Tuesday, April 28, 2009

A VERY Big Gun

All my life I heard from my great-uncle about his time during World War Two onboard a PT boat. PT boats were smaller, high speed and heavily armed ships meant to quickly attack larger ships. They were cheaper, easier to navigate, and easier to produce than larger ships, and so they were given quite a bit of action in that war. For example, PT-41 was used to rescue MacArthur. JFK became a legend because of his service on a PT boat.

Besides being amazed at stories of their prodigious speed, and his servicing the triple 12-cylinder, nearly 2,000 horsepower engines (the fastest Ferrari has 650hp, and your average car probably has 150hp or even less), my uncle was very fond of mystifying the "twin fifties." The twin fifties were the 50 caliber Browning M2 machine guns. The M2 is one of the world's most widely used American weapons. Developed during WW1, the Browning is a heavy machine gun that has to be mounted on some type of vehicle.

When I say "heavy" machine gun, I do mean heavy. First of all, it weighs an ungodly 130 pounds. Secondly, it can be used as an anti-aircraft weapon. Finally, it fires a .50 caliber round. Here's a comparison picture from another blog, showing the bullet:

It's on the far left. My Tavor, and the M16, shoots the one
second to the right.

OK, now that you have an idea of just how huge and powerful and scary and "heavy" the Browning Machine Gun is, let me tell you why I'm talking about it anyway. Earlier this month we were at a training base where you learn all about heavy weaponry. One of those heavy weapons was the Browning .50, which is a key tool in any modern army. I'm not giving away any secrets whatsoever when I say I was drooling over the .50s mounted on tops of Hummers and APCs and the like.

IDF guys firing the M2 Browning .50 cal (wiki)

You see, all my life I always thought about the army, in some way or another. My great-uncle the PT sailor, and especially my grandfather, a POW lead B-24 bombardier in WW2, incessantly told me stories about their experiences. My childhood was shaped by the notion that the army is, in some way, what great men do. Grandpa Brothers was a hero to me, a man who owned life and did with it as he wanted, and his war stories are easily the thing I remember best of my childhood. My great-uncle and his stories of all-out combat on the high seas were right up there too.

So many of those stories were centered around heavy firepower, too. The twin fifties. And now all of a sudden I find myself in an army, beyond all expectations, and here I am, lugging around the very same machine gun that was the protagonist of some of my favorite childhood stories! I realize it may seem terrible to glorify a vicious tool of war, but one can't help the fantasies of youth creeping into the reality of adulthood.

So as I struggled to move this behemoth block of steel from one area of the base to another, I was magically transported to the Pacific Ocean, blowing diving kamikazes out of sky, shooting down German Messerschmitts, and strafing Nazi airfields. I guess it felt kind of good to feel like an "army man," as I envisioned those that dealt with tools like these. I think I felt a little bit like my heroes.

But then again, would I have the guts to do what they did? I really don't think so. They were a part of the greatest generation, and their use of such machinery was spurred by a true quest for freedom against tyranny.

But to feel like your heroes, even for a moment...

I will refrain from posting pictures that might exist of the author with said machine gun.

Saturday, April 25, 2009

Google Search: Israeli Army

Looking to see where Israeli By Day stands under a Google search for the keywords "Israeli army," I was surprised to see the Google Images return, which happens to be at the top of the page. As of me doing this search, March 28th, those few select images aren't of dead Palestinians, or Gaza on fire, or soldiers seemingly pointing a gun at a child.

Instead, they are of hot IDF female soldiers. Is that what you see? Here's the link.

Almost as strange as the keywords by which someone found Israeli by Day. Pretty sure it was one guy:

As a matter of fact, I've also questioned whether the
hummus has anything to do with Israeli girls'

Good luck my anonymous American visitor...

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

"Breaking Distance" With The M"M (Platoon Commander)

Near the end of shavua machlaka (platoon week), where you do drills taking an open field as an entire platoon, our platoon commander opened up to us and “broke distance.” I suppose I have a few things to explain here.

