Have You Rabak?

Rabak: A military term for fire under your ass. Rabak is an inner burst of energy that, like an oil fire, takes forever to burn up. You are considered to have rabak when you are running all the time, and ready to do everything that you just did, all over again. Its when you are noticing your guys struggling, seeing you are way ahead of them, and grabbing them all one by one with the shout “come on, we can do this”.

This week was field week. Next week, too, is field week. We built tents, small and meant for one person, but three soldiers slept in each. We did our second Masa, of four kilometers. Doing a Masa in the field is dangerous, like our previous Masa it was so dark we couldn’t see a meter in front of us. Unlike our previous Masa, there was barbed wire laying on the ground and a sea of all kinds of different sizes of rocks strewn before us. They weren’t placed there for us on purpose, we simply found them with our feet.

I remember at some point I was dragging unseen barbed wire with my left boot for about 15 seconds before I could finally shake/drag it off of me. The rocks are dangerous because if you aren’t paying attention to the ground, you will either fall or sprain your ankle or both. The Mefaked of our second company fell during this Masa. And this is a person who did all the Masas before, including the final 70-80 kilometer Masa!

Upon our return to our darkened camp, we stood for five minutes and then received orders from above to do another Masa of 3 kilometers. So we basically did our first Masa again on the same night as our second. I felt fine, the problem was before the Masa began. You see, to participate in a Masa the medic has to approve you. Many people hadn’t seen the Medic before nightfall (myself included), and so they decided to just line up our whole Battalion of three companies and have the Medic do a mass approval. We stood in a gigantic Het (shape of a U) with the Medic in the middle. Many were freezing.

“Is there anyone here with diarrhea today?”

Silence, no hands go up.

“Is there anyone who puked today?”

Silence, no hands go up.

“Is there anyone who has a problem with breathing today?”

Across from me is heard a shout “Me!” and his hand went up.

Stand at the side of the Het.

The soldier walks off…and the Medic continues:

“Is there anyone here with a pain in their knees?”

And then I thought, “hmm, I hurt my leg and now there is a bruise that wont go away. It causes a pain just below my knee. Why don’t I raise my hand…”

So I raise my hand, immediately regretting this.

The medic uses his flash light to look for hands raised, and finds me.

“Stand at the side of the Het.”

I exited the Het, and as I walk on the outside of the assembled soldiers I realize what a stupid mistake I just made. While the Medic continues his series of questions to filter out who needs special attention, I stand looking lost as I think what to do next. My Samal Mahloka (Company Sergeant) asks me if I’m alright, and I tell my Samal Mahloka that I’m fine and that I believe I misunderstood the Medic’s question. The Sergeant says “tell the Medic” but he seemed busy and I figured in the dark there is no way the Medic knows or remembers who raised their hand and who didn’t.

So I simply rejoined the Het. Even the Samal Mahloka couldn’t recognize who he was talking to in that darkness.

Everyone was pretty cold, before the Masa began we all stood close to each other. I was actually kinda warm, and even gave a few guys in my unit a bear hug till we started marching. I guess things like this is how we become brothers.

We all spent a lot of the time shooting. I must have fired at least 100 bullets, 5 bullets at a time. My shooting is very good, and I’m not trying to gloat here but I have the best grouping size of bullets that I know of in the company. This is very good because I’d like to become my unit’s sharp shooter. My entire bullet grouping size is 1.5 centimeters, and always exactly in the bull’s eye.

Also we did our first lesson in Krav Maga. Basically, we had a bunch of exercises that forced us to do things instinctively. That’s basically what Krav Maga is, the art of instinct rather than formal fighting moves. Its purpose is to make you do whatever you can, whenever you can, in a moment’s heartbeat of a notice.

Our Mefaked Mahloka (Company Lieutenant) decided to do a sport session. We ran one kilometer up and down the hills along a road, and then did some push ups and sit ups and exercises. I remember as we were finishing up our run, I was running beside the Mefaked Mahloka and he said to us guys next to him “Go to the back and help your friends. They are in difficulty right now.” He said it gently, with actual worry. I think thats something you wont see in the army in the States or anywhere else.

It just so happens there was one such soldier who I think had enough, mentally, that day. I remember as we were doing our difficult sets of push ups, he wasn’t dropping to the ground. The commander didn’t really notice because it was very dark, you couldn’t see him very well. He was just standing as we were doing the sets.

