The commanders of the unit make up a weird reality show-ish cast of characters. I’m not sure how much I can get away with saying here (god forbid they read it) but I’ll try. There’s the sweetheart, the foxy hard-ass who loves guns, the drill seargentess who breaks and laughs constantly (then makes up for it by running us all over the place), and the abusive father I’ve never had. The last seems to have really taken an interest in making sure I get the “army experience.” I’m usually one of three guys actually running and doing everything properly (to the best of my ability), but the guy still picks out every tiny minor mistake I make. It’s ridiculous, I find myself fighting for his approval at times; I have to remind myself constantly that he’s 2 years younger than me, and probably a regular guy on the weekends.
I love my platoon, it’s the greatest mix of guys. Maybe I’m stuck in a little infatuation, but even the ones who don’t want to be there are just downright good guys. It’s an amazing mix of all Israel has to offer. There are a few Druze, who are hilarious and speak this bizarrely beautiful blend of Arabic and Hebrew. There are the Ethiopians, who are so good-hearted, but just don’t understand the army culture – the result is incredibly funny exchanges with the commanders which usually end up with very unjust punishment. Everyone sticks out in a funny way from the russians, to the Arseim (the israeli equivalent of the guido, loves Mizrahi music, fast cars, gold chains, and generally being loud). There is another American, a 26 year-old with a masters degree, who is great to have around. He’s an excellent break from most of the guys because I can have a real conversation with him unencumbered by my language handicap.
It’s kind of made me realize how much of a melting pot Israel is becoming, and how important of a role the army plays in integration. Giving all these kids a common experience to go through is probably the best thing this country can do (though giving them all guns I will never understand). The army is the first place a lot of the richer ashkenazi kids will meet an ethiopian, or a kid from Ashkelon will meet a Druze. They all get along surprisingly well and really enjoy getting to know each other, but there are some serious culture clashes at times.
One example comes from meal times. We only get about 10-15 minutes to eat our food at every meal. While this isn’t a problem for me, most of the guys don’t finish. One time the commanderette had told us as usual to get up and throw our food out, but the Ethiopians had not even come close to finishing. She insisted and shouted and the guys retorted. The fight got larger and larger until one of the Ethiopians just shouted, “you assholes have no respect for food.” While this definitely landed him a pretty serious punishment, I understood instantly. He wasn’t being contrary, or trying to disobey an order- this was a serious offense for him to not be given the time to eat.
There are other things as well, for instance in Druze culture (and religion I suppose) men don’t clean. Period. As you can guess we clean a lot of toilets. A lot. of. toilets. But here the army is more accommodating. Because it comes under the monicker of religion, there is actually an order from the top of the Israeli Army that Druze soldiers are exempt from cleaning.
There are a lot of people who try to play the system though, and get away with doing the absolute minimum of work. There are exemptions for most things in the army called Ptors. They can exempt you from anything like shaving to running or pushups. In my platoon (and moreso in others) there are a ton of Ptornickim, or kids with a lot of ptors. When PT comes around my already small platoon of 15 kids usually drops to about 5. In every marching line you will have a lot of kids bringing up the rear limping (sometimes fake sometimes real). It gets annoying at times, especially when it gets you stuck doing an insane amount of work by yourself.
Every once in a while I’ll get a harsh reminder of how much older I am than everyone else. Most people think I am a commander at first, until they look to my arms for ranks. I’ve also come to see how much maturity a few years can grant you. I end up taking in stride what a lot of people get all bent out of shape about. It’s also fun to see how much some of the guys really enjoy the army stuff like shooting and camo lessons. I enjoy it to, but there is a child-like giddiness I see in them every once in a while. In the end though, I’m not nearly as alienated from the younger guys as I thought I would be. Some of my favorite times so far have been dicking around on break and commiserating about how shitty it is here sometimes, or comparing weekend plans and ex-girlfriend pictures. There are times when it really feels like every stereotype I had about the army.
More to come!