We spent the week guarding the base. Not a lot to say, there are various guard points and one of my favorite was the one outside our base. From it, high above the ground, I can see on one end three military bases on one side. And on the opposite side I saw the lights from Jordan. The country, not the river. I knew it was Jordan, because it was the correct direction for Jordan to be in and because between the towns there were no lights. No street lights to guide night travelers, it was comparatively dark when contrasted with a view of Israel.
We guarded for 2 hours, and our rest hours in between depended on how many people were available for duty on a given day. One day it was a rest period of four hours, another day saw a rest period of 6 hours. Some people had only 2 hour breaks between 2 hours of guard duty. And then there was also Kita Kolinut, which is basically the first responders. Four soldiers that have to be ready for any emergency situation: an injury, an attack, whatever the case may be.
My first guard assignment at my new base was to stand watch in the tower next to the main traffic gate of our base. Most cars that enter or exit our base will pass through this gate. The job is to watch out for any coming dangers (like Arabs intent on throwing molotov cocktails over the fence) and record the license plate numbers of any vehicle that enters or exits through the gate.
When I arrived, my commander was standing guard at the gate. He and I were to guard together. Me at the tower, shouting to him whenever a vehicle would approach to enter or exit, and he would inspect the vehicles and open or close the gate accordingly.
During this time, you do a lot of nothing. You stand, you look at the sky…Eventually my commander got bored, and initiated a discussion with me. What follows was, to a soldier, an important heart to heart.
“Robert, what do you think about the army?”
“You mean in general?”
He answered in the affirmative:
“I think its fine, actually I thought it would be a lot worse.”
“You want it to be worse? He said with a tone that implied it could be made worse for me.
“No way! Its just what I thought, not what I want.”
“And what about your commanders?”
“I like my commanders.”
“What about when they are mean, or do not nice things.”
“My commanders have never been mean or done not nice things.”
He seemed like he was shocked at my answers. So I explained:
“The commanders do good work, and my attitude is positive in all situations. If something is hard, or if there is yelling, its all for our betterment.”
“Is there anything you would like me to tell any commanders for you? Like, yell less?”
Honestly, my commanders havent really yelled at me, but in any case I said:
“Tell them they do good work.”
He asked me how my hebrew is coming along, how my relations are in our platoon, and in the company as well.
When there was nothing left to ask me about, he said:
“Is there anything you would like to ask me? Now is the time…”
I wasnt sure what to ask, there’s lots of stuff Id like to know. So I reminded him I would like to be a sharp shooter and a commander and wanted to know how to go about getting those jobs…
“Well, A. Those decisions are still far in the future. B. If you want to be a sharp shooter, there is a test you have to pass. To be a commander, you have to give your best in every thing including every little thing even if it seems trivial.”
Then he said something that made the rest of my guard duty seem to pass faster. “I think you would make an excellent commander.”
Then he had a final question for me:
“Robert, is it alright if I yell at you?” I understood what he said, but I was confused at the question. On the one hand, who wants to be yelled at? On the other, this implies my commander doesnt want to yell at me for some reason, which makes me feel like I recieve special treatment for being a volunteer from NY. But actually, it might also have to do with me being quite a few years older than him.
I stalled for time, pretending I didnt understand what he said because the hebrew was difficult, I asked what one of the words in his sentence means…He explained it, and then a car approached interupting our discussion.
While he did his job, I figured out my answer: “Of course, but you should know that at my age there isnt any need for that. If I screw up, no one can yell at me worse than I can.”
So, with my answer at the ready, I asked my commander “so what were you asking before?”
He thought for a few seconds and replied:
“I dont remember.”
I felt relief, partly because I think he remembered just fine.
I was never really pissed about guard duty except for the last night before the very last day. I was scheduled for three times in the day, and what annoyed me was that two of them would be at night. One at 9-11 pm and again at 5am-7am. Why did this annoy me?
Well, on a normal day we are given one hour of free time before we are ordered to go to sleep. The hour sucks because you literally have to do everything in that hour. Need to see the medic? Its during that hour, there’s a line that will cost you half or all of the free hour. Need to see the army social worker (which all lone soldiers need to do very often) well get ready for a bigger line. Basically, by the time you get changed, shower, visit the bathroom, you are already out of time to do anything else. And if you need to see the medic, or the social worker, then forget about showering or the bathroom.
