Thursday, January 29, 2009

Infantry Insignia

A sword and an olive branch. In one hand strength, in the other peace. The Israeli Army offers both to our enemies - some have accepted the second (Jordan, Egypt), with great results, and others have accepted the first, to their detriment (Lebanon, Syria, Hamas). The beret badge of every Israeli infantryman reminds him of his mission: to fight if necessary, to lay down arms when possible.

Since I got into Golani I've wanted to make a post describing the journey of a soldier in training. You see, you don't just get all the pretty stuff on your uniform right away. Every single thing you receive, from the strap for your gun to the beret of your brigade, the pin on the beret, the red base for the pin on your beret, the shoulder badge of your brigade, the warrior pin for your chest, special courses pins (sniper, medic, parachutist), and so on, are earned through the course of your training generally from the masaot, or very long hikes. Not for a year is your uniform complete. Not for a year can you walk in public without being known as a "tzair," or greenhorn.

So, what have I received so far, being about two months into basic training? Well, I got the strap for the gun pretty quickly. I received the beret insignia (a pin that goes on your beret) for infantry soldiers. I finally got the shoulder patch earlier this month at the same time as the beret insignia. For a month and a half I was dying for the Golani tree on my shoulder, just to know that I was finally an official Golanchik. Do you know how goofy you feel walking in public with nothing on your uniform, no pins or special beret or anything, no badge for anyone to know where you are, but yet having a next-generation assault rifle slung around your back?

But I'm slowly making my way. Slowly.

Another thing I meant to do but forgot in my post-Shabbat haste was to take a picture of the above pin before I fixed it up. I wanted to make another post like the one I did about my beret, which people really seemed to enjoy. Unfortunately, I was halfway through the process when I realized my mistake.

So, quite anticlimactically, I can just tell you the process. First of all, the pin is given to you without any shine to it. It's jet black, and you can barely make out the design without it being close up. So, you take a Brillo pad ("scotch," in Hebrew, for some reason) and some water and just start scrubbing. You only want the raised layer to become golden, with the black base remaining. Some guys scrub this thing so much that it blinds with the slightest glint of light.

Like my beret, I could scrub some more until all the raised bits are perfectly coppered, until I have the perfect compliment to my dress uniform, but eh... I'd rather get another 11 hour night of sleep before going back to base tomorrow morning.

I'll post a picture of the Golan tree sometime too.

Sunday, January 25, 2009

Crawling In The Mud

Being that I'm still in basic training, which isn't all that basic, by the way, the commanders like to jerk us around quite a bit. For example, the army gave us immigrants an entire week of Hebrew classes last month where we sat in a room and studied for 10 hours straight. It was an easy week where all we did was eat, sleep, and learn. We listened to music and even watched a couple movies and TV programs in Hebrew. I was loving it. I can do classrooms. I've done that my whole life.

All of the basic training rules and b.s. was pretty much on hold. We walked in formation from the barracks to the classroom instead of running. We only did krav maga once and a couple jogs. We didn't have all the standing still in formation for hours. Before we ate we didn't do many pushups, which we do before every meal regularly. It was raining cats and dogs all week, but we were cozy inside. We just had it easy.

Too easy, at least for one commander. Our week ended on Thursday, so Wednesday night right before TASH (a free hour before lights out) this commander had us get into our combat vest and stand behind the barracks and practice the shooting positions.

"On my yell, you're in the standing shooting position! ... AAHHPP!"

I threw my left foot forward and firmly planted it in front of my body, proper firing position. STOMP. "FIRE FIRE FIRE FIRE FIRE," we shouted. I could feel my foot sink inches into the thick, rain slicked mud.

"ENOUGH! On my yell, you're in the kneeling shooting position!"

I groaned, just waiting to feel the cold, squishy ground beneath my clean uniform.


SQUISH. "FIRE FIRE FIRE FIRE FIRE FIRE!" The wet, cold earth quickly penetrated the double layered knee bit of the uniform, creating a less than comfortable shock to a recently pampered body.

"Enough! Now, on my yell, you're in the prone shooting position!"

