Sorry these posts are getting a bit long, lot of stuff happens!
Although the first two weeks were somewhat of a cake walk, these last two weeks were trying. My friend Maoz may have put it best: Nothing here is all that challenging or difficult, it is simply the endless repetition and senseless redundancy that wears you down.
I checked the weather report before heading for the morning train on Sunday- it bode very poorly. Rain. Rain all fucking week. While this is normally a blessing in Israel, it was scaring the shit out of me, cause all I could think about was our torn and tattered 30+ year old tents. Somehow I didn’t believe that they would hold up, or that I would hold up. I was already feeling sniffly since Friday.
When we got in I made a point to go see the Doctor. We are entitled to see one, and are supposed to be asked everyday. The thing is, once you are in the army, you are literally the army’s property. You cannot go see a doctor that is not army approved or have any medical procedure done without the army’s knowledge. I suppose it makes sense, it’s just a little unnerving.
The Doctor was an unadulterated clown. It was painfully obvious he hated his job and had had it up to here with all the whiney bitches coming trying to come up with reasons to get a sick day (those exist in the army). I was already pretty full-blown sick: cough, stuffy, runny nose, sore throat, head ache, fatigue. Plus, I was also looking to get an exemption for a beard because my neck was starting to look like I used glass shards as aftershave. He blew me off with supreme distaste, giving me a prescription for what I later figured out was Aspirin, and a three day beard exemption telling me to get over myself and learn how to shave. I took it like a bitch (they kinda breed that into you), and just prayed I’d get better.
It’s as if God was listening, because the minute I walked outside the sky opened up. I had to make a mad dash to the psuedo-warehouse called the precasts. It’s where we normally hang out, eat snacks, and charge our telephones at night, but today we had lessons. I whole rainy day full of lessons. These were actually fairly interesting though. We had lessons in first aid, chemical warfare, drug policy, and how to use communication devices. This was one of the rare moments where I felt like I was actually learning things of value. It made the lessons much more fun.
However, when we got back to the tent, we found everything to be soaked. Water was pouring in from every angle and hole. We tried our best to move the beds to the dry spots, get everything off the floor, and dry out whatever we could. We ended up with an untraversable cacophony of beds. I went to bed hoping nothing would drip on my face, and that I could find a dry uniform hidden in my bag in the morning.
Monday was the day from hell. I woke up all through the night. I had the pleasure of watching myself descend further into illness. We woke up at 4am to a torrential downpour, which of course did not prevent us from cleaning our weapons out in the freezing cold. I was never going to get healthy.
When the rain subsided I bit, we got to work on patching the tents. It was a Sisyphean task. The commanders, though mildly experienced, still had no idea how to fix these run-down rags- yet we were still forced to try to implement their shitty ideas. I was in no mood for bullshit, but I held it together as best I could and trudged on through the day.
I hit a low point in the middle of the day. We were late to the food room (a place I grew to despise for robbing me of all joy I felt with food) and were rushed into the line. The line we were at had no hot food left, so we tried the other line. Since we had already waited on line once, we did what everyone else always did and squeeze ourselves into the line near the meat. Some 5 foot, snobby little comandress waltzed her way over to me and gave me (the only one trying to be polite in a sea of Israelis) a piece of her mind- telling me how I’m not as important as her soldiers and I need to wait like everyone else. I lost it. She may have been right, and I may have been wrong, but I just thank god she didn’t understand English. My platoon got a kick out seeing me so angry and out of hearing the stream of foreign profanities come out of my mouth. And then, like the good hearts they are, they tried their best to cheer me up. It took a while, but eventually it worked.
The next day I tried again with the doctor. I got stuck at the platoon medic, but it turned out to be a blessing. She gave me 4 hours to rest and sleep in the middle of the day. It was exactly what I needed. I woke up feeling almost 100% and with a whole new attitude.
That weekend, we were closing, which meant we’d be staying at the base for the weekend, and would be responsible for guard duty. To do so we had to take a class on what to do when guarding. It was an odd class. All of a sudden we went from talking about parts of a weapon and how to respect your commanders, to how to warn someone in Arabic, how to ask a war-room for permission to open fire, and the situations you don’t even have ask. I had a gun, but I was going to be given 3 magazines with live bullets and trusted to guard over a military establishment. It seemed like an absurd joke, I didn’t feel ready, and I felt like there were some people who would never be ready. I knew the odds of something happening in the middle of Israel were slim to none, but that wasn’t as comforting as it should have been.
