for the next fortnight, which is their first two weeks in the army. They'll be soldiers now for three years but these first weeks are the most crucial and most difficult due to the dramatic change from being a citizen to being a soldier; suddenly adapting to being told when to eat, sleep and go to the toilet and where, when and how to walk, stand and sit is a huge transition. As their commander I need to make sure each and every one of my soldiers gets through this difficult stage and learns how to behave like a soldier. The 'tafkid', mainly because of the amount of soldiers I have, is also a massive head ache. For example, I need to make sure they all arrive on Sunday to the right place, with the right equipment and on time, no doubt, each soldier will have their own personal problem, meaning my phone is not going to stop ringing all weekend.
The "fresh meat"; my soldiers for the next two weeks.

Despite eveything I've just said though, I simply cannot wait to get started. Although I was only with them for a few hours yesterday, I am already relishing the role and really enjoy the power, not in a dictator sort of way, but in the fact that they need to listen to me and I can help and instruct them. In the few hours I was with them, I have already made a good impression on them, even having a number of soldiers come up to thank me for helping them so far and some even saying they already like me. A little exaggerated I know, but it's kind of like having children, as I need to teach them what to do and what not to do, and if they get out of line, then punish them. I can see from yesterday however, that my style of leadership is one that is more laid back, smiling and joking, rather than shouting and screaming. Having them call me "mefaked Sam", not by my own insistence, makes me feel very proud, to think that a mere two years I was on the verge of making aliyah and now I have 38 soldiers calling me "commander" is simply mind-blowing. This upcoming week, I will be with them a lot; helping them with their absorption to the 'Bach', getting them prepared for the internal tzanchanim gibush and just being there if they need. I will also need to be a bit more disciplinary with them next week, in order to maintain the strict rules of the 'Bach'; walking in straight lines, lining up for food and standing at attention. All this stuff will be a very funny experience for me, to think that I'm going to be standing in front of all those soldiers while trying to keep a straight face is definitely going to be challenge.

Just as I was last weekend, I am very excited to go back to the army on Sunday, despite the fact I am going to have to wake up so early on Sunday morning in order to be the first to arrive. Next week is going to be a hard week for me; little sleep, having to handle the problems of 38 different soldiers and keeping up with a very tight schedule is no easy feat, but something I am looking forward to. I will once again be out next weekend (while the rest of my platoon closes another Shabbat up north as part of the '17'!!!) so will hopefully write another blog on the week's experiences.

Saturday, 23 July 2011

Starting the new kav...

I should've been completing my first '17' of the new kav but, as per usual, my repuatation as the biggest oketz this army has ever seen, has once again, proven to be true. As of speaking, I am writing this blog to you from my home in Tel Aviv late on a Saturday night, before returning to the army tomorrow. I was out this weekend because my mum was here for her work, however, the real oketzing is that I won't be going back to the kav up north tomorrow, but I'll be going to the 'bach' (tzanchanim training base) instead. All shall be revealed...

I'll start with my short, but definitely filling, taste of the new kav up in the north at Israel's border with Lebanon. My gdud, 101, is located on and around Mount Dov, a mountain range sandwiched between Metulla/Kiryat Shemona and the Hermon (if you know your Israeli geography). It's a sensitive region and one which needs continuous patrolling and monitoring from a combat batallion. Whereas in Gaza, the whole batallion was situated on one base, this time, due to the complexities of the northern border, the gdud is split up into its companies and even platoons, with each one having its own base or 'motsav' (post). My company has its own 'motsav', which means that for the first time for me in the army, I am on a very intimate base with just my 'pluga' (company), around 80 soldiers all in all. I can't obviously say where exactly the 'motsav' is, but we are very close to the border and our main objective is patrolling Israel's northern front and making sure everything is safe up there. The northern border, those who are well educated on the subject and its history will know, is a very complex matter with certain parts still being quite cloudy, due to the unreachable mountain range, the unconfirmed international borders and the unclarity of the "blue line", Whereas in Gaza there was a very clear border and a very clear stance on what it represents, up north it's entirely different because the situation there is so much more sensitive and delicate. This all adds up to a very interesting type of kav and one that is going to be an experience whatever happens.

