Monday, March 30, 2009

Soldier Gear In A Metal Detector

Recently we were sent down to a base in the south to be involved in a large scale training simulation for reserve soldiers, but due to a mistake in calculation, my group was sent back to our base. We got all dressed up in our alefs, dress uniforms, and with combat vest and sleeping bag in hand, took the bus and train up north. How funny it was to walk through train stations and busy city streets with field gear, but yet being dressed in the nice, clean uniform. I think the guys were fairly embarrassed, for some reason I can't divine. They literally begged to travel in our work uniforms. I bet they just wanted to look tough, like we were coming from Gaza or something.

I thought it was hilarious. What was the best part? The beautiful young female security guards at the Be'er Sheva train station made us all put our combat vests into the metal detector. I mean, think about what kind of stuff you would put in a combat vest. Honestly. What was she looking for? Dangerous things? Hmm...

That's a picture I snapped very quickly with my phone. Sorry it's not clearer, but you get the point!

Saturday, March 28, 2009

Open Question

Any computer people out there know why the right hand side of this webpage is magically on the very bottom of the page?

Send me an email if you know what's up:

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Commander Names

When we returned from our 10-day break after basic training, we all were wondering what would happen to the 'distance' between ourselves and the commanders. We were asking each other whether or not the squad commanders, the lowest level of commander, and the guy you refer to as "my commander," would open up and tell us about themselves, their lives, and all of that. Would they be like friends, we asked, because many of them are just obviously great guys and you can't help but want to talk to them as human beings. They are 19-year-old kids, after all.

My commander was fairly slow on revealing his last name (which we already knew anyway) and his family story, but the day we got back from our break he instituted a new policy. Let's say his name is Eitan.

"Anyone that calls me Commander Eitan, as we did in basic, is going to buy me a can of soda," he declared to us while in our room.

"Seriously," I asked?


Do you have any idea how hard it is to go from three months of getting in trouble if you don't say commander this or commander that, to all of a sudden getting in trouble for saying it? That's the hardest reversal of reinforcement ever! It turned out to be a crazy first few days, with many a funny incident that I can't really relate.

At the end of the first night, Eitan came to our room with an empty plastic bag, and left with about 10 cans. We all messed up so badly with the first new rule of advanced training that he decided to just make us all buy him one can each. It was really pretty fun.

Honestly though, I'm personally just not sure how all this 'breaking distance,' as it's called, is working. You see, all the squad commanders are still very much authorities, but they walk around being so much more close to us. This one lanky guy from a different platoon always talks to me about some current issue, and then this other guy always teaches me new close quarter combat strikes (chokes, hand twisting, karate chops, etc), and yet another wants to try his English on me - or rather make fun of American accents, I think.

But yeah, what's up with me and Eitan? He's such a great guy. He looks out for me and my rights as a lone soldier, makes sure I'm doing ok, and all that. I love him to death. Sometimes he just smiles at me, and that is one of the best feelings in the army, to know that you're human and looked at as a peer. But all of this is strange, because all of the closeness is always a one-sided initiation. The commanders initiate the personal connection, not the soldier.

What that means is that it's still a little strange, and maybe frowned upon for all I know, for a soldier to just go up to a commander and ask him what's up. "Hey, how you doing?," for example, is something that I only ask when I'm trying to push the buttons a little. I know who to do that with, and who not. I asked one of our new commanders that the other day, a meathead kind of guy, and he just looked at me blankly and walked away. I really just don't know our standing with these guys on an official level.

And maybe the entire point is that there is no official stance. Everything seems so up to the interpretation of the commanders at this point. Two commanders have said to me in private after yawning and rubbing their faces, "ugh, so exhausted," and that's fairly unheard of from a commander. Those little glimpses of imperfection are so encouraging. Even those guys get tired. I just wish they would be so personal and honest with us as a group, instead of those rare moments alone with them when they let down their guards (generally when you have guard duty together at 4am).

I'll keep you updated on all this, if you're interested. I am constantly pushing the boundary on this, so it's a fun part of my current life in the army. A sergeant of another platoon in my company (you're al in the same area all the time, by the way, so you interact occasionally) is a funny looking little guy, and so I like to just walk up to him and stare at him. I'll go up, look at him, and say something like, "Hey. Nice weather, yeah? How's your group doing? You need a real soldier like me to help them?"