The week marched on towards the weekend quickly. We had a ridiculous morning inspection with the Company Commander that drove me to the brink of insanity. We had a sexual harassment talk with our Platoon commander that drove me to the brink of tears with laughter. We had more rain than I knew what to do with. And then all of a sudden it was Thursday and we were starting the final cumulative test on all our lessons. I opened the Hebrew book and started to panic a bit. While I knew all the material like the back of my hand, actually sitting down to read and answer all the questions in Hebrew seemed impossible.
Luckily my commander came in, and called for me a few other guys. We were told to get our gear and meet him in 7 minutes (everything is done in 7 minutes in the army). We apparently got called up to replace some guys on early guard duty and were going for the briefing. I guess the test would have to wait.
The briefing was a bit of a joke. No one took it seriously, though it seemed like they really should have. It was just a review of all the rules we learned about guard duty. I had taken a tour of the base the day before, and picked out which guard stations seemed the most interesting. Although it didn’t matter, cause over the course of the weekend and next week I would see almost all of them.
Between the night and morning, we had 3 guard shifts, some 3 hours some 2 depending on whether it was day or night. When going up to my first guard duty, I was definitely a little nervous. However, about halfway through the first shift, I realized it was all for nothing. The fact that I was guarding an army base in the middle of Israel, near a strip mall and gas station kind of caught up with me. There was certainly the possibility of an event, but it was so remote it almost didn’t exist. It seemed like guard duty was really for getting to know whoever you were with. And I did. You can’t sleep (duh), you can’t sit, you can’t eat, you can’t read, you can’t use your phone. The only thing you can do is look and talk. The thing is if you talk, the time flies. The trick was wrangling a talker to guard with.
By Friday morning I was spent. I had slept a grand total of 3 hours between shifts, had rushed dinner, missed breakfast, and instead of getting to rest was called for another guard duty briefing. Apparently I was assigned to more guard duty, and you have to repeat the briefing every 24 hours. Needless to say I was in an awful place.
In order to explain what happens next, I have to explain a little about the gun we carry. As I’ve told you, it sucks. It’s hard to carry and you have to carry it everywhere. Abandoning your weapon comes with a pretty sever punishment. Needless to say, I forget it all the time. Luckily, up until now I’ve gotten away with it. I had mastered the art of looking like I was carrying it when I had forgotten it. I had even played little games of Metal Gear Solid when I sneak around the commanders, trying to predict their movement patterns and stay out of sight while I sneak back to the tent to retrieve my gun. I had even managed to salute the deputy company commander sans weapon and get away with it. I suppose my time had come, I just hate the way in which it came.
I told my commander how crappy I felt, and how I hadn’t eaten. He gave me 10 minutes to run to the canteen, grab something quick and meet him at the briefing. Well I went, but so did everyone else, the place was exploding with people. There was no way I was going to make it, so I went outside to take a good sit. I took off my helmet, combat vest, and gun for a second to breathe. I still had my hand on the gun, cause I know even taking your hand off it can count as abandoning weapon. Someone offered me a cigarette, so I got up to take it. Of course, my commander had decided that this was the perfect time to walk by. He took one look at me and told me I had 2 hours at exit. I just shook my head and taught the guys the English idiom “Fuck my life.”
Saturday is the Jewish traditional day of rest. The army purportedly believes this as well. They have all these rules about Shabbat that are designed to allow people the chance to observe. There is a lovely Friday night dinner, which was surprisingly good and very heart-warming. And there is no work, no saluting, no times, no marching, no anything really. OH, except guard duty, because that can be defined as danger to one’s life, which is a sufficient reason to break Shabbat. And kitchen duty… cause that’s… also life danger… I think…right? Well we’re not allowed to wash dishes!
We were told that because we did so much guard duty, we’d be stationed in the kitchen, but only for a couple hours. But those couple hours turned into us spending the entire morning and a good chunk of the afternoon working in the kitchen. But at least we were told we didn’t have kitchen duty at night, so no dishes! But after a grand total of four hours off, we were rushed back to kitchen duty again… because the assigned platoon was overwhelmed with dishes. So we ended up washing those dishes after Shabbat went out. Yay for the day of rest!
Sunday was supposed to be our second day at the ranges. But of course we spent the first half of that day… you guessed it! Working in the fucking kitchen. I was ready to kill something. It’s a good thing the stray cats are fast.
Once we finally got there, the range was a lot of fun. We had a lot of really interesting drills. We got to shoot in all the positions we practiced. We practiced clearing jams, changing magazines, and having to jump into positions and squeeze off rounds very quickly. I had to go second, which meant the sun was already going down by the time I shot, so I missed a few rounds, but still a lot of fun.