My new 'motsav' with the beautiful landscape of Mount Dov in the background.

So I started the kav and as much as I remembered how much I loved the routine of it (I still think my time in Gaza was my most enjoyable time in the army so far), the hardships and difficulties of being on kav were also re-introduced. Firstly, despite being out this weekend, throughout the week the struggle of completing 17 days in the army was a reality again and even though I got used to it in Gaza, it is never a fun cycle and psychologically is very hard. The other harships of kav also came up in this past week; whether that be lack of sleep, the boredom of long guard duties or the pure depressive nature of kitchen and company duties. Being the first week of a new kav and a new '17', the mood was very tense and only on the 12 hour 'siyur' (mounted border patrol) did I notice some more upbeat conversation. In fact, it was on that 'siyur' that I joined in on a very interesting conversation between some of the guys in my 'mahlaka' that I'd like to share. We talked about the friendships one makes in the army and how the saying that "friends from the army are your friends for life" is not entirely true. As much as I love the friends I've made from the army, due to the continuously changing nature of the army, it is easy to lose touch with people. A perfect example of this is how some of the guys from 'makim', who I felt extremely close to, I have already started to lose contact with them, simply because we've all gone back to our respective units and are all in different places doing differnet things. However, we concluded that it even if you lose touch, friendships from the army are unique in the fact that they have been through and passed tests that can't be found in public life. There are some guys in my 'mahlaka' that I honestly am not that keen on and would definitely not have been friends with them if they were in my year at school for instance, however, we have been through weeks of shetach together, where we didn't sleep, didn't eat and snuggled together in sleeping bags when it was cold. We may not like each other but we were on the same 'siyur' together when there was a serious incident in Gaza. These things make a friendship and its something that binds us together forever. We also marvelled how a whole mix of people can come together to make a combat class of soldiers; from Ethiopians and Russians and religious and secular, to northerners and southerners and 'sabras' (born Israelis) and immigrants, like my self. In the end, the differences never matter because we are all fighting together as one with the same cause.

Bunkers on the 'motsav', very much like the movie "Beaufort".

As bad as the first week of kav was, I knew that I was going to get a nice treat at the end of it by getting out for the weekend, but more importantly, by seeing and spending time with my mummy. We were in Jerusalem for the weeeknd and I re-discovered my love for the city, even though it's hardly gone away. As you may have noticed from the blog, I'm a big fan of Tel Aviv. It's a buzzing, young city, full of culture and history, and a truly fantastic place to live for any Jew in the world, but in particular for budding zionists and younger people. Nevertheless, in terms of symbolic, political and spirital (the list of superlatives could go on: historical, religous, militarily tactical etc) importance, it donesn't even come near to the holy city. I don't think I could ever live in Jerusalem, even though the idea of being close to the kotel and all those incredible historical places does inspire me, but it is, undoubtedly, the most important thing about Israel. I think that's why I've always seen the capture of the Old City in the six day war as the key event in Israel's history and this also explains my love for tzanchanim and the desire I had to be part of the brigade's history. With this incredible city as a background, I had a wondeful weekend with my mummy and only made me looked forward even more to my (still not confirmed grrrr!!!) trip back to London in the summer.

Meeting up with my mummy in Jerusalem.

