I’ve been in the army for the last three weeks. It was supposed to be only two weeks. But at 5pm on Thursday of the second week, our commanders told us that one battalion had been called up on an emergency to Gaza. Something we’d hoped for when it was our turn to be the emergency call. The emergency call up rotation then fell on our battalion, which meant we would have to close Shabbat.
Everyone was bummed.
The commanders were bummed.
Our company was doing some pull ups before dinner, at which point my company commanders saw our second or third company approaching off in the distance. One of us shouted something to them about closing this weekend, and they had no idea what we were talking about. And in an instant, my platoon commander was super happy. He clapped his hands together and said “What!?
“They don’t know!? Hahaha! Come lets tell them the news!”
And off he went, all of the men of my company walking in his wake, his arm around the neck of a soldier as he went with a sadistic smile to that poor company coming from who knows where to get the news they certainly would prefer not to receive.
Really, my whole company went with him. I was all by myself, doing pull ups. I’d get no pleasure in seeing them process the news.
Our battalion commander wanted to speak with all of us on the subject. There we were, after dinner, standing in formation as he spoke. Something about “Yes, this sucks. But that’s how it is.”
Then, on Friday night, before Sabbath dinner our battalion commander huddled us up and spoke again. “Guys, I volunteered our battalion to take the rotation this weekend!”
Wait, what? You said this just happened on its own! You volunteered to throw our weekend away? It was someone else’s turn!? What!?
Yep! Thanks. I spent that Sabbath lying in bed, trying not to dehydrate to the point of fainting. Like every Sabbath in the army.
So I spent three weeks in the army. But its hard to remember what happened during this time, as usual, a soldier’s memory doesn’t go back very far. I think the first of those three weeks, we practiced open field warfare with our entire company. What I remember most about that week was the many boulders and rocks we had to navigate.
Honest to God, I don’t remember one full week. I remember a moment out of it, when I was sitting under a tent, in the sand, cleaning my gun. But I don’t recall what we were doing there…I just remember we were there for the week.
The most recent week I remember best. We were learning forest warfare, something useful for fighting in Israel’s north, or states that border us in the north. This was the most interesting kind of warfare for us because before now we’d spent our time fighting in open desert fields. Places with practically no cover, just vast emptiness. Despite what you may think, there are pluses and minuses to everything.
We were taken on buses to a national reserve near the country’s center, the bus dropped us off on the highway four kilometers from where we would set up shop. With us was a lot of gear, and our own combat vests and personal bags. At the time, we had no idea how far we had to walk. But I’ve become used to this situation, as it happens pretty much EVERY TIME we go to the field.
But this time was exceptionally brutal. I walked along a path, with my big heavy bag on my back. I passed soldiers sitting around on the ground, resting in shade. When I finally reached the end, I dropped my things and went back to help people that still haven’t made it. I made sure to help the motivation of everyone I see by telling them “Its way better here than it is at the end. Don’t go any further, seriously.”
The commanders that reached the end wanted us to head all the way to the back, where one commander was waiting with a ton of stuff that needed to be carried. But, apparently the army called for a truck to come to help us with all our stuff. I should have been shocked by the convenience of it all, but instead I was so mad to see the commander and the guys that were waiting with him sitting in the back of the truck.
“Why did I not wait in the back!? Why did I walk all this way!? Why did I carry stuff!? I could have sat with my thumb in my ass and then climbed onto the back of this truck!”
As I climbed on to join the group of bastards, I found besides all the gear there was all our field rations loaded as well. I saw one of the commanders had opened up a can of tuna, and was nearly finished eating it by the time the truck reached me, so I too opened up boxes of food near me. I passed around some halva, and whatever else I fancied.
The next day, as we practiced maneuvers, I saw a bus drive all the way up to our camp. I couldn’t believe it. I asked my commander “why couldn’t our bus do the same!?” He answered its up to the bus driver. And I’ll tell you, bus drivers are real ass holes. They will do one thing, but not another. I’ve seen it lots of times.