1) Shavua Machlaka is the product of a few other weeks. Essentially, infantrymen have the role of battling in fields and mountains and forests, and that mode of combat involves a very specific set of movements. Field movements, I guess it’d be called. As such, you have to build up from doing those live-fire drills alone, all the way to doing it as an entire company. The platoon week is the last week of this training before company-wide movements. In short, it’s tough and complicated. The platoon commander leads it all.

2) A platoon commander is your second lieutenant (the lowest rank of a commissioned officer). Since he’s a CO, there is major ‘distance’ between him and the soldiers.

3) “Distance” is emotional and personal space between you and the commanders. For example, you call them by their role and not their name, which you officially don’t even know (“Attention, Commander!”). At first you can’t even say things like “good morning” to your squad commanders. Et cetera.

So, now that you have a little background, I can explain to you the importance of our platoon commander (M”M from now on) breaking distance.

After making us sprint to a tree in the distance for seemingly no reason, an activity typically reserved for punishment, the M”M and staff sergeant had us sit down in the shade on the side of a dirt road. After smiling and rubbing his beard, a trait we’ve mimicked secretly to great laughter, the M”M began to speak.

“It’s come the time to break distance with you all. We’re getting close to the end of our time together, and you should know my name and where I’m from. My name is Noam, and I’m from Netanya.

Any questions?”

I looked around to see if anyone would have the guts to ask something really personal, and I was happy to see everyone smiling, nervously, right along with the M”M.

“Do you have any siblings?”

The M”M rubbed his face again, and glanced over at a guy from my squad.

“Shmuel,” he said, “you probably know it all. You’re not allowed to talk right now.”

Shmuel had told me all about the M”M’s sister, who was in his grade. It’s a small enough country that many of the kids had some type of knowledge of our commanders, in some way, before or during the training. From Shmuel, I knew that the M”M had a sister who happened to look exactly like him... in a bad way.

“Any other questions,” the M”M asked.

Shachar, a small Russian kid, raised his hand and asked, “I heard you were in Oketz at first.”

“Dog breeders? No way! Golani, kavod. Respect.”

At this point the M”M shut down the conversation, with many questions left unanswered. Because we like him so much, we wanted to know everything. But, instead, “breaking distance” was limited to name and hometown.

Noam from Netanya. That’s it.

It wasn’t much, but do you have any idea how strange it is to actually call this officer by his first name? We’ve spent so many months being on our best behavior around him, even after being total jerks towards and around our squad commanders. The second the platoon commander walks in, it’s like we’re different people. We sit straight in our chairs, or straighten our shirts, and make sure hundreds of other details are in order. When you respect and fear an authority, it can change your whole act.

But now all of a sudden he is Noam. Still an authority figure, but Noam none the less.

“Hey Noam,” we ask, “Am I doing this right?”

“Yeah, Danny, that’s ok.”


And what’s even better is that just a few days ago we finished a week of being split up into separate groups, where the M”M was in a town away from my group. After we all met back up, there was lots of backslapping and sharing stories. I guess we kinda missed each other. I saw the M”M, and I kinda missed him.

So as I found him standing next to me waiting to get on the bus, I asked him how his week was. That’s pushing the buttons on the whole “distance” thing. He gave his typical smile, a restrained affair because of his rank where he looks to the side, maybe puts his hand over his mouth to cover it, and then gives you a short little answer.

“Good,” he smiled to me sideways. And then he slapped me on the back quickly and walked away, crooked grin and all. I wish I had the creative talent to describe his movie-quality deep voice, awkward beard stroking, and a signature smile I can only pathetically describe as enthusiastically 'restrained.'

You just have to see it. I guess you just kinda have to be there to know what I mean. Let’s say that this whole army experience isn’t what you see in movies, with stiff-lipped commanders who seemingly aren’t even human. Instead, your CO might just smile nervously too!

Friday, April 17, 2009

Taking Orders From Real Youngsters

In a post from early March, soon after the start of Advanced Training, I talked about my unit losing one of our commanders. You can read it here. In short, he was tough but great, and I miss him very much. He was just about as veteran as they get within the three-year compulsory service, and even had a Lebanon War pin on his chest - he was in training still, but helped in logistics during the war, as did all the non-combat ready infantrymen.