"Really," I asked. "Are we really about to do this?"

And then we crawled in the mud for 15 minutes.

I wish I could have gotten my sleeves and upper body in that picture.

Bedtime. I actually kinda enjoyed it...

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Tekes Hashbaah - Swearing In Ceremony

At the beginning of January, a little over a month into basic training, we had our swearing in ceremony. We swear our allegiance to the Israel Defense Forces, and in effect we become official members of the army. Without a declaration of intent, there is no promise of giving our entire self during our service. Anyone want to translate the full pledge from the Hebrew? A proper translation is the last thing I want to concentrate on right now, even though it is a powerful and beautiful pronouncement.

הנני נשבע(ת) ומתחייב(ת) בהן צדקי לשמור אמונים למדינת ישראל, לחוקיה ולשלטונותיה המוסמכים, לקבל על עצמי ללא תנאי וללא סייג עול משמעתו של צבא הגנה לישראל, לציית לכל הפקודות וההוראות הניתנות על ידי המפקדים המוסמכים ולהקדיש כל כוחותיי ואף להקריב את חיי להגנת המולדת ולחירות ישראל.

The actual swearing is something I should mention. Company by company, one after another, yells at the top of their voices "אני נשבע", meaning "I swear." I swear to uphold the expectations of my country and army. I swear to give myself without condition to the protection of the State of Israel. I swear to be the best soldier I can be.

Yes, I yelled at the top of my lungs as well. And I meant it.

I wish I had the energy to write up a big thing about how I felt, about how Zionistic I was at the moment, about how I looked at the Israeli flag and felt goosebumps and pride and a surge of courage. I wish I could express myself, but I'm just plain exhausted. So, I'll let the pictures that someone took speak for me. Sorry some of them aren't too clear - what can you do.

All the visitors around our barracks

You go around individually according to an order based on the formation
to receive your gun (ceremonially) and a Tanach (Bible). First step, stand and salute your
platoon commander. This picture is of stepping in to receive your gun

Stepping back

Saluting with your gun

The base's rabbi, our induction class commander, and the commander of
one of Golani's battalions (future politician level commander)

I snuck this one with a camera in my pocket. I wanted more, but I risked
my Shabbat by taking this one. The things I do for my readers!

I can say just a word about how weird it was before the ceremony. All the Israelis had their families and friends and girlfriends on base and around the barracks, and there I was, alone. I was just plain alone. Everyone had their moms and brothers snapping pictures and being shown around the areas that we spend our days, wondering what in the world we must do here, being so proud of them and hugging them and kisses and smiles and joking around with the commanders - and I was just there.

But really, I was happy to be there too. I know that if my parents were around, if my big bro was visiting the Golani training base, they'd be the exact same people. They'd also be asking all the immigrants questions, inviting them to our house every 10 seconds. They'd also give them more food than they could ever hope to eat.

If my family was around they'd too be giving me hugs and kisses and all that gushy stuff. My mom also would be looking at her son wondering when he got to be so tall and handsome (couldn't resist). My dad would look at his son and wonder when the hell he changed from a lanky 13 year old to a broad shouldered young man. My bro would look at me and say, "This soldier is my brother."

I knew this, and as alone as I felt, I could still feel the pride of my family from 7,000 miles away. I felt strong as a lone soldier. I felt strength as I talked to everyone's moms and saw what could only be respect in their smiles. I felt a certain distinction as I shook the dads' hands and saw what could only be admiration on their faces. I saw my mother and father in those faces, even though I have no relationship with any of those people. That is what it means when they say "Golani is a family." In truth, the army is a family for everyone, immigrants especially.

To any non-Israeli looking to serve in the army but is fearing the 'alone' factor, don't even worry about it. You're like a hero here.

And besides, you'll get tons of free food out of it.

Sunday, January 18, 2009

Talk Of The War, Or Lack Thereof

In a previous post I pondered what this Gaza conflict, Operation Cast Lead, would mean for my army service and training. I wondered whether or not the atmosphere on base would be different, if the commanders would be uberserious and scary, dark and terrible. I wondered if we would get an inside briefing on the situation. I wondered if they'd even tell us what the hell was going to happen to us.