He can't help but smile that goofy crooked smile of his. If I have to wake up at 5am, I'm gonna have some fun with it!

Saturday, March 21, 2009

The Worst Feeling Ever - Part 2

For the first part, please scroll down. It's the post directly before this post. Enjoy.

After a struggle of about 45 minutes the first of us pulled each other up the slippery hill, only to have to run back and help the people about half a kilometer behind. Once we were all up by the road we dropped our gear into a semi-circle and waited. The platoon commander was being yelled at by the bus driver, which I later found out was because he didn’t want us to go onto the bus with our wet rain jackets and pants. Now, mind you, this was the base bus, which has a metal floor, Plexiglas windows, and school bus style plastic benches. It’s not a touring bus, so I’m not sure what his problem was.

I took a look at my watch and saw it was about 8pm. We were finally told to take off all our rain gear, put them into our vests, and bring that onto the bus. I stood in front of the bus and used the headlights, rain illuminated by the beams, to take off and pack my gear. Once I pulled myself up into the bus I saw down, and by now it was pretty cold, and I was soaked. I was sitting on a tiny seat with another guy, drenched jackets on and a dripping vest on my lap. The bus was steaming inside from the cold weather and our warmed bodies all crammed together.

There wasn’t an inch to move, with people standing and sitting in the middle aisle, not an empty space to be found. Gear was piled on us, around us, and under us. I actually felt a little claustrophobic, being soaked, feeling heavy, crammed in, unable to move my legs, feet, or arms, people crushing me from on top, vests next to my head, the heavy air hardly able to breathe. It was really the physically miserable condition I’ve ever felt.

And then the rain started. All of a sudden it came in a sheet, smacking against the roof and plastic windows. PING PING PING, we heard, pings of sharp rain. As terrible as it was inside, at least we weren’t out there, I thought. I looked around and saw everyone huddled in their jackets, fighting the cold, trying to forget where they were. It seemed like we were waiting for hours, and for what we didn’t know. I finally freed my arm and looked at my watch: 1 hour had passed.

To my right out of the hazy window I saw a pair of headlights come up the hill, slicing through the interminable rain. I recognized them the vehicle as the transport Hummer that I had helped unload upon arriving at the camp a couple days before. The sergeant then stood up and told us, many of us sleeping, by the way, to put on our rain jackets, not the pants though, and to get off the bus. I didn’t move, thinking that wasn’t happening, and looked around and saw only a handful of people budge.

“NOW,” the sergeant barked, “NOW NOW NOW!”

Most of us got up as quickly as possible, considering the state of the place, and I woke up about five different guys who were in deep sleeps. They looked so confused, and I felt pretty terrible. I eventually found myself at the exit, and like I was about to dive underwater, I took a deep breath before stepping outside. My foot slipped in the mud, and instantly the rain stung my face. I then realized why it was making a pinging noise against the bus: hail and freezing rain.

If Noah’s flood was acid, as our tradition holds, this was certainly the closest I’ve ever come to understanding such a destructive force. Also braving the conditions were a couple commanders, and they quickly had us go over to a large transport truck. The Hummer backed up to the truck, maybe 15 feet away, and then we were told to start unloading the gear that was crammed in. A light in the Hummer revealed hundreds of sleeping bags stacked on top of heavy metal poles, sharp wooden sticks, and all other various shooting and camping gear.

About 50 guys stood there, unsure what to do. The rain was coming in so hard from the wind that you couldn’t see, sheets of it blinding sideways, and gusts of wind that must have been 50mph. I was one of about 10 people that actually worked, the rest standing huddled together on the side of the road. I was reminded of those penguins that stand huddled against the Antarctic winter, just waiting for better weather. The soldiers were just waiting for us to finish. I looked over at them, through the darkness and blinding rain, and saw indistinguishable shapes. It was that bad. I didn’t blame them for not working.

After unloading the sleeping bags, their slick muddy fabric sliming all over my face and dripping down my neck into my shirt, we had to unload the sleeping pads. I would grab about five at a time, lose four to the wind, and stand with the pad between me and the gusts. By now it must have been hurricane conditions. I couldn’t see anything except a light from the Hummer, and I just endured behind the mattress for as long as I could, waiting for those in front to pass it up into the transport truck and the guys stacking inside.

