To the New Guy

Things every soldier will become familiar with in the Israeli Army:

There are things every Israeli soldier will hear, no matter where you serve. These, are they, and if you readers have anything to add feel free to leave a comment.

1. “I have no strength (for this)”.

2. “Until when?”

3. “How much more?”

4. “Where is everyone?”

5. “Why even start?”

6. Spaz (as in, you are a Spaz)

7. Autist (as in, you are autistic)

8. Pity for the time, (as in, too bad time flew and we couldn’t enjoy this longer) This can be used sadistically about something you wish would end sooner, or be genuinely sad about not getting to do something fun longer.

If you go to Michve Alon, DON’T LOSE ANYTHING. If you lose ANYTHING, you’re going to have a bad week or even month. Most people at Michve who wanted to join a combat unit get discouraged by Michve Alon. The reason is because at Michve there is only basic training level 02 (Jobnik level), which means there isn’t anything to learn other than making a perfect Het formation, a perfect three rows of soldiers, never forgetting your canteen of water anywhere other than on your person, and never losing any item given to you by the base.

Its very little to teach, so everything is watched for to the most minute level. Logically, people think that the combat units will be even worse than this, since they naturally require a greater level of discipline and commitment. But, guess what? In combat units, there are more important things to grill into your subconscious.
Forget your canteen? All that means is that you’ll be thirsty until you have a chance to either drink or get your canteen. My own unit still makes the most disastrous Het, by Michve Alon standards. A Het is like a lower case n, a line makes the base and two parallel lines make the sides. The sides should have an equal number of soldiers, and the base should always have more soldiers than the sides.

I like to joke all the time about how there’s 300 people on one side, and four people on the other. The commanders like to use this as evidence of retardation on our part, but at the end of the day they have more to do with us than drill us on something like this.

Don’t get me wrong, a combat unit is tough. But all the things you thought were hard at Michve, they are easy in a Combat unit. It’s the combat stuff that’s meant to be hard.

Remember this, everything passes. I remember when I first learned this little tidbit. It was during the tryout for the Paratroopers. We were holding very have sandbags over our head for stretches of time. After doing this a bunch of times, the instructors asked if anyone would like to quit now. A number of people quit, and sat down next to the rest of us. The tryout was over for them. They looked at us, in depression. We continued, I glanced a look at them and thought “No way am I going to look sad on the side. Even if this kills me.

And you know what? A few minutes later, we finished with it. The ones that quit were taken away. And the rest of us, moved on to the other things. Throughout basic training, and advanced training, the most physically crushing things all have a time limit. They hit us like waves from the sea against the rocks and sands of our own bodies, and have nothing left to do but return back to the sea from whence they came. Everything passes. Before you know it, its all over.

The army isn’t logical. Or, at least, one hopes they use a logic that simply isn’t known to you. Get used to getting screwed. Without lubrication. Your life belongs to them now. So, run, jump, shoot, be on time, request things, but at the end of the day expect only the worst. You’ll either be pleasantly surprised, or get exactly what you expected. That’s my attitude.

Sound depressing? Sound like a story of low self-esteem? How much you have still to learn.

Women aren’t impressed by soldiers. They are surrounded by soldiers. They might find your rifle interesting, since it means you’re a combat soldier with training up the whazoo and a responsibility to kill bad guys. But you know what? If you carry a rifle, it means you’re usually on base a month at a time, and never get to see any lucky girl that found you cute enough to date. By the time you come home, she’s done waiting, and has already moved on to that cute jobnik next door. Why not? He comes home every day after 5pm.

Never lie. Never ever lie. Not to your commanders. Not to your fellow soldiers. If you lie, even once, and are caught…you lost the trust of those you lied to. Now imagine a firefight situation, and the people around you don’t trust you.

There is nothing worse than losing the trust of one’s commander. You need your commander for every basic thing. And if he or she doesn’t trust you, your word that you NEED something becomes just another possible lie to them.

Every new recruit starts out thinking “I want to be a commander”. Well, just know, before you even get a chance to be a commander, you’ll go through the worst 7 months you could imagine. 10 if you count Michve Alon. At that point, you’ll only want to finish your service in one piece with whatever strength you have left. If you have any left. Plenty of people drop out in this time.

But remember, it all passes.

Be vocal. If you want to be noticed, say something. Never hold back. Israelis will never hold back, even over the stupidest things. And you know what? The commanders will respect that, every time. It’ll never happen that they’ll thing “This guy is being a woman.” You, the American or foreign volunteer, all gung ho and not expecting much, will think they are being a woman. But the commanders wont. So get what you want out of a situation. Don’t be shy.
More importantly, what I mean is, be vocal at all the group talks. If you’re vocal there, you’ll get rewarded for it, many many months later.

Everything is a test. Your commanders will ask you to do things, from time to time, just to see if you are competent enough to do them. Your commanders will ask you for favors, like count the guys from your unit on a bus. The commanders already know who is on the bus and who isn’t. They just want to see how you do with a task.

I could go on and on, but I guess some things are best left to be learned.

Good Luck, New Guy.

This is for you, you wont be allowed to say it for a while:

Until When!?

8 thoughts on “To the New Guy

  1. Robert – My son enlists in a week. I’ve already told him about your advice on the olive green thermal underwear. Anything else he should get before he gets to the base? Any other advice?

    • olive green thermal pants, and olive green thermal shirt. He can buy it at any military surplus store in Israel. I frequent the chain called “Ricochet”. Its in virtually every city, and likely in or near any big mall area.

      The army will provide everything he’ll need. The one thing they wont give is the thermal clothes. But to be honest, I have only needed to use it once in a while, so most of the time it stayed home. But that field week in the North when I was in Michve, it was absolutely vital. I was not freezing during the day, everyone else was. Simple as that.

      The best advice is something I touched on here and in another article “What its like to be a Soldier”: Buying things to make service easier isn’t much of a help if you aren’t in the right frame of mind. The frame of mind is: you are there to give of yourself 100%, and no one is expected to care or appreciate you for it.

      Prepare for the things you can’t possibly be prepared for. Prepare for the things that scare you. Prepare to learn who you are, and what you are made of, and get comfortable with the idea that you may not like what you find out.

      I realize you want more items he can buy, but really, he wont need to buy anything. The army will provide all the items he’ll need. What the army wont give him is a lesson like the one in this comment. Although, if he goes to Michve Alon, there might actually be some mental preparing.

      I remember a day we had when my commander held a class and explained the army as an organization where your mental state is constantly driven from happy , to depressed, back to happy, in a cycle. With various stages in between.

      I found this to be 100% accurate, and it helped me to acclimate early on.

      • Robert – I’m not eager to spend more money, so good to hear.

        I think he is in that state of mind you recommend. He wants Paratroopers, like I think a lot of lone soldiers do, and he deliberately passed when they offered him the minimum six-month service, and also “jobnik” roles. But of course from reading your blog, being in that state of mind the week before you enlist, and also maintaining it for nine months, are two different things.

        Thanks again.

        Cary

          • Robert – one thing to add to the list of things that parents can get their kids – if they’re in a unit like Nahal that sleeps in tents – is a good sleeping bag. Our son took his North Face sleeping bag, and he says he is very comfortable even though he’s farthest from the heater in the tent, whereas the other soldiers using IDF-issued sleeping bags are curled up in fetal position!

          • Good advice. Also, I would like to stress again thermal clothing. I’m now stationed somewhere cold at night. Its so necessary.

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