It seems that as my release from the army becomes closer and closer, my time in the army is only becoming harder each week. After a very enjoyable two week break from the 'imun' (training), I'm back to being in the 'shetach' every week and back to the harsh winter of the Golan.
My two week break from the 'imun' was made up of a workshop for soon-to-be released soldiers and then a week's holiday, 'regila' that everyone in the battalion received. The workshop was quite interesting and has given me some useful information for post-army life, but mainly it was fun experiencing army like a 'jobnik' as I finished each day around 3 in the afternoon and went home each night! That week led straight into our 'regila', which I decided to spend, without anyone knowing, in London. Partly as revenge for their surprise at my 'tekes kumta' (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=g7lyMNGcUhg), this time I surprised my parents by showing up at my house completely unexpected!!! I had managed to keep my week's visit back home a secret from the majority of my family and friends and was lovely to see everyone again and engross myself in the luxuries of being in London. As you can imagine, turning up out of the blue at my parents' home one evening caused a surprised and shocked reaction to say the least and for at least five minutes they both couldn't physically function! Even though I see them a lot and in fact, only a few weeks before this last visit, each moment kept apart is difficult and going back home was as much for them and my grandparents as it was for me. Since I didn't take off any time from the army and simply spent my 'regila' in England rathern than in Israel, I was therefore only home for a week. This was kind of strange for me as the previous two times that I've been home since making 'aliyah' have been full month visits, as part of special holidays reserved for lone soldiers. In this visit I didn't have a long list of things-to-do as I previously had, instead I saw my close family and friends, went to my favorite restaurants and drove around in my mum's car. Sometimes a short visit, which was a complete bonus, can be more satisfactory than the month I normally had spent back home. I had a wonderful, albeit it a freezing, week back in London.
Stepping onto a plane a mere ten days after the 'tarhat' did give me the crazy thought that "the last time I flew in an aeroplane, I jumped out of it"! When the flight attendants then started to give the safety procedures, I did feel somewhat more equipped and experienced than them at exiting a plane. Fortunately, this time I chose to stay in my seat for the duration of the whole flight! Every time I go back to London, I always seem to get a massive rush of Zionism and become so much more passionate about Israel that what I'm like here on a day-to-day basis. This is most likely due to the fact that it's hard to keep up the focus and ideology all the time, especially when times can be rough but generally when one needs to just get on with his life. Also, in London I am reminded, not only why I moved to Israel but also why I left England; gazing at the nature of the demographics upon my arrival at the airport always has this effect on me. Mainly, however, I think it is because when in London, I start to miss Israel and being part of the Zionist dream. I, thus, found myself expressively exhorting my beliefs when talking to family and friends of my latest adventures or of my experience in general. In fact, even in the short amount of time that I was back home, on several occasions, I almost resembled a preacher when talking about Israel and the army. It's not that I feel the need to convince myself or others of my decision to move to Israel. Rather, when back home, I appear to have this drive and passion when talking of things back at my real home, Israel. Apart from visiting loved ones, taking a trip back to London also seems to give me reassurance every time of why I'm here and what I'm doing. More importantly however, when I'm in England, Tottenham never seem to lose and this is perpetually one of the more scarier reasons to return to Israel!!!
With my service coming to an end and my happy life in Tel Aviv a fixed formality now, I'll never feel depressed about coming back like I did after that first summer. Yet, I still felt the sadness of separating from my parents and the "can't be bothered" attitude of returning to independent life, after being pampered and cared for by my mummy for a week. All in all though, I felt fine leaving London and coming back here. Nevertheless, going back to the army after a weekend, let alone a 'regila', is always a struggle and the thought of 'imun horef' (winter training) is hardly enticing and it doesn't matter whether you've got two months or two years left of the army. I don't think I can express enough how dire this last period of my service is and will continue to be until I am released. The deadly combination of what we're doing and where we are means every single soldier is more or less miserable on a daily basis. I don't think there are many things possible within the spectrum of the army that are harder than doing winter training of tzanchanim in the godforsaken base that we are on during the winter in the Golan. Even when we are not in the 'shetach' we are given no recreation; what with the torrential wind and rain attacking our flimsy tents. More than the general conditions and physical hardships of the training (which I am able to deal with for a little bit longer), it's the fact that I am somewhat bored of the army that makes me more than ready for my release. There were times where I have been excited to be on base and intrigued to learn new skills; whether that be during basic training, commanders' course or as my time as a 'mefaked'. But now, I feel that I have already completed time and time again what we're doing and the thought of doing another 'kav' or another 'imun' is very unappealing. So it probably works out well then, that these couple of months are, in fact, my last stretch of the army and, with this in my mind, I am still trying to enjoy and relish in my last few weeks as a soldier.