I was wet to the core, pants just totally useless as they were drenched and clinging to me, shoes and socks squishing with each step. From the relative safety of the mattress, which I hung to for dear life, I peered into the wall of the rain and saw the huddled masses again. They stood totally unwilling to move, statues of shiny camouflaged rain jackets hunched over. They ignored the yelling coming from those of us working. I shivered every second we were out there, my body unable to move, my jaw unable to stop chattering.

I saw them and thought nothing. It seemed so natural to me that they were standing together, grouped on the side facing us, heads down and hoods covering all signs of a face. They were like some dark creatures with no features in a movie, a sign of something bad to come, something gloomy.

I didn’t know why I was working, why I wasn’t standing with them. I understood. For the first time in my life, I actually thought that I was in a position to die from weather conditions. In my mind I said, “If I’m out here for another 15 minutes, I’ll get hypothermia, and if I didn’t have on either this rain jacket or winter jacket underneath, I’d already be dead.” I swear to you that I said that to myself.

Finally we finished unloading the Hummer and loading the transport truck. We were rushed back to our bus, and I got back to my seat and huddled together with the guy next to me. I felt so disgusting, and even nauseous, but I tried my best to fall asleep. I couldn’t, however, and started looking around to see my compatriots. I’d say 90% were sleeping. “Defense mechanism,” I thought.

And then I saw two. They had no jackets on, no warm gear at all for that matter. They were shivering, soaked, and pale. They looked near death. Their faces were expressionless, and they sat hunched over and shaking. I for sure thought they were going to get hypothermia. I just remember thinking, “Where are there jackets?” There was something different about the way they were shaking, and their eyes... eyes that really didn’t look alive, somehow.

I can’t explain how it felt after sitting there, literally begging for the bus to move, when we were again commanded to go get off the bus and unload another full load of the Hummer. I just can’t explain it. I’m not that good of a writer to explain such intense emotions. Either way, we finally finished that second run, which included being forced to take the hoods off our rain jackets, reentered the bus, waited some more, and then it started to move.

No one cheered. No one said a thing. We were just alive. It was 12am. 4 hours of that.

We got back to base, terrified they would make us unload it all, but luckily only had to show our vest to the sergeant and check to make sure we had our magazines and the contents of our vests. They gave us 30 minutes to prepare for bed, we all took hot showers, and then got into our beds. 2am.

I can’t tell you more than that. Thank G-d for the base. Now I know why they say “achla bach,” which loosely means that the training base is the best place to be. I just can’t tell you anymore. I can’t tell you how I felt, how good it was to be back and out of that situation. I was just there, unthinking. (The two guys were fine).

Afterwards, the next day, I felt strong. I felt like I did something. Proud. I wouldn’t trade that experience for anything.

“That which does not kill us makes us stronger.”

The aftermath in the bathroom

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

The Worst Feeling Ever - Part 1

I have a little journal that I write in regularly at night while in the army. That way, I have both something I can look back on in 20 years time, and also I can use it as a way to capture the events of the day in order to make these posts. It’s pretty hard to keep up with, and I’m a solid three weeks behind right now, but I’m generally pretty good about it.

I recently wrote about a few days we spent out in the field, ‘camping,’ doing training drills. Typically what I write in the journal is very short and to the point. This entry was abnormally long, however, and I think that instead of making my typical adaptation of those notes for this blog I’ll just type this entry up as a post. I think my first impressions on this one are worth two posts. Enjoy entry #1:

The point of this entry is to talk about the weather. We were suffering the mild to moderate downpours for two days, just enduring it all. By the last day, however, the rain was really coming down. Everyone had on full rain gear, including the platoon commander. It was pretty miserable, but since it wasn’t that cold it really wasn’t the worst thing ever. I told the guys at one point, with my commander there, that it was like this and worse every day in Vietnam. I said guys were there for years and had to deal with rain non-stop. That’s my brand of encouragement, and they seemed to hear me.

No one was complaining, to be honest, which is surprising, and we were all calling out thanking G-d for the “bracha,” or blessing of rain. It was all pretty funny. Anyway, by mid-afternoon it was pouring, and the wind was whipping up. Between live fire drills, i.e. us waiting for the other squads to finish, we sat in a large tent and kinda did nothing. It was really relaxed, with the commanders being humane and friendly. Not too much distance. After all that the sun went down, and we had already started to pack up our tents and gear.

