What its Like to be a Soldier

The army is not a place that rewards you for service. It’s a place where you sacrifice yourself for the army and for the country, every day. True, you are tasked with the security of millions, and this responsibility is a tremendously great honor. However, for the sake of protecting freedom you must give up your own. No longer can you make your own decisions, no longer can you decide when you will pee, and when you will sleep. When you will wake up, and when you will so much as open your mouth to utter a sentence, a phrase, or half a sound.

You sacrifice your own frame of reference, to make a new one that doesn’t have you in the center. This means stop thinking of things as relative to yourself, you are not the primary concern, in fact you’re not even the secondary concern. Things only exist relative to your mission, your unit, your company, your battalion…etc

The army ideal is to be like an ant colony. Like ants in an ant colony, there is little to no room for individuality, and everything is done for the colony, not yourself.

You sacrifice your mind, as Steven Dao wrote in his book:

“I don’t really remember making a decision. I don’t remember thinking to myself, “Yes, I will do this,” or, “No, I will not do that.” They tell you what to do, and you do it. You don’t reflect on it. You don’t ponder its meaning. You don’t explore its ambiguities or consider its consequences. These burdens are removed from you.”

It is difficult to explain how this happens, and the sacrifice itself is nearly subconscious. A person in uniform does not belong to him or her own self, and once a civilian in uniform realizes that, the civilian ceases to exist and the uniform extends itself to the inside so that it doesn’t matter what you are wearing on the outside.

When a soldier learns that lesson, the army life becomes a lot easier. Some of us learn it quickly, others take longer. But once its learned, you become an efficient instrument in any task. You become attentive primarily to your daily routine, you make your bed, you run as and when you’re supposed to, you don’t ask a lot of questions, you carry out your tasks, you accept your punishments regardless of justice, fairness, or logic.

You become, what the army calls, a “good soldier”.

And believe me, the army lacks heaps of fairness and logic. One soldier, during a class, felt very sick and left his canteen by his chair as he ran to the door to vomit outside the classroom. In the army, your canteen must be on your person at all times, like your gun. Here he was, vomiting by the door, while the canteen was a few steps behind him. When he finished, the commander gave him a sanction for leaving the canteen by his chair. I suppose next time, he should just vomit in the classroom, and declare how he managed not to leave his canteen by its lonesome.

Of course, we aren’t robots. But 98% of the time, this is all there is to the army. Why is this important? Its important because some day a soldier could be given an order to do combat with the enemy, to remove an obstacle for the nation and to pull out from his hat more strength, more courage, more determination, than he was previously capable of wielding.

Then there is the physical sacrifice. I have been in the army but 6 weeks now, and already I know of a handful of people that developed serious knee injuries due to their service. Injuries these unlucky soldiers are likely to carry with them, at least in some way and to some extent, for the rest of their lives.

Knees are easy to injure, and everyone is vulnerable. One unlucky soldier who injured his knees has yet to see a doctor who can treat him. He waited for hours in the base’s medical office, only to be told it wasn’t possible yet for him to leave the base to go see a doctor.

If you need a doctor for small things, you are likely to be treated. Have the coughs? There’s pills for that. Have a stuffed nose? They have nasal decongestant.

Have a severe and constant pain in your knees that prevents you from running, or climbing stairs without the help of your unit? Well…there’s nasal decongestant. Want some of that?

Experiences with medical treatment, as with anything else in the army, vary from person to person. One soldier with a knee injury, upon having his knees examined by the army doctor, was given a choice of which hospital he would like to be immediately transported. And note that his knees were well enough for him to walk to the doctor, so it wasn’t some special circumstance that gave him a convenient and quick recovery.

Still, plenty of bad stories exist, at least as many as good stories in my opinion. But even if my observation is incorrect, my point is this:

When people think of soldiers, they probably don’t think of daily issues like these. But this is what we do every day, and we do it not expecting anyone to realize or be aware of the daily burdens and sacrifices we make.

Its very important that anyone wishing to do what I did, join an army, to understand that no soldier wants to be a soldier. A soldier is a prisoner, but without the benefits of prisoner rights and privileges. Prisoners get hours to read books, to watch television, visitation rights, some even get a computer or video game system for recreation. They don’t have to run around all day, they don’t have to push their physical limits with pushups, pull ups, press ups, marches, etc etc.

Prison is a vacation for a soldier.

Don’t misunderstand, my responsibilities make me proud. And when I’m doing the daily grind, I look down at my uniform and I remember what I’m serving and whom. The freedom and security of Israel, this is a worthy reason to sacrifice our own freedom and security. As far as I’m concerned, I’m proud of my decision and the path I’ve chosen. I think I would make this decision all over again, without hesitation.

One thought on “What its Like to be a Soldier

  1. Great post Robert. Dont worry, the whole canteen thing will be over after Michve Alon. Yeah, the doctor issue is huge in the IDF. You are learning about what we used to call the “Take akamol and sit in the shade” syndrome. Basically, the army thinks that anything can be fixed with a little akamol (like tylenol) and some rest in the shade. Hmmmm.

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