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...

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