Mud was in everything. The tents were solid brown, and we were rolling them up and sticking them in our assault packs with mud oozing out like the pack was filled with the stuff. It was plain gross, but I thought it was pretty fun, in a strange way. I felt like I was “doing it,” suffering for a greater cause. I felt productive. I felt like a soldier.

We were just throwing all this gear, the entire company was, into a 12x12 tent, something of that size. It was one big slime fest. Moving on here, we then were given the green light, room by room, to go to the officers’ tent and vote. You see, it was national elections day, a tightly polled race between Livni (Kadima) and Netanyahu (Likud). I was pretty excited to vote, maybe even as much as I was to be going back to base.

We stood in line outside of the tent, everyone secretly grabbing the avocados and fruits that the officers obviously weren’t going to eat; they were being drowned in a half-melted cardboard box outside. Finally, we were called in. I stepped into the tent not knowing what to expect, and was surprised to find a massively crowded scene. The 15x15 or so tent was packed with all types of commanders and officers I hadn’t seen all week. I suppose they were hiding from the rain. They all were sardined into the dimly lit shelter between tall stacks of food, gear, tables, and boxes. Boxes of who knows what. Just towers of brown boxes.

A single light bulb barely as bright as that old flashlight in your glove box hung over a plastic table where some army logistics guys, who I didn’t even see come to our camp, were handling paperwork and calling out our names. Next to them was a large cardboard presentation board, which was sitting on another table.

I signed a sheet with my name on it and was directed to behind the presentation board. Behind the board was a large tray with what looked like a hundred slots, all filled with different little slips of paper bearing political parties’ trademarks. I couldn’t remember what the symbol was for the party I wanted, and I could barely see, and the commanders were really hurrying everyone along, so eventually I just asked the guy on the other side to help me. He was actually really nice, considering the conditions, and he showed me what I requested. I took that sheet, put it into another envelope, carefully wrote my info on the outside, and dropped it into the big blue voting box, effectively becoming a true citizen-soldier. Another integration into this state; one more little step on the path of taking my claim to this country.

But before I could process the implications of my civic involvement in Israel, I was ordered to briskly make my way outside to eat. They threw a soaked box of combat rations to us and we quickly dug in. The rain was only coming down in a drizzle, but we all were waiting for another big deluge.

After maybe 10 minutes, the platoon commander came over and told us to pack it up and get our vests on. We kinda hesitated for 5 seconds, and then he yelled, “UP, NOW! I don’t care if you’ve got a fork in your mouth, spit it out and GO!” [Nearly verbatim]. We jumped up, me swallowing a large last bite of tuna and chocolate spread on soggy bread.

We went over to our vests and assault packs, which were next to piles of sleeping bags and all types of heavily mud caked gear. We were then commanded to take all the sleeping bags and move them about 10 feet away, as well as plastic rain guards for the tents. Because everything was soaked with mud and rain, each thing was three times the weight. A single Jeep’s headlights were slantingly lighting the mayhem going on, and I can’t even begin to tell you the apprehension I felt.

I knew what was about to happen. I looked around and saw all the gear we came in with, the stretcher piled high with our huge ‘kitbags,’ (dufflebags), wooden boxes of commanders’ gear, assault packs, water packs, ammo, etc. After some yelling, and a frantic search for someone’s gun lost in the midst of all this stuff, we loaded up. We had to hike the few kilometers in the mud to the road we came from, which was up a steep hill. The headlights of a waiting bus were tauntingly distant, and the thunder and brilliant purple and white lightning were ominous, promising to change the drizzle into a downpour.

(The second and final part, the best part by far, is coming out in about 4 days.)

Monday, March 16, 2009

What's Up With Israeli Pizza?

On a recent trip during my 10 day break after tironut, I went for a couple days up north. I found myself in Tiberias, a city with an amazing waterfront on the Sea of Galilee, or the Kinneret in Hebrew. That's where Jesus walked on water, according to the Gospels. They have a nice walkway with restaurants and stores and all that, so I grabbed a pizza and a liter of Coke and figured I'd gorge myself while looking out at the party boats and lights from across the lake.

