No Strength for the Mornings

An entire barracks is deep in dream world when the dreary voice of a commander, who has less sleep than any of the soldiers he is training, shouts “everyone has 2 minutes to make formation outside!”

For the second hottest place in the world, its cold in the mornings. The desert at night leaves much to be desired in regards to warmth. A company of tired, yawning, shivering soldiers stand at attention with their eyes closed. Stragglers leaving their rooms after the two minutes are up are shouted at…

The commander shouts “Everyone has 5 minutes to change into their uniforms”. Four minutes later, soldiers that have been awake for just 6 minutes are shouting the time remaining to their friends still rushing to put on their uniform in its entirety. Some are still not finished before time is up, but everyone stands at attention in formation. The commander looks upon his formation, someone hasn’t finished putting on their boots, someone hasn’t put on their belt, someone’s shirt isn’t tucked into their pants, etc.

More shouting…”Whats with you!? 5 Minutes is more than enough time to put on clothes. Simply throw off what you have on and put on your uniform! Do you want me to give you shit work today? Maybe then you’ll learn…” the commander sighs like a mother whose son scored yet another F on a test that he didn’t bother to study for the night before.

“I open up for you now, another 2 minutes to finish putting on your uniforms.”

Someone mutters as he sluggishly rushes to formation. “I have no strength for these mornings…”

Again formation, everyone is dressed.

The commander shouts “everyone has 3 and a half minutes to polish their boots and shave their face.”

“But commander, what about brushing our teeth?”

The commander replies: “You wasted your time for your teeth when you had to finish dressing the second time!”

A collective sigh of frustration overtakes the formation of a likely bad breathed bunch.

And I think to myself: “It’s a good thing I woke up 40 minutes before all of this to brush my teeth, shave my face, have a pee, and get dressed in my uniform.”

Now repeat this scene every day for 16 weeks, and you too will have no strength for these mornings.

Last week was also field week, except this time we didn’t need to sleep in the field overnight. Our primary purpose was to shoot our weapons and learn how to fix various kinds of gun jam scenarios quickly and efficiently. We would walk to the field in the morning, and walk back to the base at night. One night, after a long day of sweating out our insides, running all the time, and eating less than satisfying food for lunch and dinner, we returned to our base at night to do our entire obstacle course three times.

Needless to say, after the end of the third round, I was feeling quite dead. The next morning, no matter how much sleep I received, I was still tired from the night before. Another day we returned from the field to do a physical fitness test that included a 3 kilometer run in the pitch black of night in under 15 minutes. On Friday, since we were closing Shabbat (to close Shabbat is to stay on base on active duty during Shabbat), we went for a 1.5 kilometer run in our full combat gear in the mid-day sun.

Shooting was more fun than everything I mentioned above. The experience itself is not something I would seek for recreation. You lay there with someone lying to your left and to your right, your legs kick their sides and their legs kick yours, the order to fire is given, and each bullet that they fire exits with such force that your entire body feels the heat and the forces attack your skin. It took a while for my stomach to get used to the effects. Your own bullets do the same, to them and to your face. Bullet casings fly, sometimes they hit against the skin of the man on the right of the man who fired it, they can burn and leave quite a mark for a while.

Shooting brings out adrenaline, when I finish shooting I have a hard time remembering what I was doing during the time I squeezed the trigger. I know I spend a good deal of thought on my aim, on my gun so that it doesn’t move, on my breathing so that my shots are accurate to within a hair’s breadth…But when I’m finished, and the world suddenly becomes a lot bigger than what fit in between the sights on my gun, I may even be unsure of which target I was aiming for. That is, I know which target was mine, I just can’t remember if I aimed for it or for one next to it.

This is because when it’s all over, everything that occurred during that time, goes with the last bullet that exits my weapon’s chamber. And a LOT can happen during the shooting. I have had all sorts of gun jams, both intentional and unintentional. Some from bullet duds that were mistakenly placed into the box of bullets that we take to load our magazine, other times from more sophisticated problems with the gun. And I can’t explain them because, they too left with the last bullet I fired after clearing those jams.