And now to the big news. On friday morning, moments before leaving to go home, I was informed that I would be going to the 'bach' tomorrow, in order to be a 'mefaked' (commander) for soldiers in 'trom tironut'. 'Trom tironut' is the first two weeks of your army service; from the time you go to the Bakkum to get your army I.D. and uniform up until the point where you go to your respective battalion within tzanchanim and start 'tironut' (basic training). During that period, you are under the supervision of commanders who'll look after and guide you, before you meet up with your proper commanders for basic training. For me, it's the perfect job and something that is highly in demand by those who are '08' qualified but don't have a permament role as a commander. When I was told, I was so excited, not only have I finally been given some sort of 'tafkid' (job as a commander) but it's also one of the most fun two weeks that I could've had in the army. These soldiers, who will be drafting into the army on Wednesday as the August '11 draft (such youngsters!!!) have already been accepted into tzanchanim but need go through the absorption process at the 'bach' and the voluntary internal gibush (for elite tzanchanim and other special units) before they arrive at their company for the start of basic training. This will be the first two weeks of these soldiers' three year service and I am going to be their first ever mefaked!!! Even though, it's not the most vital of tafkids, I think its a very momentous role and I still remember my mefaked from 'trom tironut'. There's still so much to tell about what it entails and how I'm feeling but I'll leave that to next week's blog, whereby I'll have gone through a couple of days of preparation and then will have received my soldiers at the Bakkum.

This 'tafkid' most likely means I'll be out for the next two weekends, while my mahlaka back on kav will be facing the most difficult fortnight of their lives due to August '10 going away for special platoon training. Of course, there had to be an oketzing spin on the whole commander thing, but aside from that, this is something that I am unbelievably excited for and probably the reason why it was easier to say goodbye to my mummy earlier this evening. I cannot wait to go to the army tomorrow (a very rare sentance indeed) and next week's blog will hopefully show the fulfillment that I expect to gain from this coming week. (A very...) Shavua Tov.

Saturday, 16 July 2011

TNT in the Kitchen

Today's blog marks the start of a new page in my army service, since, as of tomorrow, I will be starting a new kav on Israel's border with Lebanon. This will be my second kav, following the six months I spent in Gaza earlier on in the year and tzanchanim will be stationed in the north for the next three months. I have also entered the last nine months of my army service, a figure that can seem so short and so long at the same time.

There is not a great deal to write about in this blog but it will be the last time I'll be able to blog for a month because I start a new '17' as of tomorrow. This past week I was situated at a base near Eilat, as part of my platoon's special explosives training. Every platoon in a combat battalion has a special role and while there are platoons of snipers, mortars and heavy weaponry, my 'mahlaka's' role is explosives. I am personally not qualified as a 'hablan' (soldier trianed in explosives), since the course coincided with the time that my parents were here in Israel last December, so I never did the qualification course. This week was like a revision of the course that they did, an opportunity to re-learn anything they had forgotten and general training in their qualification. So far me, it was an opportunity to learn from scratch something that everyone in my 'mahlaka' already knew and I was looking forward to the training and studies itself, as it is very interesting, but also so that I didn't feel inferior in any way to the rest of the guys in my platoon. I did learn a lot of the material and am now able and feel confident (although not qualified) to do certain explosive exercises (like blowing up doors or walls using dynamite, TNT etc.) but for me, the week was a complete waste. This was because I was a 'toran' quite a few times this week (i.e. working in the kitchen or around the base) and they continually kept sending me as I was the only one in the 'mahlaka' who couldn't participate in some of the exercises since I'm not qualified. I understand the theory behind sending me the whole time as a 'toran', but it was just a bit of a pointless week for me, even though I did learn some interesting stuff.

Explosives studies soon turned into 'playing on your phone' studies.