And as Commander Crazy Eyes left, as I called him, he was replaced, as well as another veteran commander that left, with two guys from the November 2007 draft. Now, remember, I am from the November 2008 draft. That means these guys have been in the army for just one year more than me. Basically, they finished their training and then went straight to my group. They did half of kav (border guard duty), and then went to the commander course. Now they're leading us.

Don't get me wrong, these guys know what they are doing. They obviously know the army well, know what they're teaching, know the weapons and battle tactics we learn - all of it. They are good guys, I really do like them. One of them seems very smart, even though he is pretty meatheadish, so that's interesting to see. The other is obviously very in love with his girlfriend, so I like to pick on him when he's secretly texting her all day long. Truthfully, I got two good guys.

But having Crazy Eyes telling me what to do, and bossing me around, was something I could deal with. He was drafted way back in 2006, before I even knew if I wanted to move to Israel, much less do the army. In fact, and don't tell anyone in Golani this, but if you asked me then what I would do in the IDF, I would have said the spokesman unit!

The true mark of a 'veteran' currently in the army is whether or not he was drafted in 2006. Crazy Eyes was, and he really is a veteran. These new guys, on the other hand, are truly kids. How young are they? Let's put it this way: If I wanted to, I could have been in their induction class. In my book, that means you're tzair (young - green). So, when they give me five minutes to do this or that, I can't help but grumble to myself and give them the evil eye. I think, "Hey! Kid! Respect your elders!"

I guess I just trusted Crazy Eyes more. I listened to him as an authority figure. When I looked at him, I saw someone with experience and perspective. When I look at the new guys, I see two people who just happened to go to the army before me. That's a big difference when you realize that they are literally running your life.

These are the moments where you notice your age in the army, and all of a sudden 24 years old is old man age. But, as I said, at least they know what they're doing.

Here's old Crazy Eyes himself nonchalantly dishing out some pushup punishment:

I wish I could show the kid's face. He was smiling. Sometimes
Crazy Eyes would have fun with us, and we knew it. If you zoom
in you can see his Lebanon War pin.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Clarification Of Previous Post

I feel like I need to clarify my previous post. I talked about being tired of training, essentially, but I didn’t mean that exactly. What I mean is that I am so excited and mentally prepared to finally get into the meat of this IDF matter that still being on a training base is kinda getting me down.

Don’t worry, I’m not upset or depressed or sad or disappointed. Everyone has to put in their time. I’m really not tired of the training, either. How could you be tired of jumping out of a moving armored personnel carrier while the machine gunner lays down heavy automatic cover fire? It doesn’t get much better than that, and besides actual war, that kind of experience is limited to your training cycle.

And moreover, I just heard from a very reliable source that our tekes kumta, or beret ceremony, which marks the end of our training base phase and off we go to the real deal, is going to be held on June 10th. Take a look at your calendar.

The hardest is still in front of me, in terms of training, but the timeframe is looking better every day. It's all about perspective.

Monday, April 13, 2009

Still Waiting For Something Real

Maybe this is premature of me to say, but I'm feeling a bit stymied in my motivations in the IDF.  The training done on base, and in the field, before you do anything remotely real is six months.  In terms of armies, I don't think that's abnormally long at all to change a civilian into a professional soldier.  But, for me, it's seeming to take years, not months.

I'll be honest with you.  Before I was drafted, I don't think I really considered just how long and intense the training for infantry is.  I thought of what it meant to be in combat, to do checkpoint duty, raids in the West Bank, arrest operations, border duty, and so on.  I didn't think about the masaot, or the obstacle course, or the massive company-wide attack drills.  I didn't consider the months and months of having to use my stopwatch to time my every action.

The way the army system works is that when you are entering one phase of your training, the group previous to you is entering the next phase.  Pretty common sense.  So, I'm in the November induction class, which is now in Advanced Training, and the previous draft, August, is now doing border duty (kav).  Golani's kav is a certain sandy locale, right now.

I tried very hard to get into the August draft with a friend of mine from ulpan (intensive Hebrew course), but the army didn't take me.  That draft date is commonly packed, and so due to having too many people, they delayed me to November.  I was pretty disappointed to not go into Golani with him, but I figured it all had a purpose.  Well, we both ended up in the same battalion and everything (12 - Barak), so it has been great having him tell me about what I'm about to do before I do it.