One time, during an exercise in which we had to wear our full combat gear (including our helmets) I had the mother of all problems happen at the same time. Someone took my helmet, so I took a random helmet as well. It didn’t fit particularly well, it was too large for my head and dangled. As the commander barked orders “stand in a straight line, put in your ear muffs, guns at the ready, on the floor, TERRORIST!” The word terrorist means “FIRE”.

Sadly, as I was struggling with my helmet I missed the order to put in my ear muffs. I forgot all about them, and before I knew it, there I was laying on the floor focusing on my gun and my target when the first bullets rang out into my ears. BEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEP, heard my right ear.

Then another BANG, BEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEP, heard my left ear. I decided I would suck it up, and perform well, because as of yet my accuracy was having a bad day due to the over-sized helmet bothering my aim (after every shot it would dangle causing me have to move my head). My bullets rang out, “BEEEEEEEEEEEEP” one at a time in my ears, not to mention the usual wave of the blasts that take over my body.

The adrenaline kicks in.

Bang. Bang. CLICK. I don’t feel a new connection in my trigger that results from a new bullet entering the gun chamber. What? How can that be? I know I have more bullets in my magazine, why is there a click? My ears still ringing, I wave for attention from any nearby commander. The commander of the company approaches me, and I explain there is a click and my bullet did not exit my chamber. The commander gave me instructions, however I had to ask him to repeat them three times as I could barely hear a word he was saying above the ringing in my ears.

He became frustrated, not realizing my ears were exposed. “Robert, focus”. My eyes blink hard at every BANG near me. “I’m focused, sir.” Then it was sorted out, I fired the last bullet in my magazine, and with it all memory of what happened exactly. I still don’t remember, even though at that moment I told myself I’d write about it in my blog.

It was too late, it was gone with the adrenaline.

So no, I shoot well, but I wouldn’t do it for recreation. I can place 5 bullets within 1 and a half centimeters from their most distance points, and I’m happy about that. But no, it isn’t something I would say is something I could do for fun. The next day, every few hours, I could hear a slight ringing in one ear or the other.

Maybe that’s part of my hearing coming back online, or maybe the opposite…

Funny moment of the week:

We stand in formation, next to our combat vests, that we placed neatly in formation by our feet. Some shout the time remaining for those still working on their vests. One of us motions to the others to hold hands, like in a hippy peace movement. Many of us quickly hold hands forming a chain. I don’t know why, but I made a snap decision to join as well. We stand at attention, as if frozen, holding hands.

Our commander looks at us and without a hint of any reaction either emotionally, or other, states quietly “I open up 25 seconds for those holding hands to run to that tree over there (he points in the distance for a moment) and back. You must do it while still holding hands (so he too has a sense of humor!)

Then he says with even less enthusiasm, 25 seconds, go.”

“Move! Move!” The man in front drags the man behind him. I tried my best to drag the man behind me. We reach the designated spot that’s maybe 25 meters away from where we started. “Turn! Turn back!” We reach back to the formation and enter it, I look at my stopper: 35 seconds. I sure hope he doesn’t look at his stopper.

The commander asks “did you make it back in time?” “No” answers the unit. Why would we admit that? Why do we always admit that? But before I can ponder on this question to my satisfaction, as always happens, the commander says:

“Again, 25 seconds, go!” And off we go. This time with strategy. “Run in a straight horizontal line! Not in a row!” And yes it was faster, and easier on the turns.

But it took too long to get everyone from a row into a horizontal line. Again over 25 seconds.

The commander adds five seconds with the words, “again, 30 seconds, go”. Was this mercy or false hope?

We may have done this one or two more times, never in time. We stand fully exasperated in formation as the commander asks “have you learned your lesson?”

We answer “Yes”.

And he says: “soldiers shouldn’t hold hands like that. It doesn’t’ look right. Got it?”

And I realize: Never mess with a commander who has a sense of humor.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.