Today was my last official day as a soldier. That's a sentance that I thought I would never say and, frankly, one I never really wanted to say due to my fantastic two and a half years in the army. Of course, there were hard and frustrating times and my positive outlook that I normally show on the blog may not have been a totally accurate reflection of how I felt at times, yet it really has been a wonderful period and to think that I'm now done with it all brings up a whole mix of emotions.
As much as I have revelled in being a soldier, there are certain things that I certainly won't miss and it's a very long list. Living in Israel and being in the army especially, means I had no choice but to embrace the crazy mentality that Israelis possess and as a soldier I even developed some "Israeliness" into my own personality. Yet, in the army there is one thing I will definitely not miss about Israelis and that is there constant need to take, sometimes without asking, other people's stuff. This is a common complaint I hear from lone soldiers, who are not used to the notion of another soldier going through your bag without asking, finding that bar of chocolate and eating it while you are on border patrol. There is an essence of sharing within the brotherhood of being in a 'mahlaka', however, I'm happy about not being asked anymore every five minutes for a spray of my deodorant or a bit of shampoo or a sip of drink or to use my flip flops or my towel or for a lick of my ice cream!!! The list of things that I am grateful not to be doing anymore could really go on forever; whether it's packing a bag for three weeks on a saturday night knowing I'm back to the army early the next morning or being woken up in the middle of the night for the second time to do guard duty because once wasn't enough. From eating a tuna sandwich as part of 'manot krav' (combat rations) for the sixth day in a row to adjusting my helmet every five minutes since it just doesn't sit right to carrying the stretcher for half an hour without a break because no one else is prepared to switch me, the list goes on and on.
On the other hand, there are those things that I will sorely miss about not being in the army anymore. Many of these are feelings of pride and achievement, none more so than finishing a hard exercise in the 'shetach' or my personal favourite, walking home (always a great feeling whatever happens) with uniform and gun on show and noticing the impressive looks of those I walk past. Being part of the 'mahlaka' and the genreal banter and jokes that come with it is also something that I'll yearn for even after I've been released. When explaining this to friends back home, I normally say how it's like being in a sports team; a lot of guys living, training, showering, sleeping and joking around together. The only difference is that we are doing all this within the spectrum of the army, with deadly weapons in our hands and, mainly, in dangerous and operational situations. I think though I will generally just miss being a soldier, or at least saying that I am in 'tzanchanim' and the ideological feeelings that come with it. Being in the army has given me a sense of purpose, as well as a clear routine, and getting released is a scary development. Going from a strictly structured lifestyle to the complete opposite is normally what soldiers embrace upon their release, but I am slightly more apprehensive about it. As much as I'll miss the organized routine though, finally deciding for myself when to eat, sleep and what to wear is an interesting new addition!!!
I tried throughout this blog to explain, as best as I could within the appropriate timeframe and space, my account in the army as a combat and lone soldier and everything that it entailed. However, the whole experience is such a massive ordeal with so many complexities and side stories that you, the readers, only saw a glimpse of what it is like to be a 'lohem' (fighter), let alone a soldier in the IDF. I could literally go on for days and write for pages on end about the smallest of subjects, like 'vatikut' (the culture of veteranship within a combat company), which I barely went into on the blog, hardly touching in its history, rules and customs. I could lecture for hours on the intricacies of 'tofes tiyulim' (exiting form, don't ask!) and my personal experiences of it. There are things that were pointless even explaining because there simply wasn't enough time to write it all down; from 'wassach' (army bling) and 'ptichat einayim' (jealousy), to hatred of the 'maflag' (logistical platoon within the company) and 'mem tzadikim' (military police). These are all matters that are all too familiar to soldiers but to those on the outside it's hard to understand and I apologise that I can't explain each and every part of this army experience. Sometimes only those who have been a combat soldier can truly know why hearing 'thilat tnua' (starting movement) can be so disponding or knowing why putting a helmet under you back in the 'shetach' makes sitting down so much more comfortable. I tried to make this blog a universal read for those who are thousands of miles away from the IDF but parts of it are impossible to describe.
Our gowns proudly hanging in our rooms in the West Bank, one of the many luxuries of being a veteran!
Anyone who has read this blog will know that I've always been completely honest about everything I've done and totally open with all my thoughts. Yet there have been some events that I have not shared on this blog and even though I may mention them now, I still will never be willing to go into detail of what exactly happened. When thinking of particularly scary moments within my service, a few specific incidents come to mind, which affected me in different ways and which I've never really talked about on the blog. At one point during my time on the 'Bach', I almost lost an extremely important piece of equipment that could have led to some very serious repurcussions for me. Another moment, from a recent week in the 'shetaach', I found myself alone at night and started to panic about my survival due to the horrendous conditions. The other two times, which easily stand out for me as the points where I genuinely worried for myself (I don't want to say "feared for my life", as I don't know what would've been the ultimate outcome and I don't want to unneccessarily dramatise) came from times when I was in operational deployment. A foggy morning on the border with Gaza and a pitch black night on the Lebanon border are the respective backgrounds for two memories that will ultimately stay with me for a very long time.
Today I found myself at the 'Bakkum', a central base in Tel Aviv, where I proceeded to be released from the army. The 'Bakkum' will always have special significance for a soldier as it is the base where one first drafts and receives their uniform and is also the place where one returns his uniform after three years and is released from his compulsory service. Apart from this obvious 'sgirat ma'agal' (closing of the circle), as they say, the 'Bakkum' also has a specific implication for me personally, as it was there that I first did the 'gibush' for 'tzanchanim' and where I received my soldiers in my first ever role as a commander. After giving back both my uniform and 'hoger' (army ID card), I was presented with my very flattering release certificate, which I can use afterwads to reference my army service. Coincidentally, a 'tzanchanim gibush' was taking place today at the 'Bakkum' today and seeing all those 17 year olds desparately trying out to get into the paratroopers, moments after I had just finished my time as a 'tzanchan', was a nice touch too. I passed on advice to the would-be paratroopers and joked around with the commanders, some of whom had been soldiers of mine in 'achana l'makim' (preparation for commanders' course). The whole day was a slight anti-climax, as I pretty much went in as a soldier, attended to the bureaucracy and came out fifteen minutes later as a citizen, without any sort of ceremonial celebration. Today was more about the confirmation of finally finishing two and a half wonderful years in the army and moving on to the next step.
As of today, I have been assigned to a 'miluim' (reservists) battalion, 'gdud' 7063, to be precise, which is a reservist unit specific to 'tzanchanim'. From the moment I was released, 11am this morning, I became a citizen subject to all the laws of the state, as opposed to the army, whether it's regarding health, crime or social security. Time has both been slow and fast, but incredibly, I'm now done with the army. As I repeat a million times, I've had the best service and will now wrap up everything in one final blog...