Sunday, 25 March 2012

Last Day as a Soldier - The Last Blog (part 2 of 3)

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.

Only at the end of a 'masa', did everyone suddenly help with lifting the stretcher!!!

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!!!

With my 'mahlaka' before a stake-out on the Lebanon border. Good times...

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.

A hard day's work in Hebron...

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...

Tuesday, 20 March 2012

Looking Back - The Last Blog (part 1 of 3)

Thirty months is the time I was issued to serve to the Israeli Defence Forces as a new immigrant to the country and I am now enjoying the last few days of those thirty long but incredible months. With my official release date only a week away, I thought I would take this, one of the last blogs that I'll write, to look back at my wonderful two and a half years as a soldier in the army. Here it goes...

I've been preparing these last three blogs for a couple of weeks now and to review my entire service caused me to think back on two and a half years of unforgettable experiences, which came up with some remarkable statistics for me to share. As a soldier, I completed the years' worth of training to be a certified 'lohem' (combat fighter level '07'), as well as additional qualifications such as a spearhead sharpshooter, GPS navigator and camoflauge expert. I served a substantial amount of time on three different 'kavs' (deployments); Gaza, Lebanon and the West Bank, and performed important and directly contributive steps in ensuring the prevention of terror and safeguarding of Israel's citizens through border patrols, guard duties and stake-outs. Two 'imun' (training) periods have passed during my service; both of which took place in the Golan Heights, one in the summer and one in winter, the latter of which, only now the nightmares are slowly wearing off. I parachuted a total of six times (!), three times in the day and three at night, two of which were operational jumps, including the more recent 'tarhat' jump where the whole brigade jumped together for the first time in 15 years. I have done countless amounts of class, platoon and company combat exercises in the 'shetach' (field); running up a hill and "killing terrorists" is almost like second nature to me now. Also have been part of tens of the never-ending battalion and brigade combat exercises, as well as being an "enemy" during an almighty regiment exercise. I have completed extensive combat training a number of times; from guerilla warfare in the north to urban combat in the south. At certain times I have spearheaded the whole 'gdud' (battalion) as its sharpshooter, which is effectively one of a pair of soldiers who lead a battalion of over 450 'lohemim'. On top of all this, I have partaken and finished two 'gibushim' (entrance trials for specific units), initially to get into 'tzanchanim' and then also for its elite units.

Way back in the day with my class from basic training. Here we are before our first ever 'masa'.

Looking back at the extreme physical and mental challenges I've personally faced, I am able to break it down to two terrifying lists (in order of difficulty):

Hardest weeks:-
1) 'Sada'ut' - first ever week of 'shetach', memorable for the heavy bag and horrible weather.
2) 'Targad kayits' - battalion war week from the summer of last year.
3) 'Kita mitkadem' - advanced class training, simply never stopped walking.
4) 'Shavua milhama horef' - the recent company war week of winter training.
5) 'Shavua milhama' - company war week from the 'Bach', which lasted eight days.

Hardest acts:-
1) Ascent of Mount Hermon - the last act of 'targad kayits', a 12 hour ordeal that I fnished by carrying the MAG, a machine gun normally reserved for giants.
2) 'Tsnicha tarhat' - the battalion jump, walking from where I landed to the company meeting point; a 1km sand dune nightmare where I was carrying at least 100% body weight due to the parachute.
3) 'Matsav kriya' - staying in the kneeled shooting position for over an hour, pure agony.
4) 'Nsiga shavua milhama' - the final act of this recent company war week where we walked 17km back to base in extremely bad weather.
5) 'Har sansan' - the two and a half hour uphill pathway in the middle of the 78km 'masa kumta'.

Yet, all these bone-chilling moments and memories are all nothing compared to last month's 'targad', which I explained in the previous blog. I would even go as far as saying that I would do each and every single one of these things I have listed here, in order not to go through with 'targad horef,' and all the insufferable days that came with it. 'Targad horef', undoubtedly the hardest week I've endured in my whole life.

Smiling before 'sada'ut', yet the smiles soon wore off in what was to be my hardest week of basic training.