I am now well and truly back to my old life as a 'hapash' (simple soldier) in my platoon and the fact that I am '08' and have completed commanders' course has, for the moment, not really made any difference to how I've been acting or how I have been treated to. It's very easy to return to the lazy life of being a 'hapash' and, following the disappointment of not getting a role as a commander, I am concentrating more on other things, like going home on holiday. I have almost got the visit back home confirmed by the army now and it's definitely on my mind a lot; especially when I have a week where I've been cleaning dishes and just want to get away from the army. As much as I am seriously desperate to go home, see my friends and family and just have a break from the army, I would say that I haven't been as excited as I was last year to go home. Even though I felt that Israel was my home from the day I made aliyah, after being here for almost two years, I am now truly settled and call Israel my home. Whereas last year when I went back I still felt that I was returning home for a trip, this time I think that London will seem further detached to me. The other reason why I was probably craving home a lot more last year is because I now have a better quality of life outside of the army since I am now living in Tel Aviv. Without disrespecting the amazing time I had in Kibbutz Ortal, I now am not going home with the main objective of partying and having fun, as that's what I'm doing every weekend I get off here at home.My better quality of life in Israel means that my trip back to London is now maximum to see friends and family (and have fun).

My platoons' long bus ride down to Eilat.

My life in the army has also calmed down a lot from the position I was in last year. Now, I am an experienced and almost veteran soldier, with six months of 'kav Gaza' and commanders' course under my belt, as opposed to the fresh-faced 'tsair' (youngster), barely out of basic training, when I went back to England last time. It's still very hard for me to look at my friends' lives back in London and not feel slightly jealous, not of what they're doing, but of how easy some of them have it. To see their facebook statuses declaring their four month holiday from university back in June, while I am still working every day and night is difficult. The knowledge that I am doing someting far more rewarding than them and something that I never regret, is sometimes hard to see when they are off to their holidays and I am off to close 21 days in the army. My visit back to London is a long time coming and even though I've said that I am more settled in Israel and in the army than I was last year, that doesn't mean to say that I am not so excited to go back and do all the things I miss doing. I've already started to plan the trip and once I get the final permission from the army, then it will be the only thing on my mind and, without a doubt, the energy that will get me through the next month of 'kav'.

The view from the base we were at last week.

So tomorrow I start 'kav tsafon', the notion of guarding Israel's northern border with Lebanon, a place one may think is fairly dangerous but actually is a very quiet border. Instead, from what I've heard, it's more like something quietly murking under the water, ready to explode if disturbed, something no-one in Israel wants. This is obviously why constant surveillance and operations need to be undertaken, as they do on all our borders, and why the northern border can potentially be the most serious and delicate one. It's most likely however, that during the time that we, tzanchanim, are there in the next three months that very little will happen and the residents of the north will continue to sleep sound at night. Obviously the level of awareness and of being prepared remains high at all times but I hope that there will be very little stories to tell back to my friends from my time up north, in comparsion to my time in Gaza. I'm excited to go back to 'kav', once again I will feel like I am physically contributing to the defence of this country and of the citizens. The routine of 'kav' is also more enjoyable than that of training, due to the free time, interesting objectives and emphasis on togetherness amongst the platoon and the company. Going back to 17:4 isn't the ideal but I have already done it once for a period of six months so I know what to expect, and however bad seventeen consecutive days on base is bad, the feeling of going to bed on a Saturday night and knowing that you're not going to the army the next day (like I had last night!) is simply priceless.

My next blog will be then at the end of the next '17', so I'm sure I'll have lots to tell about what 'kav tsafon' is like. My next exit from the army will also coincide with my two year anniversary of making aliyah, a momentous occasion to say the least. For the meantime happy summering to you all, just think that I am spending my summer in the scorching heat of Israel, while guarding in full uniform and vest...

Saturday, 9 July 2011

Kayaking Wars

That was by far one of the funnest weeks I have ever had in the army, probably because it hardly felt like we were in the army at all this week. As part of the gdud's transition from being in training to starting a new kav; we had a week of relaxation and activities to give us some breathing space before we start 'kav tsafon' (northern border guarding) next week.