Despite all my wondering, none of the above have turned out to be even remotely necessary. The operation began on a Saturday and we returned from Shabbat off on Sunday. I figured it'd be an odd day, but it turned out to be just like any other day. We got into our work uniforms, ran around a little like chickens with our heads cut off (read: basic training), ate lunch, learned about some weapon or something, did a lot of pushups, etc etc etc, went to sleep.

Not a word about the war was said. I was waiting all day for one of the commanders to say something like, "How are you goofing off when we're at war?!" But no, that guilt trip was never used. They never said, "Stop complaining! My friends from basic training are all in hell right now, literally!" It never happened.

In fact, Sunday was a normal day filled with kicking our butts, plenty of smiles and laughter from all parties, commanders and us greenhorns alike, and an average level of training. That normal Sunday, the first Sunday of the Operation Cast Lead, has turned into a normal three weeks.

The commanders have discussed the war three times, exactly. I'll list them here:

1) The company commander (the officer in charge of my entire group) mentioned the operation, saying something or other about what could happen. I didn't understand what he was saying, so I figured it was a language issue. We got back to the room, however, and all the guys, Israelis, bursted into confused exasperation. They had no idea what he said either, and when they asked our squad commander, he also had no idea. So, the first mention of the situation was worthless.

3) The platoon commander said in passing that Gaza, and I quote verbatim, "May affect our training."

Ah.... you notice I skipped number two, right? Well, I skipped it because our platoon actually had a meaningful conversation about the 'war,' the way the world sees Israel and our treatment in the media, and about Israel's enemies in general. While in the field two weeks ago for a week of learning battle tactics, a normal part of basic, the squad commanders had us sit in a semi-circle. They pulled out a day-old newspaper and began reading the headlines.

It's been too long for me to really recall all the details of what was said, but essentially we had a very open, very fair discussion about the conflict. Echoing the mass of the Israeli public, it seems that the guys are widely in favor of the operation seeking to end the rain of rockets into Israel from Gaza. Similar to me, they also feel no small amount of vexation over Israel's unfair treatment in the media. Most importantly, I heard a genuinely united voice calling for peace.

We read the entire stories of each of the soldiers who by that point had been killed, and though no one knew those boys, I could see real grief in my friends' faces. Good, young kids have been killed, and us Israelis want none of that. But for all of our desire for peace and quiet, our respect for all life, we just can't endure the threat and danger of rockets any longer. Though we all talked about peace, it is (was) a time for war.

So, there has been very little discussion if any about this war. There has been no information given that wasn't read by the commanders ten minutes earlier in the newspaper, if they give that. We don't even know what it would mean for our training to be suspended or modified in some way. We just don't know what's happening, at least to any degree more than you do. Nothing.

But it seems the operation is coming to an end any second now...

And I ask one question that is a poll on the upper right hand corner above the Google Search field here... Should Israel have a cease-fire without the return of Gilad Shalit?

Saturday, January 17, 2009

A Gun In Public

Last month we took our guns home for the first time. I had been waiting nearly a month in the army for this point, since we didn't take them home during Michve Alon, so by the time I finally found myself on the train down to Tel Aviv, I was giddy with pride. For the past few years I had spent so much time in Israel just wondering what it must be like for those young Israeli boys to so tangibly represent our country, to be known as a public defender at every moment. I was jealous of them. I wanted to feel like I was also helping. I wanted to be seen as a soldier, someone giving it all for the continuance of the state.

I wanted to feel the honor of slinging an IDF gun around my back. What I didn't expect, however, was how nervous I would be. I didn't expect to feel the pressure of now having no excuse to not speak Hebrew fluently. I didn't expect to feel as awkward as I did as it seemed that everyone was staring at me. I didn't expect to feel as shy as I do when people ask which unit I am in, and having to answer Golani, the most highly respected infantry unit in the IDF, I have to respond to the inevitable response of "Oh wow, that's great!"

