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.)


Aviv said...

Crazy. Only in the army do you find yourself awake at 3am, in the middle of a thunderstorm etc

Anonymous said...

great story so far bro

Rach said...

Have you thought about writing a book when you get out of the army?

This is gorgeous. Can't wait for the second part.
Keep safe, and keep warm.

Israeli by Day said...

Thanks, Rach. That's a very nice compliment.

I have two book ideas, one already planned. I mean, I've already written the outline and main character sketches. It's something of a post-army dream.

But to be honest, I don't know if I have the guts to put myself out there, to start something so massive and time consuming. I don't know if I'd be able to finish it, or ever be happy with it. It takes so much to write a book, especially if you have dreams of it being actually published.

We'll see!

Anonymous said...

Ew...chocolate and tuna together on soggy bread? Quite an interesting combination...

And if you ever write a book, I'll buy it!