Before I talk about this week, there are far more important things that I need to mention on this blog; mainly the farewell of both my 'mem pey' (company commander) and 'mem mem' (platoon commander). For me personally, these two officers have been, without a doubt, the best two commanders I have had in my service so far and so it was incredibly momentous to see them leave. First of all, my 'mem mem', Itay, has been my officer and platoon commander for almost a year now and I can remember meeting him for the first time back last year when I returned to Israel after being home for a month. I even said to him that there had been a mistake me being placed in his platoon as most of the guys from my previous 'mahlaka' had gone to another company, so I told him that I wanted to move there instead. He told me not to worry and that everything will be ok and despite being apprehensive about him and the new 'mahlaka' at first, I am now so happy that I ended up where I am today (which happens to be better than the other company). He is a great officer; always a professional and a leader when we were in Gaza and always a fantastic example for all of us when we were in training. I really do think he's a top notch guy, I mean he didn't get 'mitstayen mahat' (brigade commander's outstanding soldier) for nothing, and that's why he deserves the appreciation that I'm giving him now. Also for me personally, he was always there to help me with any problems I had, especially when going out of his way to make sure I got the full time off to be with my parents or allowing me to get out all those 'hamshushim' to sort things out at home. It's the end of an era and my new 'mem mem', who also seems like a good guy too, has a big pair of shoes to step into.

Back with my old friends from the gdud.

If I'm going to dedicate a whole paragraph to my old platoon commander, then, "M", my company commander deserves one too. Even if I'm including my 'mem pey' from commanders' course, then I've still only ever had three company commanders during my serice but even if I were to have thirty three I still don't think anyone could even come close to "M". Again, this is a man who I would be perefectly comfortable to walk behind in any sort of situation; calm, collected, simply the most apt soldier or officer I have ever seen. Despite being completely fixated on the task at hand, "M" was always there for me too, phoning me during 'makim' and also when I was with my parents. I will never forget how during kav, we noticed that he frankly did not have any time to sleep whatsoever and whenever I was doing 'ma'azin' (guard duty within the company area) I would always see him walking about, whether it was 2, 4 or 6 in the morning! All his outstanding work as a company commander has clearly been observed, since he is moving onto something far more impressive and going to be a 'mem pey' at a very secret unit, of which I am not at liberty to say, but believe me it is right up there at the top and I have no doubt that he will succeed there, depsite its incredibly high standards. So, good luck to both of my old commanders and thanks for all you've done in making my service a fantastic experience.

The whole tzanchanim brigade enjoying the concert.

Since returning to the gdud, there has been a new development within my company and something that affects my platoon in particular in a very good way. While I was away, soldiers from the August '10 draft, have joined my company and are, therefore, the youngest platoon in the 'pluga'. This has profound affect on us as, although we still aren't veterans (that's after two years in the army - only another four months for my platoon), we aren't the youngest anymore, meaning we don't have to do all the duties (kitchen, company, guarding etc.) as much. It hasn't stopped completely and it's not like we can just lounge around all day since we still have to send a soldier or two every day to do stuff, but if there is some shlepping or cleaning to do, then the guys from Aug '10 are picked on as opposed to us. It really does signal the gradual progress of my army service and finally it's our turn to dish out some abuse rather than to receive it, for once we are not the most 'tse'irim' (youngsters) in the gdud and we can use the small experience we have to our advantage, for example, in kitchen we can now refuse to do the dishes, instead this priveledge is at Aug '10's expense!!!

The lone soldiers of tzanchanim.