Thanks? I just don't know what to say, so I generally just smile and nod. Despite my reticence in conversation with Israelis about the new Tavor assault rifle that I carry, which is still a novelty here, and my place in the army, I admit that I can't help but feel like a badass in public. I'm a big guy, I've got an impressive looking weapon, and I'm in a great unit - when I'm finally in the civilian world, it's like I've stepped into a movie. Am I actually walking around these streets like this? Is this legal? Is this reality? Are these real bullets in this magazine? It's all so otherworldly.

And yet, I am not a badass. I'm in basic training. We've shot our guns a handful of times (soon to change as we begin serious weapons training, but still...). I've been in the army for a couple months, not years. The scariest thing I've done was lift really heavy and really hot trays of food while on kitchen duty. The closest I've come to combat is Call Of Duty 4 on the Xbox 360. How unbadass am I? In krav maga we just started learning how to throw a proper punch. And it wasn't pretty...

But don't tell the civilians giving me smiles and nods of the head any of this. For all they know, I'm on my weekend off from Gaza. As strange as all of this is, to walk around with this gun in public, I feel an immense amount of pride and self-respect. I may not be a battle-ready soldier, but I am a soldier all the same. I may be at the beginning of my service, but my service is in Golani, in the IDF.

The sense of achievement I get when I'm home with this weapon recharges my spirit and lifts my morale. It's the proof that I'm doing it, fulfilling my dreams and ideologies. The recognition I receive from my fellow Israelis, the physical and emotional connection between an immigrant and natives that only the army can form, well... all the crap of basic training doesn't matter when I get that feedback from Israelis.

Without it, I don't know if I could continue.

Friday, January 16, 2009

Article On Golani - GLORY!

Here is a couple week old article from HaAretz, one of Israel's leading newspapers in English and Hebrew, about my brigade. Just yesterday our platoon commander was reprimanding us, and he pulled out the big guns:

"How can any of you give up so easily? Everyone that gets to Golani has to fight to get here. Right now, today, for every spot in our brigade there are four applicants. That's the highest ratio in the army. Like it or not you're here, so start acting like Golanchikim. It hurts. It sucks. You're tired. You're depressed. That's Golani. That's why they say 'Golani... GLORY."

I caught myself nodding my head and clenching my fist.

Here's the article about why they say glory:

"The IDF's Golani Brigade: Always first on the scene at the front line

By Amos Harel, Haaretz Correspondent

At the eye of the Gaza storm is the Golani Brigade. Golani is currently operating in the sector in which the IDF has seen the toughest battles with Hamas, the eastern part of Gaza City. Two days ago, Staff Sgt. Dvir Emanueloff of the brigade’s engineering company was killed in action, and last week an ammunition NCO, Lutfi Nasereldeen, was killed by a mortar on an army base near the Strip.

Golani has a complex image within the IDF. On one hand, it is known as a brigade that struggles with no small number of disciplinary problems and scandals, caused by bad behavior ranging from revolts against commanders to abuse of Palestinians. On the other hand, whenever the army finds itself taking on missions demanding determination, verve and esprit de corps, Golani is among the first brigades it calls.

The brigade carried much of the combat burden in both the second intifada and the Second Lebanon War. Since 2003, Golani has also been involved in combating Palestinian terror groups in Gaza, a task formerly fulfilled mainly by the Givati Brigade. While Golani operates under GOC Northern Command, its units are sent to combat zones on a number of different fronts in both the West Bank and Gaza.

In virtually every conflagration, Golani is rushed to the conflict point. In April 2002, during the intifada, the brigade played a central role in Operation Defensive Shield and the missions preceding it, and Golani’s actions in the Jenin and Tul Karm refugee camps led to the elimination of a number of wanted militants.

It was largely the low casualty toll, and the mass surrender of armed militants in Tul Karm, that gave the political and security establishments the confidence to conquer the major West Bank cities in that massive operation.

Golani participated in the siege on Yasser Arafat’s Muqata compound in Ramallah, the capture of the casbah in Nablus ‘(along with the Paratroops’), and in the difficult fighting in Jenin refugee camp.