They key to forest warfare is not to be afraid to roll around in the thorns. The first night we spent just jumping into bushes picked out by our commander. He would pick the most intimidating bushes, and order us to jump. But, unlike the rest of my unit, I passed the “course of aggressiveness” from basic training. So jumping into thorns was no big deal.
My favorite bush was the one that after I’d jumped into it, I found myself fighting a long long way through weeds, thorns, branches, until finally I’d come out the other side back in our camp! We’d walked several minutes away from our camp to do this, and this bush was so big I’d actually arrived back at camp again. I took the walk back, and found our commander was now jumping into the bush. As soon as he jumped and began making his way (we could hear the shouts and curses he was making as landed into the thorns), someone shouted “HIDE!”
Next thing I know, we are all hiding in various bushes. By the time our commander returned, he found we were all gone. “Hey where is everyone? You don’t want to make me have to look for you.” At which point we jumped out of our bushes, gun drawn, shouting “FIRE! FIRE! FIRE!”
He instinctively rolled and turned his gun on us, shouting FIRE. He was pretty happy as he said “I really didn’t see or hear any of you, good work.”
Then more bush jumping. The rest of the week, we practiced maneuvers in the forest. First with our squads, then with our classes, then with our entire company all the way up to our company commander. One of the exercises I’ll remember for a while.
Basically, every exercise some of us would be picked to wait in the bushes and play the terrorists.
We were fighting some terrorists, when there appeared a terrorist in some bushes behind me. I quickly turned and began firing on him, as I reported that a terrorist appeared behind me. I asked for permission to throw a grenade, and received it. This was a dry run, so a grenade is just a rock you pick up near you. So I picked up some dried animal crap, and threw it at my unfortunate friend playing the terrorist.
Later that night, I retold this story to my Sergeant. All he had to say about it was “Good”.
There was also a terrorist in front of me, played by another lone soldier. He was close enough for them to order me and another soldier to charge forward to kill him. We ran forward, firing at him, he began dropping to the ground and when I reached him I gave him a good hit on the head with the budd of my gun for good measure. I also grabbed him by the neck, and began choking him.
He later praised my aggressiveness during the post briefing. This is when we all stand around in formation and discuss what we just did, and any mistakes we might have committed.
In another exercise, (one in which we used blanks) a fire fight erupted and almost instantly the commander of our company was reported injured. The commander nearest him took command of the company, and as my class was taking a firing position, our commander was running in front of me yelling to the commander in charge “don’t worry,Eli, I’m on the way!” Those two are really good friends.
However, the person who SHOULD be in charge of the company in the event our lieutenant is injured is the company Sergeant. His job requires him to be in the rear, and it took time for him to move from there to the front, where command was his. But eventually, he did arrive, and took charge.
I remember, as I lay in the bushes, fixing gun jam after gun jam (I hate blanks, they were dirty, and my gun would jam after I fired each bullet) they reported that our lieutenant was now dead. Officers and commanders lead from the front, so it is the norm that they are injured or killed in combat early on. In fact, during this exercise the a class commander was also injured, and command of the class fell on one of the squad leaders.
Then, that squad leader was also injured, and command fell to that squad’s number two.
In the IDF, battles and wars are truly won by the regular soldiers. I don’t think any other army has its commanders lead from the front like here in Israel.
As for me, I’m the number two in my squad.
We finished the week with a 35km Masa.The terrain was not all ups and downs like the previous Masa, so it wasn’t as bad. But the ground was very hard, every step had a powerful impact, everyone’s feet hurt at the end. Still, at this point, we all feel so close to the end of all this. Just two more Masas. The next Masa is the preparatory Masa for the final Masa. And then the Final Masa, 50k + 10k with the stretchers open.
Advanced training is almost over. All we have left is War Week (the real war week and not the horrible week I termed “War Week” back in basic training) and practice urban warfare. Next week we will learn urban warfare, which is our brigade’s specialty. Our battalion commander says he would like us to do two weeks of that, rather than just one as is the norm. But this may or may not actually happen.
Aside from that, we have a week of guard duty to do. And that’s all that’s left for us to do in advanced training!
War Week will suck. But the rest wont be a big deal. I hope. We just want to get everything over with already.