The pizza was greasy and supercheesy, just the way I like it. Israelis tend to do some strange things to normal food, like eating Bulgarian cheese with watermelon. But, one thing that really caught me off guard was the amount of a certain condiment I was given. As you can see below, I got a handful of large packets of ketchup. Just plain old ketchup. Who puts ketchup on pizza? I guess for the crust? That's what marinara sauce is for... Someone's gotta tell Israelis these things.

Friday, March 13, 2009

IDF March Induction Class - Good Luck!

I just wanted to put out a quick good luck note to the March draftees. I'm not giving away a secret when I tell you that there are only three infantry draft dates each year, and March happens to be an important one at that. If you're an immigrant getting drafted this month, kol hakavod, and I hope you're gonna try for Golani. Might as well.

If you're worried at all about the prospect of all this craziness, being in the army and all that goes with it (not sleeping, huge hikes, being yelled at, your entire life being timed to the second, etc), totally ignore all those butterflies and nerves and just look forward to the pride of wearing the uniform. At first it'll feel like a costume, but as the weeks and months go by, you'll almost feel strange wearing civilian clothes. Army life is one big dream, it almost never feels real, and so all those things you're so afraid of now will become a natural part of your life.

Don't worry about what you need to buy, what you need to say or do, where you need to be, the language, the culture, or any of it. Everything totally works out. It's going to be great!

I want this message to be short and sweet for a reason. I want all upcoming draftees, March and beyond, to know that everything will be totally fine! I swear to you. It's all so simple. All you have to know is that the discipline is a game, so be quiet and have fun with it. The months before my draft I spent every second trying to read everything I could find on what it means to be the army, what I had to do to prepare, and so on. I wish I could tell Danny of pre-October 2008 all this.

You know how nervous I was? Read this pre-army post. At that point I didn't even think I would survive one day. I really just couldn't imagine how I could do all this. And to think I'm getting awards left and right...

It's going to be so amazing, I promise.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

More Separation Anxiety?

As of this writing, this post is very relevant to me.  As of the publication, a solid two weeks later, I hope that I have forgotten the entire matter.  Contrary to popular belief, time is not necessarily the greatest healer, but it certainly dulls the pain, whatever it may be.  "Time heals griefs and quarrels, for we change and are no longer the same persons."  Pascal said that.

Why the grief?  At the end of each segment of training, be it basic, advanced, or "kav," discussed in the "End of Tironut - Basic Training" post, commanders tend to come and go.  Officers get promoted, commanders decide to head back to their units to see some action, and sometimes someone finishes their service.  As you can imagine, everything changes all the time.  The second you think you're making a good connection with someone, they're off to some far away place.

That's the nature of armies, I believe.  Despite knowing this, I'm just plain bummed out that we're losing Commander Crazy Eyes (referred to as Yonni).  This particular commander, let's continue calling him Yonni, was one son of a b****.  One moment he was laughing and joking around, the next you found yourself doing pushups until you wanted to run away to Cairo and catch the next plane to JFK.

Of all the commanders, I'm pretty sure he was the most sadistic.  Honestly, the majority of the punishment induced pushups and runs I did was because of Yonni's dogged demand of discipline.  The slightest movement in a standing formation, no matter how inconsequential the circumstance, was grounds for hitting the ground and staying there for ten minutes.  Easily.  

"Ben-David, why did you scratch your arm?"


"Three seconds, matsav shtayim."  That's pushup position, just staying in it for as long as they like.  

Never once, in all of the three months of basic, was I the reason the entire group had to do pushups.  In fact, the vast majority were never once responsible for something like that.  Instead, only a handful of our fellow soldiers were the culprits, over and over and over again.  And true to Yonni, he never showed sympathy for this fact.  While Commander Sweetheart, my actual squad commander, may have isolated the offender, Yonni subscribed entirely to the "one team, one punishment" philosophy.

Now, you may think Commander Yonni is a total jerk.  Crazy Eyes indeed had crazy eyes, just looking around ready to strike.  Yeah, now that I think about it, he was a jerk.  Not a few times did I reply affirmatively to someone claiming that Yonni was obviously disturbed.  At those times, he really did seem insane.  His eyes.  Searching for something.  To punish.  To strike.  At those times he seemed so evil.  Ruthless.  Callous.