The week just past consisted of company-wide exercises in the 'shetach', which is commonly known as 'shavua milhama' (war week). By finishing 'shavua milhama', I've now completed two thirds of the really tough weeks within the training period; having done the 'tarhat', in addition to this week with only the 'targad' to go, which is going to be the hardest of them all!!! This week was no picnic to say the least and my, now permanent, role as 'rats mem mem' (platoon commanders' runner) always gives an added slice of work load to the already hard enough week that it was. It's hard to keep saying in the blog that it was a really hard week because most weeks in the 'shetach' are indeed difficult due to a combination of all the physical aspects, like walking long distances and carrying heavy weights, in addition to the lack of sleep and food. However, as I've said on a few occasions now, the introduction of the weather as a component increases the harship of a week in the 'shetach' twofold. For 'shavua milhama', we were greeted with dangerously low temperatures, gale force winds and some torrential rain (of which I will delve into later on). This past week will have to go down as one of the hardest weeks I've ever faced. Lasting for four days and for over 60km, we were taken to our limits as our company "toured" the Golan Heights in the freezing cold, performing a range of combat exercises. The terrain was unplesant, for long periods of time we walked through swamps and any wrong step could be a potential disaster. Several moments stand out in particular from this week and one of them has to be the evacuation exercise of wounded soldiers using helicopters. Following a regular company combat attack, a few soldiers were "wounded" and, thus, the medics within the company treated them, which is a regular drill in the army. I was declared "wounded", had my vein opened up and a drip attached (for real!!!) and was then taken to the landing strip where helicopters were to pick us up. After a quick five minute flight, the helicopter dropped us down and I took out the drip in preparation for the return flight. However, two helicopters arrived to take us back and I found myself with four other regular soldiers as we entered the helicopter. Since I ran in first, the pilot assumed I was in command of the soldiers and, thus, placed in me in a seat adjacent to his (as opposed to sitting on the floor) and handed me a headset. Suddenly, I had a role within the helicopter and was being told what to do by the two pilots!!! Definitely an experience to remember, but was only one of the few more positive highlights, which, overall was a miserable and extremely challenging week. It was a tough week but mainly due to the weather; the combat exercises, weight of my bag and lengths of the walks were nothing too extraordinary, until it came to the final night of the week, this Wednesday night just past, a night that no one in my companay will ever forget.
When going through some of these experiences in the army, I sometimes think to myself "how can now explain and properly describe this in the blog?" as I aim to show you, as best as I can, what goes on every week. Last Wednesday night was one of those times, it simply was one of the hardest, if not, the hardest night psychologically that I've ever faced in the army. As we prepared for our 16km 'nsiga' (retreat) back to our base from the hills of the Golan Heights, we were fairly happy to get it over with already and finish the hard week of 'shetach' and we started to take off fleeces and warm clothes, in preparation for exerting walk that was to come. No longer than three minutes after we started walking, BOOM, torrential rain and howling winds (and I think I even felt some hail!) seemed to attack us and within a quarter of an hour, every single person was soaked to the skin. Soon, heavy fog began to fall upon area and we simply stood around for a while shivering, as the commanders tried to navigate where we were. At first, we all laughed as it simply couldn't get worse than it was, it was literally like a scene from a movie (the best I can think of is Forrest Gump) where, comically, as soon as we had started to walk, it started to pour with rain. With the the danger of someone getting hypothermia or, due to the fog, someone injuring themselves, we were all fairly sure that the 'nsiga' would be cancelled and we would have a coach waiting for us when made our way to the side of a road. After an hour of walking, we slowly began to realise the horrible truth; nothing was being cancelled, we were going to have to finish the 'nsiga'. Psychologically, that was extremely difficult to take, to know that you've got 16km of unbearable trudging through mountains of mud, while you're completely soaked to the skin. That night just didn't seem to end and I am failing to truly give you the essence of how hard it was. Seven hours through the night, imagine suffering constantly for seven hours. Each 10m was like a personal battle to try and finish, yet why was it so unbelievably hard. Firstly, one needs to remember that we were on the back of three ruthless days in the 'shetach' and now we had this almighty finale that we were convinced wasn't going to happen. The paths we walked on were tank trails and full of mud, so on each step my weary boots collected mud, making the simple action of putting one foot in front of the other a labouring stretch. My bag was now twice as heavy because of the rain and, in general, every person felt terrible as we were completely drenched, trust me, there is nothing fun in walking for seven hours when not one part of your entire body is dry. That's the best I can do in terms of a harrowing description, but the reality was a whole lot worse. It simply did not end and I am still in disbelief that we made it back to base with everyone in one piece. To end this little story I am handing over to my 'mem pey' (company commnader), who gave a post-week speech as we entered the base in the early hours of Thursday morning... "I am ten years in the army, I've done a lot of 'shetach' and a lot of walking. I've been through the Second Lebanon war and Cast Lead, but that was probably the hardest night of my service". I kid you not, he said that. What an unforgettable night, yet it's just one more of these crazy experiences that I can say to have finished.
As a reward for the week, we got out 'hamshoosh' (Thursday weekend, if anyone has forgotten!), so it's been a relaxing three day recovery. The 'imun' continues next week, but it's the 'targad' in two weeks that everyone is dreading. On paper, it's supposed to be the hardest of them all and after what we've been through so far, one can understand our anxiety over the 'targad' and I hope to aptly recount whatever happens in the next blog. I've barely mentioned it in this blog, but the end is almost in touching distance now and the countdown has begun, as of today 32 days to go. Scary...