In 2005, the brigade participated in the disengagement from Gaza, including the evacuation of the Gush Katif settlements. In the following year’s Second Lebanon War, it saw fierce battle with Hezbollah in the villages of Maroun al-Ras and Bint Jbail and suffered 14 casualties between two battalions.

As in Defensive Shield, the combat took place in tight urban areas, and Golani soldiers were highly awarded with citations.

Golani’s current commander, Col. Yossi Peled, has been in the position for only a few months. A veteran of the occupation of southern Lebanon, he later spent several years in the West Bank and was lightly wounded by a suicide bomber in Jenin refugee camp during Defensive Shield.

Now commanding in Gaza, he and his subordinates have chosen to remain in the field with the troops, unlike commanders in the Lebanon war, many of whom preferred to monitor the battle via TV screens far away from the fighting, rather than by observing developments on the ground."

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Shabbat Visitors

On Shabbat day, Saturday, when we are on the base for the weekend it is permissible to have visitors. They aren't allowed to enter the base, but there is a large visiting area just outside the gate. A few of the guys live very closeby, so of course their parents come, but even those that have to drive an hour or two tend to show up. All throughout the day guys are disappearing for a couple hours and returning with insane amounts of food. We stuff our faces with the feast from the civilian world.

Along with their Iraqi and Moroccan dishes, sugary candy, potato chips, and soda, my squadmates return with something less tangible. They return with a certain rejuvenation, a certain moralization from seeing their family and friends. All week we are at the mercy of a few soldiers who have only been in the army for a year or so more than us, which inevitably dampens the spirit, and so to finally be a full human again - they seem to be on top of the world.

I, however, don't have my parents visiting. My family lives 7,000 miles away. They can't just come for a couple hours and give me a much needed hug. They can't just say, "You're doing great! Keep it up!" I sit around and watch the guys come back with smiles on their faces and I can't help but feel jealous. I can't help but feel a loneliness by comparison.

The first Shabbat with visitors was tough, but I'm used to it now. I've lived far from my loved ones for well over a year now, so I'm accustomed to the distance. I take solace in knowing that I'm here on a mission, an ideological journey. I just don't let it get to me. I eat their delicious food, ask them how everyone is doing, read my book for a minute, and go back to sleep.

Nothing in this world worth doing is easy, they say.

Friday, January 9, 2009

Commander Sweetheart's Basic Training

We've spent a lot of time in our room checking our equipment, doing various things to it all like putting strings on this and that and attaching things together. These sessions have been the biggest downtime for us so far in the army; the most time without having to really truly be doing something strenuous. We're just in the room standing next to our bunks, trying to figure out how to tie some knot or how to fold up our rain jackets properly.

I love these times because they're little breaks. I see them as gifts. I work really quickly doing everything without talking more than necessary, focusing on finishing, and then once I'm done there is generally a ton of time left. I sit down and rest, or I furtively play on my phone (not allowed), and usually help others. It's nice and relaxing.

But the guys in my room, as the post before last asserts, are just plain wild. They're yelling and goofing off. They hardly work and then backtalk the commander when the time inevitably runs out without them finishing. They make stupid requests that aren't at all related to the task at hand. They just don't do their jobs, they act like kids, spoiled brats really, and consequently they take forever to do the simplest things.

The commander keeps giving them more and more time, and I sit there and watch all the craziness going on. A headache generally creeps in on most occasions. But I just sit and watch, amazed that these guys in a matter of months are going to be true warriors - actual warriors that know what the hell they are doing. Now they are brats. In 6.5 months at the end of advanced training... don't mess with them.

So anyway, in the midst of one of these potentially awesome yet ruined sessions the commander was walking around and checking to make sure we tied our tent poles together as explained. He checked mine, I got a thumbs up, and then he smiled at me and asked how I'm doing.

"Good good," I said. "But these kids..."

"What about them?"

"I mean, was it like this in your room during basic training?"

