Urban Warfare and War Week

These last two weeks were probably the last intense weeks of advanced training. The rest is a piece of cake compared to what we’ve been doing since the course began in June. Hell, since March if you count basic training.

Urban Warfare is my brigade’s specialty. We are just as well trained as any other brigade in in forest warfare and desert warfare, but urban warfare has our name on it so to speak. I always liked that about Kfir, I’m a city boy. I like urban settings, and I felt I could feel no better than fighting in a built up area with malls, houses, coffee tables…

The army built an urban warfare training center, they made it look just like a typical Arab city. The crappy street planning, the Arab looking houses, mosques, etc.
It was an intense week. But by the end, we were practicing in sync with our entire battalion. As usual, some of us would play the terrorists (with blanks).

Video on Urban Warfare at the IDF’s largest Urban Training Center

I now appreciate just how crazy urban warfare is. Every corner can hide a problem, every window can hold a surprise, and every movement without cover is like saying Hello to a world you’d rather avoid.

In one exercise my platoon was entering the city from the forested area that surrounds it. As we began entering the area, running to the nearest house to secure it, a terrorist began firing on us from….somewhere. I was at the time still in the bushes and could not see the action. It came my turn to enter the area, with my partner, and as we ran as fast as we could through the terrain and boulders that could easily hinder us we came upon two soldiers laying on the ground wounded. They were both next to each other, directly on the opening where the forested path enters the backyard of the house we wanted to enter.

The terrorist was in that house.

Soon, we were ready to enter the house. Once we cleared the first floor, it was apparent the terrorist was on the second floor. Still shooting at other platoons operating in city simultaneously nearby. I remember how angry I was about the fact that he was so close, right above us, yet I was unable to receive the order I wanted: “Go upstairs, and f***ing kill him.”

I don’t know why but that simply not what the commanders wanted. Eventually, someone else got to kill the terrorist, he was so happy he dragged the soldier who acted as the terrorist to the entrance of the house where we were “Here’s the terrorist!” he shouted as he ran off.

Urban warfare is a lot of shouting. I remember as I stood around the side of a house, knowing there was a terrorist on the second floor, I shouted to my commander for permission to throw a grenade. The commander didn’t answer me, but it didn’t matter, seconds after I shouted the terrorist peered out of the window. My gun was covering the window, but as I shouted I committed a mistake I now know never to make again…I turned my face in the commander’s direction around the other corner. Because of the few moments it takes to turn one’s face back to one’s weapon, the terrorist had the upper hand, and shot me.

I fell to the ground, wounded. Pissed.

My commander, as it turns out, was fallen on the ground wounded just a few moments before I shouted to him.

You would think silence is key in any warfare, especially urban warfare where people can be hiding in closets, behind distant windows, etc. But such is the nature of warfare. We shout a lot in urban warfare. Certain people have radios, but everything is done with shouts.

We shout when we see something, we shout to report, to ask permission, to repeat an order to those who need to hear it off in the distance.

We shouted in the other kinds of warfare too, just the same. But this was really a lot more…to use an Israeli expression, balagan (chaotic). I guess because in an open field the shouts aren’t as distracting. But in a living room, with a platoon of people to coordinate, its quite a mess of a noise.

In the final exercise in which our entire battalion participated, my company was designated as the med station guys. In other words, we were tasked with carrying all the wounded from where ever they fell to a house we secured. I was basically running from our house across the road to another house where many were wounded. And one by one carried them to our house, where first aid would be administered.

I took this seriously. After picking up one soldier on my back, I sprinted back to where I came from. He was obviously not very comfortable from every leap I made and said something like “Robert, WTF!” To which I said “Do you want to live or what!?”

I don’t like being exposed on a road.

As I and two other soldiers behind me were running up to our house, each with wounded on their back, our platoon commander was pleased as he shouted to us “This is how a combat platoon looks!”

Most of the casualties were from our second company. In fact, most of second company was wounded, including three (out of three total) commanders. This takes me back to the fact that our leaders lead from the front, they are first through the door or window, and if someone needs to eat a bullet they are going to eat it first. My most favorite thing about the IDF is the phrase “After Me!”, because it literally means exactly that. First him, then you.

I was crouched by a window, covering our rear, when a commander took me aside and said “this man has been wounded in the bottom of his leg, treat him!”

To which I protested, I tried to get out of it “But I’m covering this window!”. His response: “I’ll cover the window, treat him”. I then began applying the bandage, the wounded soldier was requesting that I not make it too tight (after all its just practice). But the commander wasn’t happy with my attempt at trying not to make it so tight. So he then removed it all, and did it himself, very tight. “Thats how its done”.

The wounded were laid out in rows from one end to the other. My commander was teasing the wounded commanders, about everything. The fact they were wounded, the fact most of their company was out of commission, and most of his was fine and babysitting them. They just laughed. At some point two of the wounded commanders fell asleep on the floor, and my commander took a picture of them.

He was having a lot of fun.