As a 'hapash' (simple soldier), I did so much guard duty that if I added up all those hours it would surely total up to a number of months worth of guarding. It's beyond contemplation as to the amount of times I was in a guard post and sometimes I think to myself how at all points; from a friday night during Shabbat dinner to 4 o'clock in the morning, there are literally hundreds if not thousands of soldiers manning the guard towers all over the country, and how I have served my share of those guard shifts. In addition to all the relentless, never-ending and mindblowingly boring guard duties I have done during my service, I am also not so proud to claim that I must have washed thousands of dishes, cleaned hundreds of toilets and scrubbed down tens of walls as part of 'toranot' (duties) that I performed as a 'hapash' before we became veterans. Unfortunately aside from training in the 'shetach', guarding and 'toranot,' a 'hapash' cannot show much else for himself, yet due to the most pivotal point of my whole army service, being a commander gives me something more to show from my two and a half years. From 'makim' (commanders' course), I managed to diverse myself with soldiers from all the combat units in the army and upon finishing the course, I received a good grade of 87. After three roles as a 'mefaked' on the 'tzanchanim Bach' (paratroopers' basic training base), I served as a commander to a total of 119 soldiers, to whom I hope to have made an impact on in some way. To many of those 'tzanchanim', I was their first ever 'mefaked' and those early days of discipline and learning about the army always have a high impact for the rest of one's service. I, myself, had both good and bad commanders and was under the command of those who may go on to lead the army in years to come. Throughout my whole time in the army, I've encountered many people, both combat and non-combat soldiers, from every single demographic and ethnicity, from each city and kibbutz in Israel and in lone soldiers, from countries all around the world. The army is not only a lifetime experience but a diverese way of networking Jews from Israel and all over the world.

With my guys from 'makim' at the closing ceremony, one of the best periods of my whole service.

My amount of 'oketzing' throughout my service has been none other than impressive (!), complying of a record-breaking number of 'hamshushim' (Thursday weekends) from the 'Bach', endless amount of lone soldier holidays and generally "being in the right place at the right time", which has let to me to close a number of Shabbats that a 'jobnik' (non-combat soldier) would be proud of. Yet, despite all this, my attendance record in the 'shetach' and in important exercises is none other than exemplary. This is down to the fact that in all my two and a half years as a soldier, I've yet to receive an hour, yet alone a day, of 'betim' (sick day on base), 'gimmelim' (sick day at home) or an 'haphnaya' (doctor's appointment). Partly due to luck that I've been a combat soldier for a long time and haven't ever been injured or ill, but also because, unlike a lot of other Israeli 'kravi' soldiers, I was always determined not to miss anything and carried on with the show even if I was under any sort of pain. In addition to this achievement, I never started smoking whilst in the smoke-galore bubble that is the army (!), as well as never being punished by staying on base for a number of hours whilst everyone goes home or even by closing a Shabbat as punishment. That's not saying that I never did anything that I wasn't supposed to be doing (although in the scheme of things I was rather 'tsahov' - yellow, followed the rules), I just was clever enough not to ever get caught!!!

I thought I would share all these memories and statistics as part of my nostalgic looking back on my service. What a fantastic time I have had in the army, yet whenever someone asks me what my best moment was, one moment stands above everything else. My parents suprising me at Ammunition Hill in Jerusalem for my 'tekes kumta' (beret ceremony), after I'd finished the 78km 'masa' will forever remain the highlight of my service...

Monday, 12 March 2012

Utterly Broken

How do I begin to explain a week that has totally eclipsed every single thing I have ever done in the army in terms of physical, mental and emotional challenges. That is what I asked myself when thinking of how to write this blog as I finished the 'targad' a little over two weeks ago now. It's going to be a long one...

'Targad' is war week for the whole battalion and is generally considered the hardest week possible in the 'shetach'. I've only done one previous 'targad', in August 2010, but I considered that my toughest week in the army, most notably for the final act where the whole 'gdud' (battalion) reached the summit of Mount Hermon after a twelve hour ascent. The 'targad' has this monstrous reputation about it and because of this almost everyone had been dreading it since the start of the 'imun' (training) period. There were even a handful of soldiers who were so adamant about not participating in the 'targad' that they managed to take out 'gimmelim' (army sick days) the weekend before we started. Whether people were genuinely injured, pretending to be medically unfit or just managed to get out of it someway or another, the 'targad' scared off about a quarter of my company alone before we had even started. Seeing as it was my last ever week of 'shetach' and due to my general enthusiasm for the army and the experiences that come with it, I was happy to be partaking in it. However, a couple of hours into the 'targad' and my eagerness had completely evaporated.