Why am I talking about this all of a sudden?  As I said, Golani is guarding a contentious zone right now, and that means my buddy is there too.  Recently I talked to him for quite a while, asking all my questions about Advanced and kav, and him telling me what it's like being out there.  During a pause in the conversation, after him telling me about a certain stake-out he was in, I had an unexpected rush of admiration for him.  I told him that "he had finished all the crap, did all the masaot, ate the dirt... and now he has his brown beret and is finally doing what he came to do."  He accepted my compliment, and told me to stay strong and I'll be there before I know it.

And that's just the point.  I came to the army to be where he is, to guard Israel's borders, even if that means being in some pretty scary places.  I just can't wait to get this training over with and do something.  I feel sometimes like I'm just waiting.  During college I felt an intense feeling that I was waiting for something to happen, waiting to do something... and that's probably just one reason why I decided to move to Israel and join the IDF.  

I mean, being in a constantly engaged army like the Israel Defense Force is doing something, right?  I know I have to do this training, and as I say to my friends in my unit, "I'm ready in my head and heart, not my body."  But that doesn't mean it isn't hard knowing that my buddy is out there actively defending Israel, and I'm still on base.  

Two and a half more months...

Thursday, April 9, 2009

Druze/Beduin Soldiers In The IDF

While down south at a training base for all infantry units, I sat down to eat dinner in the dining hall next to some guys from Givati. Givati is one of the few infantry brigades, and on my list of the best brigades, I'd rank it number two. It was my number two choice, but that's like someone saying Yale is their #2. It's an awesome unit.

One of the reasons I love Givati is because it is, as far as I can tell, the place that many or most of the Druze and Beduins serving in infantry go. If you don't know, Druze is a religion that branched off from Islam a thousand years ago, they speak Arabic, and they have an Arab culture. Their ethnic makeup is varied and complex, and I'm certainly no expert. An unknowing observer would, however, probably just classify them as Arab.

That being said, there are over 100,000 Druzeim living in Israel. The majority of these residents are full citizens of the State of Israel, a fact which is based on a tenet of their religion (so I've been told) saying they must give support to the country in which they live. Furthermore, being that they are citizens, boys that reach 18 years of age are automatically conscripted into the IDF.

The Beduins have a similar story in that they are Arab, or essentially Arab, and many of them are found in the IDF among the regular Jewish makeup.

So, as I was saying, I sat down to dinner next to some Givati guys. Dinner happens around 6pm, and after waking up at 5am every day, I'm generally exhausted by this time. I didn't notice until I heard a strange language that I was sitting next to five Druze infantrymen. I listened intently to their conversation, not understanding a word, but trying very hard to hear their unique accent. They speak Arabic, but there is a clear difference between their version and the Palestinian one.

I wish that I could tell you that I struck up a conversation with them and asked them all about their lives, where they live, what their families do, what they think of this or that political situation, if they were in Gaza and what was it like to fight their co-nationalists, and on and on. But, I saw how happy they were, chattering away, laughing with full mouths of food, obviously teasing one of their friends but then telling him they loved him, just being kids and having a good time at it; I saw all that and didn't want to interrupt.

I sat quietly next to them, eating my mashed potatoes, and glanced at their faces and then the IDF symbol on their chests. Purple berets sat naturally on their shoulders. The new Tavor assault rifle rested on their laps. They are very much not Jews, but these young men are Israeli warriors, fighting for our shared vision of freedom and peace for all the residents of this country - Arab and Jew alike.

My admiration for the Druze and Beduin serving in the IDF, especially those that volunteer for combat units, knows no bounds. These are people that could easily get out of doing anything dangerous, and in my speculation could get out of serving at all. I've also read that not a few of them face discrimination or backlash from their communities for serving in these units, especially considering that "combat" means engaging Arab targets.

I was sitting next to young men who know what it means to sacrifice for something greater than themselves. My entire journey to the IDF is one of ideology, a desire to contribute to the security of this state. And here are boys who no one expects to do any such thing - and yet they serve with great pride.

