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.