First of all it's important to note that my 'pluga' (company), the 'mivtsayit', is defined as an attacking company in times of battle, as opposed to a company whose main purpose is to provide cover fire. What does this mean for us, the actual soldiers of 'mivtsayit'? It means that we never stop moving in the 'shetach'; walking long distances or running in the actual exercises, yes, but transported by veichles and static during the combat exercises, no. So for us the soldiers the 'targad' is the week where we are never off our feet and are constantly getting "raped by the high command" as the common phrase goes!!! The outset of the 'targad' did not seem like anything too demanding or anything we hadn't done before; long distances to walk, fairly heavy bags on our backs, little sleep, combat rations no more than twice a day and long battalion-level combat exercises. Yet, as it has been with most of this 'imun', the weather played a mammoth factor and had a major role in making this week one that will be impossible to forget for a lot of soldiers in 'gdud' 101.

Those who keep up to date with Israeli news (and my blog to be frank) will know that it's been a very wet winter not only in the Golan but the whole country, which is of course a fantastic thing, except for us paratroopers who spent the whole winter doing training in the 'shetach' up North! Coincidentally, the other two battalions of tzanchanim, 202 and 890, also had their 'targad' in the weeks before and after ours respectively. Fortuitously though, for both of them, 'targad' was completed on the backdrop of a sunny and dry weeks, for 101, though, this was not the case. When I say that, for the time we were in the 'shetach' it did not stop raining, I am not exaggerating or trying to make the blog sound more exciting, no, it chucked it down continuously for five days, with the addition of some snow and hail at points as well!!! I think I've explained enough on the blog already how critical the weather is in the 'shetach' and constant rain is more or less the worse thing that could of happened during the 'targad'. Not only is one completely soaked through to the skin, depsite the supposedly "waterproof" attire, there is also the wet bag being doubly as heavy and all the mud, those mountains of mud, it still gives me nightmares even now. I lost track of how many times I fell in the mud or in puddles of water and the weather caused every path that we went along to be almost impossible to walk across, every step used up a considerable amount of energy when trying to lift one's leg out of the thick mud. The whole week was pure hell; walking in the rain, sleeping in it, my feet were never dry and I was dangerously close to getting "cold burns", which a few people did get. Physically, there have obviously been harder things I've faced but my body struggled to deal with the conditions and it was the fact that I felt so crappy the whole time because I was cold and wet, in addition to being tired, hungry and physically exhausted, that made this 'targad' so hard.

I can't remember too many times during my army service that I have felt "broken" mentally, much like when a runner hits "the wall" during a marathon, yet on the thursday of the 'targad' I had reached this point. After four days of failing to be dry, warm or rested, I was so fed up of it that I really was ready to give up and quit. I'm not ashamed to say that at one point I even shed some tears; simply having reached the end of my tolerance and the edge of my emotional threshold. Needless to say, I was, by no means, the only one who cried during the 'targad' with many pleading for mercy and for the end of what was a truly horrific week of 'shetach'. It's annoying that as I write this now, I ask myself "was it really that hard? am I not just over exaggerating here a little?" but the answer is that it really was that hard and if I could only precisely recapture how I felt two weeks ago now, then this blog's description maybe even more harrowing. The end did finally come and, in the early hours of friday morning, during the last 'nsiga' (retreat) I consumned all the chocolate I had left, used up any dry clothes, like a spare pair of gloves, and squeezed out every last ounce of energy left in my body. We were all relieved to have finished, many were in disbelief, yet, the skepticism of concluding the 'targad' soon turned out to be a dreadful reality...