We had the night off, because in the morning we would be doing our Masa. A Masa is a very long hike in full combat gear that is supposed to simulate a march. For combat soldiers it’s usually a 15+ hour crippling ordeal that marches you up to 80km. It is the culmination of your entire training and as a reward you get your unit’s special beret. For us it turned out to be a whimsical romp around the base, 3km and half an hour. Amazingly, everyone still tried to get out of it. Everyone whipped out their ptors (exemptions) and behaved like this march would kill them.
It turned out to be a blessing because the only people left were the people who wanted to be there. I was chosen to be our platoon commander’s Kesher, which is essentialy the signal-man or person with the radio. Apparently it’s an honor, which is kind of cool. The hike was over all too quickly though. Because it was so short we ran a good deal of it but I still wish it was longer.
We marched back to the base with me feeling a bit… well to be honest a bit like a bitch. It wasn’t the experience I wanted. I wanted something more challenging, more meaningful, with everyone participating. I wanted to be pushed. I wanted to be a combat soldier. We moved to the flag poles for a bit of a closing assembly, with me still kind of down in the dumps.
Our company commander told us how proud of us she was. How she was happy we were there, and not sitting in the tent. She spoke about how this was the start of something. Then she said exactly what I needed to hear. How although we weren’t combat, we were no less a part of this army. How we should never give up on trying to push ourselves, and how what we are setting out to do for our country is every bit as important. She then read us a poem, I can’t remember the name or who wrote it, but it was a long list of what makes Israel Israel. Everything good and bad about it. How everyone can think of a million reasons not to live there, but can’t think of anywhere else they’d rather live. And most importantly, how it needs and depends on its people, how it wouldn’t be here without us. My heart swelled as we raised the flag and sang the Hatikvah. I was here, I had made it, and I was fulfilling a promise I made to Israel and a promise I made to myself. In the end, it was culminating moment of Basic it was always meant to be.
The next few days sailed by. I finished my test (with a little Hebrew help from the my commanders). We had all of our closing conversations. We found out our grades. We had another exhausting and interminable round of guard duty. And before I knew it we were returning our equipment and planning T-shirts.
The last big event before we were released was the ceremony where we took the vow to serve the IDF. It was essentially the big closing ceremony of Basic. We went over what the vow meant and what we were saying, then rehearsed a little. The vow was actually quite beautiful, but a little frightening. You were pledging your life to serving the country and to following all its orders and fulfilling all its goals. You were to take the Bible (old, new or otherwise, they provided something for each faith), put it to the gun and swear. Though they gave you another option if swearing is a problem
. You could swear, or you could say the equivalent of “I’ll try but no promises.”
When we got to the ceremony, I started to get the same feeling I did after the Masa- I felt really proud to be there. But as the ceremony went on, and people started coming up, I started to bum out. A lot of people weren’t swearing. I was surprised and a little sad. It was kind of a harsh reminder that a lot of people were here not by choice; their heart wasn’t in it. I was near the end of the line, but when I finally got up I swore. I had told myself my whole life that I would come here, and I finally made it. I had already taken this oath a thousand times over, I was just making it official.
The next day was the big release. We were to clean everything up, pack up our shit, return our mattresses, sleeping bags, and finally our weapons. Afterwards, we had officers coming from the assignment bureau and we would get where to report on Sunday. I realized that I was finally going to find out where I was going. Butterflies started creeping into my stomach, and I started getting worried. What if I didn’t get either choice? It didn’t seem likely they would send me straight to combat from here, but what if I didn’t get Dover Tzahal either? What if I ended up a secretary or worse a mechanic?
As a result, the morning dragged on for what seemed like forever. After we finally got through all the morning errands we got into our last formation and waited. We got a little closing speech from our platoon commander and waited for the people from the assignment bureau. Once they showed up I didn’t have to wait long, I was one of the first names called.
It was partially handwritten (whereas everyone else’s was typed) and I had a hard time deciphering it. I finally figured out that I had no assignment. I was being sent back to the Bakoum (where I enlisted to begin with) presumably to finally meet a Kzin Miyun (Assignment officer). It was good news, I would have a chance to argue my case, and try to get where I wanted to go, along with pushing combat as a backup plan. The downside is I had a whole weekend of butterflies.
I said goodbye to everyone as they go on their bus to go. We already had plans to meet up again, and I’m sincerely hoping we all keep in touch. As they got on the bus I had to stay to serve my hours at exit. Stupid fucking gun.