But as much as even I despised him at times, because really what did I do to deserve all that, he was the nicest guy in the entire company to me.  None of the other commanders, even Sweetheart, pulled me aside as much as Yonni to ask me all about my life.  I can't even count how many times I was trying to do something simple and boring when Yonni would call out, "Danny, tell me about yourself."  

"Danny, what's your plan in life?"
"Danny, what do you like to do?"
"Danny, what do you like?"
"Danny, what do you think of Israel, Israelis, the IDF?"

And so on and so on, endlessly.  When we still had major distance between ourselves and the commanders, not even small talk being permissible, and much less opinions being discussed, he would ask me what I thought of something or other.  He asked me what I thought of the situation in the Gaza and the West Bank.  Our wars in general.  Our leaders.  Everything you could imagine.

This guy just had a thing for me, I think.  I am, to be fair, more interesting than the standard 18-year-old post-high school IDF soldier.  So, one day we were sitting in a shooting range and cleaning our guns.  He gave us five minutes, but then two minutes in he began to ask me more questions.  I was minding my business when he asked,

"Danny, tell us about college."

I looked around and saw that he was asking me to tell him, and in effect the entire platoon, all about my formative years.  Being that my Hebrew is pretty fluent in terms of being able to speak (much better than my comprehension), I started from the beginning.  I began with the first year, telling him about my roommate and the adjustment to having so much freedom.

Before I even realized it, five minutes were just about over.  As necessary, someone requested an extension of time to continue cleaning the guns.  Yonni granted another five minutes, but then prefaced our session.

"If anyone says a word, they're running out into the range."

Right away a French immigrant happened to ask a question, and Yonni sent him to the 100 meter marker.  "Hey!," Yonni yelled to the Frenchman, "pushups!"  That kid rejoined us well after everyone forgot he was out there, including Yonni.

"Danny, continue..."

I am not making up one word when I tell you that Commander Yonni granted about six or seven five minute extensions just for me to continue my totally uninterrupted speech.  And, I swear to you, he sent about five people deep into the range just for saying one word.  During my speech I looked up occasionally, pretending to be actually cleaning my gun after 15 minutes, in order to make eye contact with Yonni.

He was staring at me, mouth open, eyes wider than a deer caught in headlights.  He was absolutely enamored with my stories, as boring as they may be compared to people who went to big state party schools.  I kept going, thinking maybe it was a little too much of me to talk so freely in front of a commander and the entire platoon.  Nope.

I can't even begin to tell you how many times I pushed the whole "distance between commanders and basics" thing with Yonni, of all the commanders.  He's the only one I actually slapped on the back during a masa.  And you know what his reaction was?  He smiled, but then quickly remembered the protocol and grabbed my vest and pulled me back and forth, quietly saying, "What, you think we're friends?!"

Yes, Yonni, we were friends, and I miss you.

Friday, March 6, 2009

Sleeping In Your Uniform

Sleeping in your uniform and boots... ah, the joy of the army and middle of the night guard duty.

Pure exhaustion - at least I wasn't as tired as this guy:

Monday, March 2, 2009

Jobnik Life

Recently I was selected for “RASAR” duty, which I dreaded at first because I didn’t know what it was. RASAR sounds kind of scary, doesn’t it? RAH-SAHR. Reminds me of a mean Batman villain. All I knew was that you had to go work for the RASAR, who is actually a jobnik officer on base. In fact, he is a pretty high-ranking officer. RASAR is the abbreviation of his position/role.

OK, before I thoroughly confuse some people here, let me define what “jobnik” means. I don’t think I’ve really done this before. By the way, job and jobnik are not my creation, and not how these things are called in English either. That’s how we say it in Hebrew, albeit with a funny accent (“johb-neehk”). In my estimation, you have three different types of service in the army.

1) Full-on combat (infantry, tanks, fighter jets)
2) Semi-combat (namely artillery, also combat support units that enter scary places)
3) Job (girls and guys, but I’ll be referring to only guys here)

A person in a “job” is a jobnik. A job is like working in an office pushing papers, warehouse work, medical centers, logistical stuff, and even things like driving trucks full of grenades and million-dollar equipment. If you’re not strapped up in a combat vest with an M16/Tavor, you’re a jobnik.