Commander Sweetheart smiled and rolled his eyes along with his head. He clicked his tongue and let out a deep breath.

"100%," he said.

"These are the times I feel like a grownup," I returned.

Commander Sweetheart gave me a knowing smile, punched me in the shoulder, and moved along to the next guy.

Thursday, January 8, 2009

Silly Punishment

I am constantly wondering what punishment is like in the American army. All I can think of is what I see in movies: standing still in the rain all night long; pushups in the rain all night long; stacking sandbags in the rain all night long; anything in the rain all night long, actually.

We have it easy in the Israeli army. What is our punishment like? Well, it can suck, but in general it's funny stuff. Take this picture, for example. Here's a guy who had to do guard duty with his combat vest, personal bag, and army kit bag on his back, three uncomfortable pieces of equipment that are not meant to be worn like this.

It's really not so bad in the IDF! How could they act like they do in the American army when this army, the Israeli army, is a mandatory service? It just wouldn't work.

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

Commander Sweetheart At His Best

My commander, a small Ethiopian guy with a big smile, is probably the best thing that's ever happened to me in the army. He understands my position (24, mature-ish, educated, motivated, less than perfect Hebrew), and better yet, he seems to respect me. When I mess up, which is inevitable, he tells me what to do instead of yelling and giving me punishment. My squad commander is just about the greatest guy in the world.

The other morning us religious kids returned from the morning prayers and did the obligatory announcing of the commander. It's like the "officer on deck!" thing in the American navy, I guess. Commander Sweetheart put a smile on my face as usual:


Commander Sweetheart walked down the line with his hands in his pocket, a grin on his face, and then came to a stop. He stood with his feet together in the orthodox Jewish prayer style and rocked back and forth like an Old Word rabbi.

"Amen!," he shouted.

Saturday, January 3, 2009

Hanukkah In The Jewish Army

I studied in a Jewish seminary (yeshiva) a few years back, and at the time I was just beginning to consider the idea of serving in the Israeli Army. This particular yeshiva is a "charedi" institution - essentially ultra-orthodox. Charedi yeshivas are generally not very Zionistic, and their opinion of young men serving in an army instead of spending all day every day studying Torah is fairly low. So, when I volunteered to a rabbi that I was interested in the IDF, the response wasn't warm, to say the least.

The rhetoric thrown around was that the IDF is a "bad place for religious Jews." They liked to say that it's hard to be religious there, that it's hard to keep your level of faith, and that there are too many bad influences. At the time I didn't have any other information, I didn't know what it's like to be orthodox in the army, so I just took it for what it was worth: hyper-religious Jerusalemites judging what they had no experience in in the first place. I didn't know what to think, but I assumed that they were being slightly dramatic.

And now I know just how wrong they were. I have become even more observant of Torah law in the army. I pray three times a day, as required in Judaism, I'm kosher without condition, and I celebrate all the holidays and cultural events to the max. It's just so easy to be religious in the army. We wake up in the morning, do a gun safety check, and then we are promptly given nearly an hour for the morning prayers. It's either pray or clean the rooms...

Easy choice. Shabbat and the holidays, as well, are just kind of thrown in your face. For example, for Shabbat the entire base eats a festive and special meal together on Friday night. In the beginning we say the kiddush, a sanctification of the sabbath day, with the entire base standing with heads covered in the Jewish fashion. We all say amen together, and inevitably hundreds of soldiers are singing and dancing to Jewish songs. There's also a dvar Torah, or a saying from the Torah - similar to a sermon, but usually a highly specific and interesting tidbit on an aspect of a Bible story.

In fact, the army is such a good place for religious people that I have actually wondered if the secular soldiers are often uncomfortable or offended. We say prayers together, we have to listen to a religious sermon from a rabbi, there is a large synagogue in the middle of the base, the meals are mandatory, and the commanders made it very clear to not disturb the Shabbat observant crowd - i.e., electronics playing music, excessive use of the lights, etc.