Like I said, mentally this 'targad' was insanely difficult but one thing that always keeps you going is the vision of the end, which was commonly known to be friday lunchtime by the very latest. Yet, in a horrible new development to everyone in 101, including the 'magad' (battalion commander) himself, this promise was soon to be broken via the 'mahat' (brigade commander) and his seemingly undeterred desire to see us suffering in the 'shetach'. Slowly the news was filtered round that we were to be staying in the 'shetach' for shabbat and that the 'targad' was to continue until sunday. The majority of people were already psychologically "broken" as a result of the week's event but the disclosure of the 'targad's extension sent some people over the edge. There was talk of a potential rebellion from one of the platoons, but mainly people were in utter disbelief of the situation and started to contemplate how on earth they would continue for another two days. Shabbat in the 'shetach' turned out to be one of the more pleasant moments of the week and as we kept warm by sleeping in abandoned buildings and tried to keep the morale up by re-living funny moments from the week (which mainly consisted of my platoon's light-machine gunner constantly falling in puddles!), I couldn't help thinking that it was a fitting final shabbat for me in the army.

The 'targad' did end on the sunday and in the closing ceremony the 'mahat' said that those who finished (only 7 from my platoon's 11 have that honour) can be considered "outstanding and beyond regular soldiers". He also noted how it was the hardest battalion war week in the history of the IDF, due to its length, conditions and the unexpected extra two days. Today it feels good to be a part of that but I am not sure if the week of pure suffering was worth it because that is exactly what it was, seven days of pure suffering. I can say this though, if I can go through something like that then I can do almost anything and by succesfully finishing it, 101 has definitely shown itself to be an extremely strong battalion. Above all though, the 'targad' once again showed to me how ready our army is, if there ever is to be a war, and this is down to the weeks like the one we just faced, where soldiers overcame all types of physical and mental obstacles and still came out standing strong on the other side. As the 'Hatikva' played at the closing ceremony, I found myself once again with tears in my eyes but this time for totally different reasons. Fittingly, the 'targad' was pretty much my last full week as a solider and as I stood at the closing ceremony in the pouring rain, wearing my still muddy uniform, heavy vest and now drenched beret, I felt a wave of zionism come over me. I thought of everything I had been through in my 'aliyah' journey; from standing with an Israeli flag around my neck at Auschwitz to signing the combat release forms for an only child with my parents at the Israeli embassy in London and from swearing in to the army at the Kotel to addressing my soldiers in my heavy accented Hebrew for the first time. All those times had led me to that moment at the end of the 'targad', where I truly felt that I'd reached the end to my army service, not in terms of time elapsed, but in achievement and accomplishment.

It was an unforgettable week and appropriately my last one in the army. I have tried to put it across as well as I tried to in my mind and, even though only those in 101 who were there will truly know what it was like, hopefully this blog has captured even a tiny bit of it. I still shudder when thinking of those long nights during the 'targad', but now I am back to my 'chafshash' holiday and will write those few, final blogs as the release date gets closer.

Thursday, 8 March 2012

"Ad Matay?"

Another three weeks of 'imun' (training) have passed since the last blog and some very significant events have come about within that period. Firstly, the dreaded 'targad' is now just a memory, albeit a terrifyingly vivid one and due to the fact that I'm sitting here writing the blog, I somehow survived it. Yet, I will go into the details of the 'targad' in the next blog, as its ferocity deserves a post in itself.

The past month and a half in the army has very much been a transitional month, as Marchs, Augusts and Novembers usually are within the combat world of the army. Primarily, a new 'mahzor' (draft), Match '12, enlisted, of which I have nothing to do with, apart from the fact that every new 'mahzor' pushes my one, Nov '09, closer to the finish line. Maybe if I still had more time left in the army then I could have been a 'mefaked' during the 'trom tironut' period for the March '12 draft, just as I have been for the previous two drafts! This month of transition also means a lot of people are released from the army, like the March '09 'mahzor', as well as soldiers moving around, getting new jobs or just leaving the army in general. One of these to be released from the army was my 'mem mem' (platoon commander), Asaf, who was my officer over the last six months. Asaf was the first 'mem mem' who has felt like a friend more than a commander to me and over the past six months I got on really well with him, partly due to our similar interests and sense of humour. We had a good relationship and it showed through the fact he appointed me his 'rats' (runner); meaning I was always close to him in the 'shetach'. His departure meant a new 'mem mem' came in and although I was with him only for a couple of weeks, he also had me as his 'rats' in the short time that I had left in the army. The new 'mem mem' is also a great guy and I'm disappointed that I wasn't able to have him for a longer period of time.

