A mission is a narrow goal, that regardless of circumstance, must be accomplished. The mission is the task at hand. Its never to be confused with purpose.
After a long, arduous mission, in which I’d performed well despite extreme adversity. I suspect my commanding officer sent me along with some other guys on a mission of several days to a large base nearby. A mission meant to be like a break from the more burdensome crap in the daily routine on base. This mission would last a few days, and be composed of guard duty based on a simple 4 hours guarding and 8 hours relaxing.
It became a living hell instead. We fell short of people, until we were all doing four hours guarding and four hours sleeping before the next guard duty.
Try and comprehend this existence:
Four hours you guard, you spend the next 15 minutes waiting for the next jack ass whose late for his guard duty. Since it took him at least 15 minutes to get over here and switch you, it will take at least 15 minutes for you to get back to the room we’re sleeping in.
That’s at least half an hour shaved off your own time. Want to pee? Better hurry, time is money. Got other business to do? No doubt you want to shower at some point. Call your friends/family maybe? Brush your teeth? What about breakfast, lunch, or dinner, depending on what time it is?
But wait, how much time is it going to take to do all that!?
By the time you finish doing everything you want, you’ll have left yourself maybe 2 hours. So you’ll do the bare minimum every time. You’ll skip showers.
You’ll still just get about 2-3 hours of sleep.
And this will continue until you finish your army service, or are relieved of this mission.
A few days turned into more than a week.
Why are we guarding at a place that my commanding officer felt would work like a reward? Our area is very active, and most of the soldiers on this much larger base are non-combat soldiers. People in charge of watching the monitors, mechanics for when our vehicles need fixing/salvaging, logistics people, social workers for the combat soldiers rights and requests, etc.
But you need combat soldiers guarding the posts, so that in case something happens, a trained fighter is on the scene from the get-go.
Day after day, guard duty after guard duty, the usually quiet place remains usually quiet. A trailer acts like a mobile synagogue, two or three men pray there and study there regularly. Every day in the morning, the commander of Lavi enters through the gate in his vehicle. He knows me, and makes sure to say hi every time.
Nice of him.
One time late at night, I notice a man slowly walking over to the mobile synagogue parked by our gate. I figure they put it there because it stands behind me this way, as I have my post 40 meters ahead of the gate with barricades on either side of the road each ten meters in front of the other to prevent a vehicle from driving straight into the gate at high speed.
A gate that looks like it wouldn’t be too banged up from such an attack, mind you.
I watch the man walk over. I walk after him. He is an older fellow, bearded, I don’t know why but despite him fitting the profile of the kind of man that would go to synagogue at 3 in the morning, I watch through the window as he walks over to a book shelf.
I walk begin to patrol elsewhere, thinking what if he has a bomb he wants to place in there?
At 3 am, after being bored from guard duty after guard duty, the mind can get paranoid. I walk back, and look through the window again. I see another man, who was in there from before this event, face down on the desk in front of him. He appears collapsed.
The man I found suspicious is nowhere in sight. I open the door and step inside. The man who appeared collapsed lifts his head and looks at me, surprised. The other man I wanted to see, was sitting on a chair at the other end of the room. “Hey brother, all is good here” he says to me in Hebrew.
Ok, he didn’t collapse, he’s asleep. Its 3am, he fell asleep. I nod, and walk out closing the door behind me.
And on and on it went. Day after day.
Night after night.
The post had a lot of flies, no matter how many I killed the day before. The same number will appear again the next day.
That’s ok, if you stop cleaning up the bodies of the dead flies glued by their own blood to the walls of the post, the other flies tend to get the picture and stay the heck away.
The ones that need reminding, become the new bodies.That’s at least 2 hours of guard duty, spent. Phew, something to do besides look at people.
The base is just a few minutes from the entrance to Shechem, but the military pill box down the road is an excellent stop gap measure for any trouble.
The days pass. The nights too. Its quiet. Too quiet.
I’ve stopped noticing.
One day, in the middle of that all, the sound of automatic gun fire sounds in the distance. Its maybe 6pm (18:00). My buddy at the other end of the base calls me “do you hear that shooting?”
“Yes. Its coming from Shechem.”
My positon doesn’t have a radio, the gate keeper behind me sits with a radio. I guess the higher ups decided I don’t need one, only the gate does.
Fortunately, I don’t need to report the shooting, everyone can hear it. My friend confirms it for me with the words:
“Ok. I ask because they are asking me on the radio if I see what direction the shooting is coming from.”