I'm constantly surprised at the religiosity of this organization. So when Hanukkah came around I was happily surprised as we were gathered each night to light the candles, say the prayers, and join in on singing and dancing to celebrate the victory that the Maccabeans had over the powerful Greeks. Here we were, a group of Jewish soldiers celebrating the most unlikely of upsets by our Jewish brothers 2000 years before. For so long we had no state, much less no army, and consequently we had no security. Our people were thrown from land to land, abused and led like sheep to the slaughter. But finally we've returned, and I'm a part of that.

As we sang "Al HaNisim" I couldn't help but feel the hand of divine assistance; the Maccabean War and the 1948 War of Independence seemed like one and the same. Hanukkah is a celebration of the Jews overcoming the Greek oppressors, a regime that attempted to destroy the Jewish people, faith, and state. We overcame them then, and we will overcome the attackers of our state again. Hanukkah is a celebration of the physical strength to be found in faith, and I think what the charedi yeshivas are missing is that the IDF's fist is steeled only because its other hand is grasping a Torah.

We know where our strength comes from, just as Joshua and David knew, just as Judah The Maccabee knew. Here's a video of my platoon dancing and singing part of "Al HaNisim." I wish I had the camera out for the lighting of the candles. Look below the video for a translation of the song.

"And for the miracles, and for the salvation, and for the mighty deeds, and for the victories, and for the battles which You performed for our forefathers in those days, at this time.

...When the wicked Greek kingdom rose up against your people Israel to make them forget Your Torah and compel them to stray from the statutes of Your Will, You in Your great mercy stood up for them in the time of their distress. You took up their grievance, judged their claim, and avenged their wrong. You delivered the strong into the hands of the weak, the man into the hands of the few, the impure into the hands of the pure, the wicked into the hands of the righteous, and the wanton into the hands of the diligent students of Your Torah..."

Thursday, January 1, 2009

The Guys In My Squad

Squads are the smaller units of the army, generally consisting of 15 or so guys. So, it's me and a dozen Israeli kids sleeping in one room. That room is your unit, the guys you do everything with. We have to sit together in the dining hall. We shoot together. We receive punishment as a group. It's an in-your-face experience with absolutely no time apart.

Being 24 years old has been tougher than I expected. So many people like to say that Israelis are much more mature than Americans at the end of the teens because of the army, and maybe that's true, but at 18... they're much worse. I'm not sure if they're just rebelling, if they're just coming from a culture with more freedoms and less seriousness, or if they're just idiots.

Sometimes I think they're just idiots. As you can tell, this past week for me has been insanely frustrating. I decided to come to Israel to help defend this state, for whatever that's worth, and so I'm just about the most serious person in the world at this point. I give 110% in everything I do. I don't open my mouth. I don't complain. I don't ask questions to ask questions. I don't make requests. I do what I'm told, and that's what I think everyone should be doing.

My squadmates aren't on the same page with me, however. Consequently, we've got one hell of a situation in our room. Our commander, Commander Sweetheart as I've decided to call him on here because he's so nice (and that's the problem for them), is just about finished with us. The pushups have increased. The frequency of putting on full combat gear and going for sprints have increased. Putting on the gas mask and doing work is a regular occurrence. Despite all this, the punishment just isn't working.

So the other day while the guys were laughing and goofing off in formation, the commander got really straight faced, turned around and put his hands up in exasperation, and told us to run to the basketball court around the corner. When we got there he made us get into matsav 2, the pushup position, and we didn't leave that for a solid twenty minutes.

I'm pretty sure about half the exercising I've done has been because these boys can't make the connection between goofing off and getting our butts kicked. Needless to say, I've been more than frustrated of late. It's a strange thing to like someone as a person but detest them as a coworker/colleague/squadmate.

Prepare for a couple more griping posts as the guys in my room slowly learn to behave, hopefully. Oh, and one last thing.  Don't get me wrong, these guys are becoming soldiers in the best army in the world.  They are learning what it means to be a Golanchik, what it means to be a 'warrior,' but the whole process would just be easier if they could learn to talk less and listen more.  I guess they'll figure that out sooner or later.

And either way, don't worry about me - at least I'm getting into really good shape!