A unit of photographers from the army joined with us while we trained.
Kfir Brigade Soldiers at the Urban Warfare Center

And yet, I still like that this is our specialty. Maybe we will do another week of this again before advanced training is over but more likely we’ll do guard duty either on the border with Gaza, or Hevron.

So go the rumors.

War Week was this week.

Here’s how it went:

Throughout training every soldier carries with him two canteens of water, each holds about 2/3 of a liter. For War Week, every soldier had to carry six liters of water on their person. The two canteens, plus a bag of water that holds two liters and goes inside the pocket of our combat vest. Its convenient because it has a tube that connects the water to our mouth. They graced us with this convenience for war week, and now it stays in our vests the rest of our service, which is great. Also, these bags of water were donated to us by people from abroad. Thanks people from abroad, we love you too!

The rest of the necessary water would have to come from however many bottles of water one needs to place in their vest (it has a knapsack in the back) to reach six liters.

This is all the water one will have for the duration of War Week.

To help comprehend this little tidbit, think about this.

War Week started Sunday night, at 2:30 in the morning and ended Weds afternoon, around 2pm. Activity never stopped, not for the nights and not for the days. There was no sleep time. The best you could get for sleep, is hope to be asked to cover someone in a laying position. Maybe you could steal a bit of sleep that way.
Those who were lucky enough to find that order, still managed to get only an hour total from the week.

Furthermore, although its September its still as hot as hell here in Israel. In the army there is a law that states when the temperature reaches a certain height, all training activity must be called off. Essentially, this means we take off our combat vests and helmets, and find some shade, and wait for the day to cool off.
This temperature was reached daily during the month of August (to my memory). However, during War Week, this law doesn’t apply.

And since we are serving in the Jordan Valley (the second hottest place on Earth), the feeling of the sun on our skin feels like…burning. At least until you get used to it and stop paying as much attention.

So now, imagine having only six liters of water despite being constantly active and hot as hell during the days. Now imagine carrying heavy items on your back aside from all the water. For example, every soldier must carry the LAW bag, something I described in a previous post. This bag carries all sorts of essentials and combat related items. It and our combat vests with all their accessories, probably reached 30-40 kilograms. A person weighs 70-80 kilograms.

Now aside from this, every platoon has a stretcher and the water emergency bag. Those go on someone’s back too. Easily bringing them to 50 kilograms of weight on their back.

My personal job requires me to carry the stand on which my machine gun can be placed. It weighs six kilograms (the old ones weigh 12 kilograms). Or the soldier I command, who normally carries the machine gun which weighs nearly 11 kilograms.

Basically, people carried nearly two third their body weight, just to carry their own crap. Now there’s also the heavy crap from the people who sit on a distant hill with mortars, grenade launchers, my machine gun, and other stuff. Eventually those people (us on the hill) join with the rest of the battalion, and now everyone is helping us carry the heavy crap that we were stuck just helping each other with.

Once all the water has been finished, the commander of the company can give permission for each platoon to refill their water bottles from the water emergency bag. A bag full of water bottles, at least 40-50 liters. This bag is meant for other reasons however. So permission is far from forthcoming.

The bag is meant for soldiers who dehydrate to the point of fainting. We use the water to spill on their naked bodies in an attempt to cool their body temperature. Mainly, because for a soldier to have fainted from dehydration, it means his body became so hot that his brain actually allowed his core temperature (to use a computer term) to elevate beyond the legal limit God intended in a human being’s programming.

At the same time, a medic will open up the soldier’s vein and start putting water through a tube directly into the soldier’s blood stream.

And I suppose if we can, we’ll get him to drink through his mouth too. I don’t know, I’m not a doctor. I just have training…

Anywho, once the bag of water is accessed for refilling our bottles. That water is gone. How long will another six liters last?

So before you know it, the only way to have more water is for the commander of the whole battalion to give permission for a giant water carrier, that carries hundreds of liters of water, to come and refill our water bags and our personal bottles.

The big water carrier is something we always had with us at every field week, but during war you wont have that convenience. So during War Week, neither did we.

That was the water situation. How about the food? You would think that during War Week we’d eat the same designated War Rations as during any field week. After all, they are war rations meant specifically to be eaten during combat. But for once, our Battalion Commander decided to be merciful on us I suppose. Instead of having to place heavy boxes of war rations in our bags, every soldier was given three sandwiches.

That’s all. Three sandwiches. And unlike the water, there’s no “bag of sandwiches” we take with us.

Hungry, Sleepy, Dehydrated.

Lots of soldiers fainted. Imagine seeing a warrior fall, without consciousness, with all the weight on his back on top of him. And the poor guy was already out of consciousness considering he is sleep deprived for a long time, moving with his eyes closed.

So yeah, that sucked. It was not a week of learning. We already learned everything. It was simply a week of hardship in which we had to demonstrate what we learned before, yet again. No one feels like they are closer to anyone, because there was no moment to be closer. There was no break or rest. It was simply horrible, worse than an actual war I think. After all, every day was a Masa. In an actual war, I doubt we’d do anywhere near as much walking. We’d probably be driven or flown to the border, then walk some kilometers to the target and have our war there.

Moving on…three weeks left of advanced training, yay.

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