As I was saying, this week was probably the most un-army like week I have ever had. It all started with the tzanchanim sports day on sunday, which involved around ten people from each gdud, meaning for the most of the day we all just slept, sunbathed and hung about with friends from other battalions. The sports day was followed by the annual 'tzanchanim evening' which consisted of a show courtesy of a famous Israeli pop star, videos, awards and speeches from all the high ranking officers, including the new brigade commander. The next couple of days did involve a little bit of urban combat training, which I did less than a month ago in 'makim', but it was very relaxed and not taken seriously due to it being the final week of the training period. In addition to all this, we had an 'erev mahlaka' (pizza take away in honour of Itay leaving), 'erev pluga' (barbeque in honour of "M" leaving) and 'erev gdud' (a formal ceremony in honour of finishing the training and the transition to kav). Lastly, in celebration of the last week of the training, the whole gdud did kayaking on wednesday and went to a water park on thrusday. Of course, this was great fun but what was so funny for me was the attempt of stating rules at the start of both these trips. For instance, before we started the kayaking, we were told by one of the instructors that jumping in the water, fighting, using the paddles as weapons, taking off the lifejackets and much more childish/fun behaviour was not allowed. Now think about who she was talking to; a company of fifty combat soldiers, overjoyed to be finishing a three month period of being in the shetach every week and who also happen to be Israeli (mad enough by itself)! As you can imagine complete chaos ensued; none of the so-called rules were listened to and after approximately two minutes of paddling, an all out war broke out between the different 'mahlakot' (platoons). Soon this turned into a massive unification of everyone against the Aug '10 platoon and we all proceeded to dunk those 'tse'irim' into the water and attack them with the paddles!!!

It's sunday tomorrow and that can only mean one thing, back to the army. This week my platoon is undertaking explosives' training, as part of our speciality as an explosives platoon. From there, we are off to the Lebanon border to start three months of 'kav tsafon'. We'll be doing exits of 17:4, like I did in Gaza, so when I am next back home I will report on the new kav and what the next three months of my army service will entail.

Saturday, 2 July 2011

Back to the Gdud

It has been an eventful week for me; I returned to the gdud after being on course makim for the last four months and am now back in my original company as a 'hapash' (regular soldier). This means that I wasn't given a role as a commander for the time being and I will certainly be touching on this in the blog.

So last Sunday, I went back to my gdud, battalion 101, for the first time since before I left for commanders' course back in March when we were still in Gaza doing kav. It was great to go back, see everyone and catch up on all that's been happening in the last couple of months. Currently, the gdud has just finished a period of training in the shetach of the Golan Heights (much like I did when I joined the gdud after finishing my basic and advanced training a year ago), so when I came back, everyone was quite sick and tired from the previous months of doing exercises in the shetach. After catching up with all my friends, I had a interview with the 'magad' (battalion commander) to find out where I would be going, as did everyone from 101 who had just finished makim. While some got sent to be commanders of basic training back at the tzanchanim base, others are now commanders of more veteran soldiers within the gdud. I was sort of expecting to be given a job in the 'plugat maslool' (soldiers who have just arrived in the gdud) but was disappointed to be told that I wasn't being given anything for the time being and was to return to my original platoon to be a 'hapash'. Before, I get started on this whole decision and what it means, I do want to mention how in the interview with the 'magad', after slashing my dreams of being a commnander, the 'magad' then proceeded to small talk with me about London and football. I think he was genuinely interested by this, but due to feeling rather letdown by him, I somewhat rudely brushed off his questions, saluted him and walked out his office; his secretary seemed most surprised by this act of 'chutzpah'!!!

This picture perfectly captures the current state of my platoon - in need of lots of bandages!!!

So I didn't get a 'tafkid' (role) as a commander and I was bitterly disappointed, to say the least. After all the hard work I had put in during course makim and the great score I had come out with, I still wasn't going to be a commander. Instead, I was back to my platoon and went back to living the life of a 'hapash'; a life of guarding, company duty and listening to orders. There's no point trying to hide how sad and angry I felt on Sunday and it was a very bitter pill to swallow. It was the first time in a long time that I've truly felt sort of hopeless with myself and the immediate thoughts of mine were that I just wanted to get out of the army and out of Israel in general. These were undoubtedly very irrational thoughts and I did eventually realised this, however, the frustration of not getting a tafkid is still very much on my mind. I think for me the problem is that up until now, I have always been lucky/successful in my army service, whether that was getting into tzanchanim, always getting time off whenever my parents have been here or getting into commanders course. However, this time I haven't been so fortunate and I needed to accept the fact that I can't always get what I want. It took a couple of days, but I finally accepted the decision and have slowly returned to my old routine in the army.

