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.
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 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'.
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...