But during guard duty week, the one hour of free time rule is suspended. Instead we receive complete freedom. We aren’t sent to bed at any specific period. We are simply left to our own devices, to do whatever we want to do and go to bed when we choose. We are even told how long this privilege is to last, typically it would begin at 9 or 10pm and last until 9 or 9:30 in the morning! If you don’t have guard duty during the night, you could sleep like a civilian from 11pm to 9am!
But I didn’t have that on the last night, as I would just get out of one shift of guarding by 11pm. That meant I wouldn’t be in bed by midnight and would have to get out of bed again by 4. Since breakfast would be served at 7:30am I knew I would not get to go back to bed, unless I would choose to go hungry until lunch. Basically, I normally get only 5 hours of sleep, but this time I felt robbed of sleep.
Later in the day one of our commanders in the company was yelling to the top of his lungs about how some soldiers failed to eat breakfast, or complained about not having enough sleep. He was yelling how “you had a f***ing 12 hours to sleep!”
Army logic…they let us go at 9pm, and didn’t come back for us till 9am, so we must have been sleeping for 12 straight hours! After all, actual guard duty doesn’t mean you have to interrupt your sleep! The time to shower, or answer nature’s call, or talk to your family, all of those things don’t take time out of sleep! The time it takes you to eat breakfast between 7:30 and 8:00 doesn’t mean you can’t be sleeping in your bed at that same time.
After breakfast, it was 8am and I hurried back to bed to try and get at least one hour more. Then at 8:30 a soldier came and woke me with the words “you are emergency response, get up, get ready…” Whoever decided I was emergency response must not like to look at schedules, because the fact I had to do guard duty twice in the night couldn’t be anything other than a mistake. To add another thing for me to do instead of sleep is just a gross violation of my dignity.
So, if you are screwed like me, you are lucky if you manage to get a full 5 hours of sleep. So yes, I was offended a commander felt I should have had 12 hours. But so what? I just shrugged that off, because the army has no logic.
Yes sir, No sir, *Salute*, and move on.
Times like these can affect others more than this affected me. One such moment for another soldier actually compelled him to shout, in English, despite the fact that he was 100% Israeli and NOT from an English speaking country but from Israel all his life:
“Commander, I can’t take it anymore!”
To which the commander (who I hear spent some time in the States) responded in English, calmly and quietly:
“You can, and you will.”
During guard duty week we also went for a kilometer and a half run during the midday heat in our full combat gear. We also went for a 4km run, again in the day heat. This is termed “sport”. Sport never means “we are going to play soccer!” Sport always means “we are going to run, a lot.” I remember during one of those runs we ran past an Arab shepherd with his goats. It was probably the second or third time in my life that I saw a shepherd, and the fact that this particular person probably wants us dead or gone, made it all that much more interesting to feel the moment two lines of nearly 30 exercising soldiers in sport clothes bearing the of our battalion passed him by.
Our last bit of sport during the week involved a 500 meter sprint (a sprint means to run at your fastest speed), to be repeated seven times, with a minute break in between each sprint. That was fun…
One commander from our company, who assembled us for “sport” yelled at us when he perceived some soldiers were nervous about what they might be ordered to do or how many kilometers we were likely to have to run this time. I cracked up in laughter when he complained loudly about us:
“Whats with you!? You are fighters! And at the sound of the word SPORT, your balls bang together!” He looked serious as he said it, but I was laughing quite loudly at the talented craftsmanship of his complaint. He then laughed as well, which took the stress out of the situation, and then the company laughed.
In the light atmosphere that followed, the commander tried to clear up some confusion about our attire for the sport we would do. He commanded that we appear in our uniform pants, but sport short and civilian sneakers. Some didn’t understand this fully, and he decided to repeat the command as though he was in an infomercial.
He spoke in a higher than usual pitch, and with wide hang gestures: “In 7 minutes, you are to wear green (emphasis in the voice) military pants (wide gesture down to his pants), colorful sports shirt (wide gesture to his torso) it can be any color you like, and civilian sneakers (he picked his leg up in the air, like a radio city rockette).”
I guess those were the funny moments of the week.
This week will be Yom Hazikaron, and Yom Atzmaut. Israel’s Memorial Day for fallen soldiers (and victims of terrorism) and Israel’s Independence day. My unit will be participating in a ceremony for Yom Hazikaron, and hopefully I will have something interesting to write about in the coming days.