A military vehicle is parked in the lot outside the soldier store outside our base. It’s a place a soldier can go to buy much needed things for crazy high prices, like a burger or a pizza pie, or toiletries or snacks. Or just sit back and watch tv while charging his phone.
I never thought about the price. I just always bought what I wanted. Made 4/4 better.
I began doing my patrols more frequently. I’d move around the side of the store, and check the bus stops that are found there. I’d come back around, and make sure no one is creeping in the alley between the store and the base. From there, someone could creep along to the gate, and stab the gatekeeper the guard is not watchful.
In this case, every once in a while, that guard is me.
To my left is a beautiful, open field of grass. A welcome site compared with the walled in base behind me. The main road passes in front of it, all along its length. At the end of that large field at the opposite side of me, just 15 minutes after the automatic shooting came and went, is the sound of cars blowing their horns all at once very loudly. The sound of boom in the sky, sporadic and the sound of people shouting in the darkness. Fireworks. No visible lights or flares, just booms and shouting.
Close enough for me to want to act. Too far for me to leave my post, and my main mission, the gate behind me.
I check the situation around me. First I march over to the gate. On the way to the gate, someone exits from the store and approaches me as I walk, he asks whats going on. I answer “balagan (a mess). Stay inside.” My stride is uninterrupted the entire time.
There SITS the jobnik gate keeper, chair, table, phone, everything at his disposal. No combat vest, other than one he may have removed and placed somewhere more useless than on his body…
Don’t get me wrong, I like jobnikim. Its just, what do you want me to do? Praise the taste and usefulness of rubber fruit?
Next to him stands another person, a higher up officer of the Kfir brigade. Not sure why he was there, but he was. And I guess the noise kept him interested enough to stick around.
Curiosity kills cats, and this man definitely looked like Garfield.
I stand outside the gate, and the door to the side of it for foot traffic.
“You two hear the shooting?” I check.
“Yes” they answer. “What is that?”
They ask, as the radio next to the gatekeeper is simply off the hook with activity. Seems like everyone wants to say something about whatever is happening. In this case, what ever is happening, is happening around me. The whole world is either shooting guns on one side, fireworks on the other, and who knows what else in yet unseen places.
Meanwhile, I’m thinking who has the radio here? Me or you two !? Fine, they may very well know less than I do.
The door is not locked, you just open and close it as your enter/exit.
I command the gatekeeper, now standing uncharacteristically straight and by the door. Fully attentive to my words: “Lock this door.”
The gate is kept open wide enough for a person to cross through. Not sure when he started doing that.
“And close the gate.”
“Understood!” He replied to me with an assertive nod to me.
This entire interaction from the moment I began my walk over to the gate, until I left again took maybe 30 seconds. I turn and move on to monitor those unseen places I will not forget about despite the distractions to my left and to my right between the one kind of boom in one direction and the other kind in another.
As I walk away the officer asks me “Do you understand in matters of the radio?”
I don’t show it, but I’m annoyed that they either don’t know how to use it or don’t understand the military code being used on it. In their defense, how would they know the code? Only combatants would know our code.
I continue walking, uninterrupted by his question to me. He’ll have to just sit back until I know whats going on.
The military vehicle I mentioned earlier has a radio in it, the driver is not inside. Its locked. I hear the echoes from the radio, but can’t make out whats happening. I also don’t have time to stand around like this.
The driver is no doubt inside the store. I decide I will continue my patrols.
Area again secured.
Then things escalated and we learned what is a fighter’s value. The details are not so important to the story. I took care of it is the point here.
Why did all this happen? Someone from Shechem was killed that day.
Remember what I said about the importance of accomplishing a mission? Mine was to protect the integrity of the gate, and the area surrounding me.
No one important was hurt. Even less important people were arrested.
Later that night the army did a coordinated mission with the border police to keep that from happening again.
That was the part I can tell you about it…
The other notable thing that happened was when I asked the two dudes that I always saw praying in that mobile synagogue every night at 3am, as well as all the regular hours of the day, why they do that.
Their response was they pray for my safety while I watch over theirs.
I don’t know if it helped, but they were also in the trailer that night.
Thirty minutes later, I’m bored, and my shift ended. I walk back, the next guy has no clue what went on. How could he, he was sleeping as best he could before his shift. Or maybe eating dinner. Either way, oblivious to the world.
I give him the summed up version, even shorter than this one here. On my way back, the officer was still there.