While the youngsters are manually grounding the coffee for us, the veterans, I am on my knees shouting "ad matay?" (until when?), a phrase only those at the end of their service are allowed to say. Combat army culture at its best!

One of the acts of 'shetach' from the past month was the 'bohen pluga' (company examination), which only lasted one night but was memorable for being the coldest night I've ever experienced. The actualy examination was just something that the commanders of the paratroopers do for each company within the brigade and it's simply a test of the company's capability in the 'shetach'. So, expecting a not too strenuous night of some walking, a combat exercise and some target shooting, we left for the 'shetach' in relatively good moods. This quickly changed once we arrived at our destination in the northern part of the Golan, where high altitude and powerful winds plummeted the temperature. Normally when walking with full combat gear on, it's strongly advised not to wear anything apart from your uniform; in fear of getting heatstroke due to the sweat caused by the physical workout. During the 'imun horef', most, including myself, have been wearing a breathable shirt or even a thermal below the uniform simply because of the weather and that had been a good balance. However, the night of the 'bohen pluga' every single soldier was wearing at least one thermal below the unifrom and a fleece (!) on top, which is an almighty thick piece of clothing that one wears during guard duty, when on base or any other static state. Doing exercise i.e. walking around in full combat attire, with a fleece on is almost tempting death but during the 'bohen pluga' it was a neccesity and with eveything I had on I was still completely freezing throughout the whole night. It was said that tempereatures reached -3 degrees and it really should have been stopped but somehow we survived until the morning!!!

The morning of the 'bohen pluga' when it was slightly warmer. Yes, I look very warm indeed.

Following the 'targad', we pretty much recovered for a week and celebrated the 'hag pluga' (company festival), which is basically a day off from the regular routine of the army. For this year's 'hag pluga', we went to a country club in the Golan, where we relaxed in saunas and jacuzzis all day! In the evening we had a big meal and received a t-shirt (my collection of t shirts from the army has become ridiculous now) as a present from the company. Seeing as it was my last week in the army, it was a nice way to part with everyone from my company of which I have been a part of on-off for the last year and a half. When my 'mahzor' finished its first year in the army way back in September 2010, we joined the veteran companies within the battalion and I was assigned to the 'mivtsayit' (operational) company. I have been with the 'mivtsayit' since then; going through the 'kav's in Gaza, Lebanon and in the West Bank, as well as this recent 'imun'. Of course, I have come and gone quite a few times in that period, what with commanders' course, the three roles as a 'meaked' and let's not forget all the family holidays too! However, I still feel very attached to the company and there's always this feeling of loyalty to the 'mivtsayit' when coming up against the other two veteran companies in the battalion or in commanders' course where I would still use the 'mivtsayit' gun strap and dogtag cover. It has been a good home for me and is the best company within 101 and the 'hag pluga' was a pleasant way for me to say goodbye to everyone involved.

The glass plaque I was presented with at the 'hag pluga' for my service to the 'mivtsayit' company.

I write this blog to you from my home in Tel Aviv as always, yet the difference now is that I don't need to go back to the army as I am currently on my 'chafshash' (release holiday). I am still officially a soldier in every sense i.e. have all soldier rights and could be called back in an emergency, yet I have had my last day on base and in uniform. I am not going to delve into my thoughts just yet, I still feel I have a couple more blogs left in me to express the whole "being released" feeling, however, as of yesterday, I am on a three week holiday before I am officially released on the 2nd of April. Only combat soldiers are entitled to 'chafshash' and before leaving yesterday, I had to give back all the equipment that I am signed on to within the army. That meant giving back my gun, all my combat gear (vest, helmet, water canteens, waterproof clothing etc) and all my work uniforms. Any spares I had I gave away, to lone soldiers mainly (!) but now I am left with just my 'aleph' (dress) uniform, which I will return on my release date. It's very strange to give back all the stuff, I felt both a relief and a sense of sadness during the whole process. Mainly though, leaving for 'chafshash' meant saying goodbye to all my good friends in the army and it was extremely difficult to part ways with guys in my 'mahlaka' (platoon) who I have been with since day one of basic training.

So my last day in the army has more or less passed and I'm now on holiday not knowing what to do with myself. I am planning to write a blog in the next few days describing the 'targad' and then after that, I will write a couple more regarding my release from the army, which will effectively be my last blogs...