The jobniks of the jobniks

I don’t even know where to start. Should I start with the total lack of appreciation that their important but boring roles receive? Or maybe the ease of their training, just a month or so and then they’re ready? Maybe even a justification of their status, since after all I know some guys that wanted to be in combat but had a little medical issue that kept them from it.

I think I’ll talk about how much they’re made fun of by the combat units. Even from the very start when I was in Michve Alon, before I was in any unit at all, a point where I could have become a jobnik just as easily as a “chirnik” (foot soldier), the semi-combat artillery guys were bashing on us if we didn’t perform to their liking.

“YOU, stand in line! What, are you a jobnik or something? Go waste your time in some damn office.”

“Jobniks are a waste of IDF money! You’re acting like a jobnik!”

“Why do you have a white shirt on under your work uniform?! Take that off!!! Only jobniks do that!”

Honestly, it never ends. I wish I could remember just three out of the hundreds of hilarious incidents involving jobnik-bashing. Moreover, for the past four months the only insults I’ve ever heard had something to do either with being Ashkenazi or a jobnik. Maybe because we’re doing the dangerous stuff we feel entitled to ridicule those in the same uniform not putting themselves in harm’s way? I’m not sure, to be honest, because I fully appreciate the role of whoever makes sure I get equipment when I need it, a vehicle to bring me back from the field, or my salary on time! Jobniks do all that. Everyone mocks them.

So anyway, I think you should have a good idea of who the jobniks are, and hopefully you understand just how detestable combat guys find them. With all this baggage and associations in mind, I walked with the three other guys selected to the RASAR’s office. Waiting for us was a first lieutenant, not the RASAR himself, but the officer (probably 21 years old, by the way) got us started peeling tape off some signs right away. Jobnik kind of stuff.

After finishing the five signs he put out for us, we sat and waited for him to tell us what else to do. The officer was busy chatting up some girl, drinking coffee, and dancing to some Israeli music coming from an office. Being me, I wondered what the hell was going on. Shouldn’t I be doing something? Shouldn’t we tell him to give us the next thing to work on?

I asked Nimi why the officer wasn’t saying a word about us sitting and doing nothing.

Nimi turned his head towards mine, his lips stretched into a sly smile, and said, “This is RASAR duty. Coffee, cigarettes, and TV! Didn’t you know?” Nimi slid down the bench until his back was nearly touching the bottom boards, putting his hands behind his head in total relaxation. “Ahhh,” he breathed, “the jobnik life.”

And he turned out to be 100%, unfailingly correct. After about another hour of work in the logistics building, sorting defective gear from the new stuff, I ended up drinking coffee and watching a terrible Jackie Chan movie for hours. Then we watched MTV Europe, which is ridiculously sexual by the way, for another couple hours. I probably had about five cups of coffee, and the other guys must have smoked half a pack of cigarettes.

We just sat in a TV room with a jobnik kid with the worst teeth I’ve ever seen, vegetating. Total vegetation. And to be honest with you, I wanted nothing else. At first. In the beginning I was so excited to watch some TV and drink coffee, something I miss every day. The first hour was great. What a break from crawling in thorns and doing pushups!

But then I realized how bored I was. An hour or two of relaxation from serious physical labor is a godsend, but after three hours of this I couldn’t help but look at the jobnik and wonder just how he could do this for three years. Three years sitting in the same little room watching music videos, smoking Marlboro’s, and drinking cheap, black coffee! For him, the TV is not a break from work, but rather an hour or two in the warehouse is a break from TV!

As relaxing and easy as that day was, I was totally ready to return to my unit. I jumped right into the thorns when I got back. There isn’t even a question in my mind where I want to be in the army. TV or twenty kilometer hikes? Not even a second’s doubt, as far as I’m concerned.

One last word. Many male jobnikim on base happened to be in combat but something occurred that caused them to switch over. One guy I met was well into his service, doing raids and everything, when he went to army jail for something dumb and they decided to put him in the kitchen. Another guy from a special forces demolitions unit had back problems, and now he works with ammunition. Yet another was a single child and his parents rescinded their permission for him to be in combat.

The point of this post is also unclear to me as well! Just wanted to talk about jobnikim; explain a major part of army culture, I guess. And also, it blew my mind as I sat in that room and saw just why combat guys essentially hate jobnikim. Hate is a strong word, but I can’t think of a better one.