“You earned a word to your Battalion commander.” He said as if warning me.
“What did I do?” I ask.
Jobnik Officer: “As soon as the violence started from afar, you were located here, moving and checking things. Commanding the gate and door to close, etc etc. Not many would do what you did.”
Me: “Any fighter would.”
Jobnik Officer: “I’ve been here a long time…”
I don’t know if the good word found my battalion commander, but he did go out of his way to greet me the next time he saw me after I came back to base days later.
Up until this week, my unit was closing on base 11/3. That’s soldier talk for, my company stayed on the base running missions for 11 days straight. This was followed by a 3 day breather at home. Now we do 17/4, which means 17 days on base followed by four at home. Or as an Israeli soldier thinks of it: two Sabbaths away from home.
Time at home is gold. I’m perfectly happy trading 6 days on base, for one full day at home. Hell, four days at home is the better part of a full week! Hopes are high for 16/5, we’ll see.
Since its difficult for me to write about all the stuff that happens to me now that I’m on the line, I decided I’d make a post that takes you through one mission.
The time is 11 at night (23:00), You’ve just returned from patrol. That means, you spent the last great many hours in heavy combat gear, driving around, and responding to anything and everything that happens.
Your shoulders hurt, you’ve sweat during the day, you’ve frozen over the evening. You don’t know whats better, the feeling of your back straightened out or your chest feeling expanded every time you take a deep breath and stand tall in your gear.
Feelin it? If its not your first day, you’d not be able to turn that off.
Now you’re in my shoes.
Our unit’s sharpshooter was tasked with putting together guys for a mission. At this time, everyone is tired, and if you give people a choice between sleep or more energy expending missions, you wont be surprised by what they might choose no matter what they end up choosing.
“Robert, do you want to come with us on a mission?”
In the end, we were nine guys, not counting our company’s officer who would be leading the mission.
Time to suit up. Even if you did just suit down.
Ok, first thing is first. Time to decide your weight vs maneuverability dilemma. After all, its Shechem, once it was 13 C at night and very windy. Even Robert, the Russian dude from New York, once considered wearing a coat in those conditions.
Whats the problem? Well, you’ll need to wear your bullet proof vest, and your combat vest filled with all sorts of things. You can adjust how they sit on you, but you can’t make them weigh less…and weigh on you they do.
A coat doesn’t weight a lot, but you’re maneuverability is already limited by the weight. The bulkiness of the coat just makes you more sluggish. How are you on the turns? If you fall, are you like a ninja in the air or a mop on its way down?
Well, if you are wise, you’ll have bought thermal clothing. I’ve never found a need for a coat thanks to that.
Ok, looking good. Just one more thing. We’ll need to bring some stuff with us. Lets see, there’s the emergency water in case someone faints from dehydration or something. Imagine a backpack filled with about 40 very big bottles of water. Not exaggerating.
There’s the stretcher, folded of course, we wont have to open that sucker unless someone can’t walk from being wounded or something.
Well, no worries, the officer coming with us will decide for you.
Besides, the heaviest bag there is will be on my back…
Thats the bag stuffed full of a great many grenades. Gas, flash-bang, incendiary, fragmentation, etc. Also rubber bullets…
All this stuff will not be sitting well on you, after all, your combat vest comes with its own back pack filled with your own stuff before you even got started.
Phew. You look like its really aching you. We can adjust it for you, is that better or worse?
Its now 11:45. Time flies when you’re checking equipment, and scrapping things together from various parts of the base, eh? Ok, now we wait about 30 minutes for a briefing that should have happened right about now…
Oops, that’s classified. Basically, we’re going to an Arab village, we’re going to search some houses, and if we find what we’re looking for we’ll come back with some extra people. They’ll be unhappy.
Ok, as you may have noticed while standing here outside the base’s gate. Our base is situated on a high up hill, sometimes the clouds cover it! Remember when that happened last?
Anyway, you see the lights way over yonder? That’s the Arab town. Don’t let the extremely steeply angled hills stop you, we’re going directly through all of them in the pitch blackness. That’s right, we’ll be going down all the way there at a 70 degree angle. You probably figured out by now, we’ll be coming back the same way we came. All that weight, on a journey up that will seem like it never ends.
What are you standing around looking bummed for? We’re about to lock and load!
“We’re about to go, mission silence from this point on. On my order, bullets in the chamber people!”
