Friday, 28 October 2011

Staff Sgt. Sank

Once again I have found myself at the 'Bach Tzanchanim' (training base for paratroopers), this time as part of a new temporary job as a commander. While the rest of my company starts a new 'kav' in the West Bank, I have been living it up for the past couple of weeks.

The moment we were all waiting for...

First things first, however. Thankfully, our prayers were answered last tuesday, when Gilad Shalit was released from captivity after five years and four months. I doubt there is one person reading this that did not know of his release or watch the events of last week unfold. For me personally, it was a joyous and highly emotional day. On the day itself, I left the Bach in the morning, in order to go home for the second part of Sukkot and the weekend that followed. That morning, along with the other commanders who I'm with in this current 'tafkid' (job), we arrived at the central bus station in Tel Aviv, in order to go home. We were all very agitated to get home and sit in front of the TV to see everything that was going on. As we walked over to the platform we needed, there was a big crowd blocking our way. Those who are not familiar with the bus station of south Tel Aviv, should understand that a huddled crowd in that area is commonplace and normally means some sort of incident involving misbehaving drunkards and the resulting containment by the police. Thus, I assumed it was another of those mishaps, but as I walked past, I realized that everyone was crowded round this tiny television inside a cafe that was showing the news. It was still quite early in the morning, so it was a long time before Gilad arrived in Israel, yet tens of people were fixated to the screen, in order to get an update on the situation. It reiterated to me the importance of last week's events to every single person in this country. I spent the rest of the day glued to the TV at home and I am not ashamed to say that when I saw the footage of him saluting the prime minister while exiting the helicopter in full uniform, I had genuine tears in my eyes. Without entering the debate about his release and the prisoners we sent back, seeing him back home in Israel is truly ground-breaking, in terms of what this country does for each and every one of its citizens. I could literally write a whole blog on how much this means and it was undoubtedly, one of the most momentous days in Israel's history and is fantastic to see him home.

The soldier returns home and is received by the Chief of Staff.

After such a deep and touching subject, it's hard to move on to talk about the rest of my week but, just like Gilad needs to try to move on and live a normal life, so will the contents of this blog. A few days after my return from London marked my two year anniversary of being in the army. This means a couple of things; primarily, that I have only got six more months left of service. Finishing four fifths of my total time as a soldier is astounding and now (but not during the past two years) it seems to have flown by! Now that I am two years into the army, in the addition to the fact I am qualified '08' (commander), I therefore move up a rank from sergeant to staff sergeant, with the official translation of the rank 'samal rishon' being "sergeant first class"!!! Now I have the 'samal rishon' rank sewed on my 'madey aleph' (dress uniform), as well as on one pair of my 'madey bet' (work uniform), while I am in this current 'tafkid', of which I will explain momentarily. Being a 'samal rishon' gives you a lot of respect within the army as it shows you are no longer a youngster. This is seen especially when traveling to and from the army, where I have seen young soldiers subtly glancing at the ranks on my uniform; most probably thinking how far they are away from those sacred patches!!!

Me and my new ranks; a 'falafel' in the centre of three lines.

So now to this new 'tafkid' that I keep mentioning. As of last week, I am currently a 'mefaked' in 'achana l'makim', which means that I'm a commander in the preparation for commanders' course within the paratroopers. In a sense, I am being a 'mefaked' for the would-be commanders from the paratrooper brigade, by preparing them for 'makim' (commanders' course), which they start in a few weeks. Every person who goes to commanders' course from the paratroopers (like I did a little over six months ago -, goes through this three week preparation before they start the real course. This 'tafkid' is not the most exciting in the world, as I am more or less just babysitting the soldiers; taking them to the dining room, keeping them quiet in lessons and telling them what time to go to bed. Yet, it is a 'tafkid' nonetheless and it's another exciting experience for me at being a 'mefaked'. Like I said, I am mainly with the soldiers to keep an eye on them, but I still hold some authority over them and have the responsibility to care for all their needs over the next couple of weeks. I am a lot older (in army age) than all of my soldiers, of which I have 13 guys from 101, so they are both intimidated by me and interested to hear of my experiences in the army of 'kav' and of 'makim'. These feelings of both respect and fear that they have towards me, allows me to be more of a commander than the 'tafkid' needs me to be!

My soldiers in the shooting range last week.

Being back at the 'Bach' again as a 'mefaked' is so much fun. As a soldier in basic training on the 'Bach', I was always taking orders, running to be on time and had little freedom whatsoever. Now it is the complete opposite; being an experienced 'lohem' (fighter) with ranks on my uniform means I can go almost anywhere I want on the base. The best thing, however, about being back on the 'Bach' is seeing my old soldiers when I was a 'mefaked' a couple of months ago during pre-basic training ( Although I only had those soldiers for a fortnight, I definitely made a lasting impression on them and, of course, one always remembers their first ever commander. So walking through the 'Bach' means every so often, a former soldier of mine shouts "Mefaked Sam" and runs up to me to say hello. Or, in some cases, the soldiers are with their current basic training commander and are still very much at distance. Thus, when they see me, I can see that they've recognized me by the look on their face, but are unable to come over to me because they are walking in line or something like that! They are almost all "grown up" having nearly finished basic training and it nice to think that it was me who had the first impact on their service as a soldier.

I have a couple more weeks left of this current 'tafkid', after which I will return to my company, which has just started a new 'kav' in the West Bank. The week I go back to my company also marks my platoon becoming veterans, a very significant and beneficial event, of which I will explain in the next blog.

There is only one way to end this week's blog...

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