I was back merely a day and already in the shetach.

Being a 'hapash' isn't all that bad. There are definitely disadvantages, like the whole guarding and duties, but being a 'hapash' also means a very easy and simple service. No headache of being responsible for other soldiers, no stress of having to sit in meetings with the platoon commander; don't get me wrong these were all things I was happy and prepared to do as part of being a commander, but now that I don't have to, well, it's fun to be lazy too. The best thing about being a 'hapash' again, means I can keep on to all the lone soldier rights that would of been difficult for me to have held onto if I was given a tafkid. The most important of which, I have already put into motion by requesting my annual 30 days of 'meyuhedet' (special holiday back to England) for September. Once this is confirmed I will start to book flights and organise my trip back home, but the craving to go back there on holiday, which I haven't done for nearly a year now, has already begun and has been there for a while. So as much as I was really annoyed about not getting a tafkid, there is always a silver lining to every cloud and going back home for a visit is something that is extremely important to me. It is also worth mentioning that this decision is not permament, in fact, the 'magad' and both my company and platoon commanders said that by November or even before, positions will be opening up and because I am '08' (qualified to be a mefaked) then I am most certainly going to be a commander at some point or another. There are also some other opportunities of commander-style courses or things I can do for the meanwhile, but I won't go into these just yet.

My American friend carrying a mortat on his back!

Like I said, I returned to my platoon once again as a regular soldier and fell into one hell of a week, in fact, the final week of the gdud's 'imun' (training). Even before I had enough time to be officially inducted back into the gdud (as it takes a couple of days to fill out all the forms and sign on all the equipment and gun etc), I was already participating in everything that the company was doing, including the 'bohen pluga', a three kilometre company run with stretchers and full combat gear, on my first morning back! I thought that I needed to time to settle back into things and let the transition from makim to gdud sink in, but no time was given to me and for most of this week I was in the shetach doing battalion-level exercises. Incredibly, by the second day of being back at the gdud, I was leading the whole battalion from the front in one of the exercises due to the fact that I am in the 'hod' (tip of a spearhead battle formation - I know that sounds very intense!) of my platoon, which happened to be ushering the gdud. I may have wanted a quiet relaxed week, where I could re-integrate myself back into the gdud, but I was hardly expecting to be running up and down hills in the Golan Heights all week.

Walking back to base after yet another exercise.

As part of my return to being my 'hapash', I most certainly upkept my reputation as an oketz and happened to get out another(!) 'hamshoosh' to the dismay of the rest of the platoon, who couldn't quite believe their eyes when they saw me on aleph uniform, a mere twenty minutes after we got back from the shetach on thursday morning. Although, I did get out for a genuine reason but it typified the fact that I'm a 'hapash' once again. It was indeed very lucky for me that I got a 'hamshoosh' as this thursday night happened to be 'lila lavan' (white night) in Tel Aviv; a night where everything stays open until early hours of the morning. Most of the entertainment was happening on my street, Rotschild boulevard, and along with the city-organised water fight on Friday as well, I really can see how moving to Tel Aviv has expanded my weekend's enjoyment and the general liveliness of my time away from the army. This past week marked the one year anniversary of my 'masa kumta' (beret march) and it made me think back to the surprise my parents gave me when they turned up, completely unexpectedly to me, at the tekes. It was by far and still the best thing they have ever done for me and due to all the cirumstances, including the masa itself, it was definitely one of the best days of my life.

Tomorrow is the army of course and, since we have finished the 'imun' now, this week is more of a fill-in-the-gap week, whereby we have sports day, a trip and some other stuff to do. I should be home next weekend too, so I shall write another blog about where I'll be in the upcoming months when the gdud moves onto its next assingment, 'kav tsafon' (northern border guarding). For the meanwhile, 'shavua tov' to you all...