Everyone points there weapon 60 degrees, and load the gun. Two lines are formed, and the silent walk begins. Every man now has a live bullet in the chamber of their rifle, the entire way there and back, we are on a cross hair trigger alert. All it takes is a simple move of our finger to take off the safety.
Every man has been given a number, and each man has a man paired with him. Everyone will work in pairs.
The chain of command was made clear by the officer, his number 2 takes over if he falls. Number 3 takes over if 2 falls. And so on, and so forth until the last man.
But you’re used to that kind of thinking. Just make sure not to turn that into practice, or you’ll be pissed.
Hey, you forgot about the tons and tons of stones that seem to cover the entire landscape of undeveloped land? No worries, the numerous times you fall on the way to the village will remind you.
Of course you’ll be careful. But there’s literally dozens of stones layong on dozens of other stones, laying on dozens of OTHER stones, in a big pile, everywhere! Going around is merely an eye judgment of “which part of the ground has slightly less, too many, stones”. Ever try walking on marbles?
Oh, hey look, there is a cliff in our way. Well, F**K that cliff. Go straight on into it, we don’t have time to go around. Can’t be doing this forever.
Robert, we know the bag is making things difficult, but down through that we go.
*JUMP/Climb into the dark abyss*
Pretty good metaphor for what your life has become, eh?
Don’t get offended. Instead, grow a sense of humor there’s more cliffs on the way.
Ok you get the picture…
Hour and a half later:
We’re on the outskirts of the town. You looked at the maps right? You don’t want to get lost in this town because like usual its ass is found where its head should be, and even the people who live here aren’t sure where the head was meant to be.
The officer ahead of us went to the prone position (as they call it in call of duty).
Everyone’s in prone, until he does something else or tells us what to do next.
He says quietly to us, “Alright, lets move in the direction of our first house! We’ve entered the town just outside the house. He begins movement, everyone stands and starts.
Your thoughts are nothing other than: “MOVE, MOVE, MOVE!”
Hey! You forgot you are in a town!? People live here. From time to time, they litter. And even less frequently, they pick up the litter. So don’t wake up half the place by stepping on a plastic bottle or some other useless crap meant only to annoy the silent warrior, ok?
Look, I’m not accusing you here. Just don’t let it happen again.
We are all in prone, in a large wild garden surrounded by a line of bushes growing near the side of the house.
Someone is coming. Its like 2 in the am! Who isn’t sleeping now?!
The man is now within arms reach of some of us. Shall we grab him before he can make the sounds “ah”?
The officer answers the question by making himself known in Arabic “Stop, Stop”
The man hears the sound, but has no idea where its coming from ,or even if its to him. He continues walking, alarmed and unsure if he is dreaming it all.
I stand up from my position, he sees me, stops cold. My right arm on my gun, pointed down, the man holding a grocery bag is not a threat as of now. My left arm lifts slowly, but sternly, my hand points back the way he came. It points aggressively, assertively.
The man understands. Stands still anyway.
The officer says to him in Arabic “Go home”. The man still doesn’t know where exactly the voice is coming from. Near me are many other soldiers, none of whom move or make a sound. All of whom watch in all directions.
I sit back down into prone positon, the night covers me back over.
The man is at a loss for words. He begins to stutter some words in Arabic, the officer understands before the man finishes his sentence still half in shock.
“Continue on your way home.”
He lives in the direction he is moving. Duh.
Hmm, I’d like to get this mission done “chik chak” (swiftly) before we find out how long it takes this guy to call a buddy to warn him about Israeli soldiers in people’s backyards.
Or maybe he’ll be wiser, and not bother calling and just go to sleep.
Just be happy you aren’t lugging the grenade bag. Oh thankfully, just before we entered the town, someone else took the grenade bag from me. I guess he wanted to look bad ass too. If only he’d have had this urge while we walked here…
Ok, two lines, yalla! Up the road to the house’s front gate.
Check if its open…and YUP, no need to break NUTHIN here.
Everyone rushes inside, the officer points out spots for each pair to cover the various threats. Doors of the house, windows of the house, roofs and vantage points around the house from the town (other houses roofs, windows, and doors), and of course one pair to make sure absolutely no one enters by way of the gate we just entered.
I see a light on in a window. Looks like they never turn off the light in that window, to avoid robbers maybe.
The house is built like a castle. Three floors, wide spiraling stairs. A door on each floor, accessibly by way of the stairs. Two doors on the ground floor.