After that, this same soldier in my unit had a breakdown. We were standing in a Het in the night, and we noticed during our head count that someone was missing. We found him in his tent, laying down, and he said he was not feeling well. The commander entered his tent, and spoke with him for a bit, then let him be saying repeating the soldier’s refrain that he wasn’t feeling well.

Later that night, we stood in our Het before bed. And noticed during the head count that someone was missing. It was the same soldier again, we found him in his tent and we asked him to come out and stand for a few minutes, and then we’ll all be dismissed to sleep. But he just wouldn’t do it. Eventually our commander managed to get him up, and he stood with us in the Het. Then we were ordered to form a Het with our entire Pluga (battalion).

Our Battalion commander addressed us, and this soldier was standing next to me, bending forward as if to fall asleep where he stood. I held him up for a bit. Then after I let him go, he stood back and out of the Het, and slowly bent forward until he was kneeling. Eventually he lay flat on the ground. I tried to stand him up, but he was not budging at all to get up and I felt he needed a delicate touch.

I spoke to him, trying to understand if he was in any pain. But he wouldn’t respond to me. Eventually our commander saw us, and tried to talk to the soldier. The soldier began crying “I don’t want to be here! All my friends think I’m just faking this!”

Our commander responded “No one of anyone here thinks like that. Your friends are here to help you. Who is standing here? Robert? Help him back to his tent.”

I motioned to my friend to grab him by the other arm, and together we can bring him to his tent. After we got him to crawl into his tent (which also wasn’t easy) my friend asked me:

“What happened to him?”

“Its just in his head. The army life…”

Every soldier has to cross that threshold, that understanding that you are not your own person. That you will jump when told, that you have no other life but the one you live on base. I have seen a few breakdowns in my 3 and half months of service, but this was the worst. You have to remember, most of these soldiers are just 18 years old and they are here because they were drafted not because they wanted to commit themselves for three years to be professional soldiers.

This same soldier did the two Masas the next night, that I mentioned above, like a champ. He absolutely killed them. He is short so its hard to keep up for him, but if I wasn’t pulling him forward or physically pushing him onward, someone else was. And he never resisted for even a moment, the entire four kilometers. When we were told we would do another three kilometers, like the rest of us, he didn’t say a word. He just did it, the same way he did the first four kilometers.

The next day, as I ran to put on my combat vest before a shooting exercise he found me and insisted on helping me put it on. “You helped me yesterday, now I will help you today.”

This just shows even motivated people, that want to be combat soldiers, can have breakdowns. The important thing is getting up.

Funny moment of the week:

I am part of Platoon B in my company, in this story I was joined up with Platoon A. Their commander had us standing in a Het, and as he spoke the words:

“I will now open up for you 15 seconds to…” he was interrupted by a flick on the back of his head as another commander ran very fast behind him. The commander was moving as if he was trying to catch a falling person from a window or something. His arm was stretched out to catch what ever part of our commander’s body he could, we could see it in his body language that all he wanted was to grab this man’s attention!

By the time the commander turned around, looking stunned at who ever could have had the audacity to do such a thing, the running commander was already very far gone. Our commander looked around a bit, then at us, thinking it might not have been the one who was running. He asked us “where is he?” We stood quietly, just as confused by what had happened. After all, if he wanted his attention, why was he running by? Then we all had our answer. All of us, including our commander, watched as this running commander finally ran up to a soldier who was standing on the outside of our camp relieving himself with his gun laying flatly on his back.

This is a big no no. An Israeli soldier must always have his gun in front of him, with his right hand firmly on the handle. This is to prevent the weapon from being stolen, and to always be in a position of readiness. Now this soldier, in the middle of a good pee, experienced the feeling of sheer terror as the commander stole the weapon as it was still strapped onto the man! He did this by very quickly sliding off the handle, which is where one end of the strap connects, and simply pulling the rest of the strap off of the soldier along with the gun.

The peeing soldier, already peeing, probably would have pissed himself. He was too busy relieving himself to do anything in the way of keeping his weapon. We all had a good laugh as the commander walked back with a new M16 and a whining soldier saying “But Commander, that’s not fair.”

I guess this sort of thing happens rarely for commanders too, because boy oh boy was that commander eager for witnesses to see that.

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