What I'm trying to say is that my 30 minutes sitting next to five Druze soldiers from Givati was more meaningful to me than all the ceremonies I've had, the times I've sung the national anthem in uniform, and inspirational speeches combined. What this really reveals about me, in my own opinion, is that I truly want peace for Israel. I don't care who fights for that peace, as long as there are young men and women out there who are willing to give everything for it. And to see Druze and Beduin soldiers giving themselves for peace only inspires hope.

Because, after all, they don't have to fight for that peace! No one is attacking the Druze. They can sit back and just live in the land they've lived in for a thousand years. No one is going to push them out, or target their children, or blow up their villages. Why would they?

And yet, they fight for peace. I felt pretty good sitting next to those Druzeim that night. I wouldn't mind serving next to them no matter where I find myself in the field. And maybe all this is pretty naive, but I noticed my Jewish Israeli co-fighters displaying the same respect for these non-Jewish protectors of our state.

Monday, April 6, 2009

Yet Another Masa Post - Bear With Me

(Believe it or not, those are black/gray socks. They were muddy and soaked and worthless, pushed down around my toes)

I once complained to a friend who was finishing advanced training, while I was in basic, that our double digit kilometer masa (big long hike with full gear) was torturous. He said to me, "Wait 'till you do one in the twenties. That's when they get hard." At the time I realized that 20 some kilometers would be murderous, but our 12k was still painful enough.

Well, now that we've done our first masa of advanced training, 21k, I can tell you just how right he was. The two other platoons in my company all did the hike two days before, and seeing them all limp around and talk wildly about the water-filled muddy trail was disheartening. Everyone told the same story, of the 'rivers' you had to run through every half-kilometer, instantly being soaked from the waist down. 21k with soaked legs and shoes and socks.

My group didn't start the hike until after Shabbat at about 10pm, so thankfully I had that free day to rest up. A solid 45 minutes into the hike I was still waiting for the rivers. It hadn't rained for two days, so I figured that maybe all that water had dried up and we would luckily avoid the unnecessary obstacle. But, as luck has it, I too had the joy of encountering slippery conditions.

Just before our first break at the end of the first hour, we had to jump off a section of the trail that was washed away by the week's downpours. We jumped right off into a stream that went up to my calves, with freezing cold water instantly stinging my toes deep inside my otherwise water-proof boots. I tried not to think about it, but during our little break I couldn't help but wonder how in the hell I'd get through another few hours like that.

If I only knew. At the end of each hour you have a very short break, a necessary cooling down and hydration time, and it also serves as an extra gear swap. We have to carry stretchers and water packs, a few to each platoon, so that extra weight has to be switched around. As I've written about in that above linked-to post, the water pack is by far the worst of all the gear, so no one really wants to grab it. I take it for about an hour on each hike, though, a fact I always dread.

So, at the start of the second hour I was strapped up with the water pack. Stupid. It turned out to be the worst section of the hike, with all the uphill parts of the road. I am quickly realizing while writing about these physical tests that I just don't know how to explain them to anyone. How can I write here in this blog and tell you what it felt like at 50 minutes, knowing that another break was just 10 minutes away, to see a massive uphill stretch in front of me, with an unbearably heavy pack on my back?

I can't! Add to that already impossible scenario the fact that I had just fallen twice on each shoulder and elbow, hard, because of the constantly muddied road that was really just uneven trenches from the Jeep driving in front of us. I am writing this post three weeks after the hike, and both my elbows still hurt. Essentially, my legs were going one way, my upper body another, and the water pack a third. The mud was unbearable. I was doomed.

My watch clean

After the masa. If you can see, note the hour

But, like all things, the second section passed and so did the water pack. The trail dried up a bit, the knee-deep water became something I looked forward to since I felt like I was burning up at about 120º, and finally we opened up the stretches with 5k to go. We struggled mightily with our light machine gunner and his full combat vest with Rambo-esque ammo belts on one stretcher, but we finished. We did it, though it wasn't pretty. Despite serious cramping in my legs during the last hour, I finished strong.

It was past two in the morning, we hiked for four hours, but we did it. You know how bad it was? The next day, even the platoon commander, who leads these things, was limping. And check out my friend's heel. Both of them were like this:

I guess I kinda made it out OK! Until the next one...