I take my position behind a tree, hiding me from whatever is outside the walls of the walled in house. Did I not mention the house is walled in? Pretty effin cool.
My gun pointed at the door in front of me. My partner is doing the same. I see he is doing the same, and I change over to the window on my right with the light on. It and the windows near it are now my bitches. A fly doesn’t fly in or out of them, without me knowing about it.
The officer in all this time bangs loudly on a door nearest the gate. Arab doors are always made of metal. The sound of the IDF knocking on your door is akin to someone taking a sledge hammer and bashing gigantic boulders made of metal at 2-3 in the morning.
A deaf guy would hear it.
If he doesn’t, we might explode open the door.
Still, no answer.
The officer doesn’t try the second door on the ground floor, the one I’m near. He goes to the second floor, knocks there a few times.
Meanwhile, some strange animal I thought at first was a cat showed up. I still don’t know what it was. Does Israel have raccoons? Maybe that.
It must have liked the spectacle, because it showed up and just stared at us. I was looking at it, thinking if I look at it, it might get spooked and go away. It just looked back at me, then got bored and looked at the rest of the spectacle taking place.
So I made a hissing noise. Scared the animal only enough to look at me again for a long time. It was frozen, then unfroze once bored again. Another soldier approached it, and it disappeared back into the night.
In the meantime, our officer was now at the third door all the way at the top of the beautifully wide stairs.
Finally, someone answers the door. The officer talks to them in Arabic, as he and a few more soldiers go inside. One of them carrying the bag of grenades. Nice.
The man who answered the door, probably around the age of 40, was sent to the second floor of the stairs. My partner and I are called on to watch him. I find him shoeless, what seems to me to be his shoes are sitting on the stairs away from him.
Not sure if we did that, or this was like that already before we came. In any case, he is sitting on the bottom of the steps on the second floor. I stand beside him, my partner stands above him on the steps.
He isn’t happy. He complains about his situation or something like that to my partner. My partner, a usually mellow fellow, looks up at the sky before looking in a direction behind him, and says in his mellow fashion…
The man, unhappy with the mellow response, or maybe feeling like a weak willed soldier stands before him…decides to stand up to say and do something.
I tell him sternly, SIT. I don’t yell. I don’t shout. I don’t request either. I command, sit.
He doesn’t listen, as he looks at me and continues to stand. I draw my weapon, this time commanding highly aggressively, SIT.
He makes an unhappy face, he sits. He is frustrated. He says nothing the rest of the night. My gun is down, and I stand still, like any other day. Just watching him for sporadic movement.
I believe he is peaceful, but should I turn out to be wrong and he try anything, it wont be more than a second before I knock him out.
Meanwhile, inside the house, the search is ongoing.
We find nothing, and move on with our mission.
The man with the map gets lost on the way to the next house. We have to back track quickly. Arab towns are notoriously messed up in design. There isn’t any design, first of all. Its build as you go for the most part.
Eventually, its time to go. Long way up hill we have to go. The guy with the grenade bag hands it back to me. “We’ll switch from time to time on the way back” he offers. I’m happy he’s being a good chum.
He never took the bag from me. No one did. I carried it all the way to the town, and all the way on the arduously longer and more difficult trek back.
I fell a lot less than on the way down. However, one of the falls I took concerned me. I fell on my arm, as it broke my fall. However, it fell quite badly on a large stone. What would break, the stone or my arm?
The pain felt like my arm. It turned out, it was probably neither of us. Too dark to know. My bone is still bruised, I feel it if I press my arm against a wall or something.
All of a sudden, the lights from the far away highways turn off. Its 5am, sun will be up soon, for everyone in their homes and paying their taxes that’s money well saved I guess.
Everyone around me, aside from being pissed about the walk back, and saying “why not Job! Why not job!” In an ironic wish to be a jobnik at the moment, or all the later moments to come.
Someone says “And Robert volunteered for this.”
Me: “If I could go back in time, and make or not make the choice again, I’d do it all over again the same.”
I don’t remember their responses because it was too many people, not understanding how I could make such a statement, at the same time.
Don’t judge too harshly, the Jews walked 40 years in the desert. You think they couldn’t walk 40 more? Long as they could complain, they could!
We arrive back at base. Time to clean the gun chamber of its bullet. We catch the bullet in our right hand as it flies out of our chamber as we unload the weapon with our left. A small feat we all learned in training.
Was this a mission or a Masa!? I swear by the end of it, my uniform was just as soaked as if I’d been marching for a great many kilometers.