Sunday, April 5, 2009

Haaretz Article On Yours Truly

Israeli By Day has caught the attention of a journalist from one of Israel's leading newspapers, Haaretz (The Land). Raphael Ahren contacted me some time ago about interviewing me for the Anglo File section of the English version of the paper, and I excitedly agreed. It turned out to be more of a struggle than I realized, being interviewed properly and what not, but eventually we wrapped it up.

Here is a link to the Haaretz article on the net.

And if I may, I'll post the article again here:

American blogger shares insider angle on IDF service

By Raphael Ahren

Serving in an elite combat unit makes moments of respite both brief and precious, yet Danny Brothers, an American immigrant, devotes most of his free time to his blog. In "Israeli by Day, American by Night," Brothers writes about throwing grenades and breathing in tear gas as part of his training, but also describes what it's like to celebrate holidays in the army or to miss a commander. Lengthy explanations about the brigade's inner workings take turns with tidbits about "memorable moments," such as the time a commander barked at a soldier: "Tuck in your shirt and straighten your uniform like an officer in the German army!"

Although Brothers, who immigrated at age 24 in September 2007, only had to do six months of compulsory service, he volunteered for a year and half so he could enter the Golani Brigade. He soon came to the conclusion that Anglo servicemen are much less grumpy than their native Israeli counterparts.

"It may sound weird, but I am surprised at how much these kids complain," Brothers told Anglo File about his comrades in the IDF's premier infantry unit. "I thought Israelis were supposed to be tough, that they never showed weakness. Well, all they do is complain. We work hard, don't get me wrong, but not before trudging through some whining and requesting exemptions for this and that. I feel like the Anglos are much more willing to just shut up and moan inside, as I do all the time. You think I like crawling through thorns? No, of course not, but I didn't come 7,000 miles to get out of the army experience. The Anglos are generally the most motivated group, in my estimation."

Comparing draftees with ideologically-driven volunteers may be problematic, but Brothers is used to saying things on his blog exactly the way he sees them, without always analyzing the deeper context. Right after he completed basic training, for example, he wrote: "Do you have any idea how relieved I am to be done with the high-level discipline crap?"

Brothers grew up in rural Virginia. He graduated from William & Mary in 2007 and was on his way to law school when he came to New York for some interviews and sat down for lunch with a friend's father. During their conversation, Brothers revealed that he wasn't sure whether to proceed with his applications or follow his inner voice and move to Israel.

His father's friend made the decision easy: "He's a successful businessman who had made aliyah long before and returned to America," Brothers said, "and he was really pretty dismissive of the entire [idea to skip law school]. His single-mindedness in building a career really put me off. I ended up canceling all of my interviews and made up my mind to make aliyah."

His army experience has also enjoyed some lighter moments. In a recent post, Brothers described how a sergeant "rewarded" his group, which had worked in the kitchen all day, by sticking a chocolate bar between their teeth and commanding them to go into push-up position.

"'LISTEN UP,' the commander [shouted], 'each up and each down is a mouse bite! What does that mean, you ask? Every time I tell you to go down, you go to the lower push-up position and take a tiny, A TINY BITE! UNDERSTOOD?!' 'Yephss, Cophamnder!' we shouted, or rather garbled loudly. 'Down!' Nibble. 'Up!' Nibble. 'Down!' Nibble. 'Up!' Nibble. Fifteen push-ups later I had finished nearly half the bar, hardly able to continue because of the intense laughter none of us could hold back. The sergeant stood up from his seat and walked in front of us, still on the floor with candy in our mouths. 'Enjoying your treat for hard work?' he asked. 'Aphbsoluthly, Szerghent!'"

Currently, fewer than 150 readers surf to israelibyday.com every day, yet Brothers' texts are well prepared and eloquently written. While in the base, he keeps a journal and takes notes. Once he gets to his computer, he expands on them, working hours on each post. "I wanted to write the blog in the first place to show my audience that we have a normal but unique life here," he told Anglo File. "You know when a person is obsessed with something and can't help but singularly talk about that thing? That's me with Israel, so I had to get it out of my system and tell people why I chose to live here instead of the easy luxurious life I had in America."

While the title of Brother's blog indicates that he'd focus on his dual loyalties, most articles deal with day-to-day army life, without dwelling on his special status as a recent immigrant. Yet he's "totally convinced that the commanders treat me better because I'm American," he said. "I don't know if it's because I'm an immigrant, or if it's because I work really hard to make up for my weaknesses" - such as not being fluent in Hebrew and unfamiliar with Israeli culture - "but I think I get better assignments, better guard duty hours, nicer personal treatment and so on." That doesn't mean that they don't believe the IDF is heads and shoulders above the U.S. Army, Brothers added. "I'm not so sure, but I avoid that conversation like the plague."

Saturday, April 4, 2009

Masa? Hmm..

In the previous post I expressed my dread over that night's expected 6 hour hike. Well, like so many expected events in the army, we were left guessing what was going to happen until the last minute. All night we were hearing various rumors.

"The masa is cancelled!," Ben whispered.

"What, are you stupid? Of course there's a masa? Why wouldn't there be?," Uri assured.

The night went on like that for a couple hours, while I busily worked away organizing the storage room. I spoke of the "incentive" that we had to do the masa, a physical item that I was unfortunately forced to work next to in the storage room. Though I hate the masaot, I wanted this item so badly that all this possible postponing of the hike was really getting me down.

And eventually the night came to an end, and we were given a half-hour to go to bed. When they gave us a half-hour instead of a full hour, like usual, I figured that they would wake us up in the middle of the night to do the hike. All night I laid in bed, unable to sleep, just waiting for them to break down the door and get it started.

But no, quite anti-climatically no such thing happened. Instead, we did a company wide 2k run with full gear on, and then 1k with open stretchers and a person on them. That was hard enough, but it certainly wasn't a 28k excursion. And so, my one foray into "live blogging" was a failure.

Don't worry, we're still doing the masa. It's just that I now have more time to dread it. Dammit.

Thursday, April 2, 2009

Masa Tonight - 28k

Here's some live blogging for you.

I'm feeling my usual level of dread right now for the masa we have in a few hours. If you haven't read my few posts on it, a masa is a fully geared up hike, at a ridiculous pace. Its the backbone of our physical training. They suck.

Anyway, its a 28 kilometer beast (17.4 miles). That's 20k regular, then 8k with loaded stretchers open. The stretchers essentially end any semblance of strength you may have had. It'll probably take 6 or so hours.

There's a nice incentive at the end, though, that ill definitely blog about. Pray for me in the meantime.

Coulda Been Worse!

Golani and the paratroopers (בלאי) have new training bases, built only in the last few years. We have beautiful rooms with central air conditioning, well equipped and modern bathrooms, fresh paint on the walls, and sturdy bunk beds. I love our facilities, especially coming from the drabness of the old Michve Alon base. Here's what it looked like there:

Close quarters, I'd say, and everything was old and falling apart. Our new base, however, is large and clean, all the rooms are so brightly lit and fresh, and you can't help but get the feel that you're staying in some kind of ultramodern hostel. Only the Air Force has nicer bases than this, but I bet we give them a run for their money (minus the swimming pools, movie theaters, and bowling alleys...).

Anyway, I was reminded of that cheerless Michve Alon during a short stay at a very large southern base near Gaza. We were there for a simulation, as I mentioned in the previous post. As soon as we got there we had to get to work setting up the huge tents in which we would sleep. They had concrete floors and drains on the side to capture water, and in the middle were holes for the poles to go into.

It took us nearly an hour and a half to really get the tents finished, as in rain and wind ready (weatherized as only us Americans say, apparently). For beds we had cots and tough mattresses. And of course, you needed your sleeping bag. Well, the sleeping wasn't so bad, but there was no room to put any of your gear, no closets, and no central area to move about. It wasn't comfortable.

The point of this post is to express my sympathy to those myriads of Americans serving in Nachal, another infantry unit. I'd say that most Western immigrants in infantry go to that brigade, and they even have a very popular non-citizen infantryman program. People come for 18 months just to do the army, and they go to Nahal.

You see, Nahal are still sleeping in tents. At the end of my worst days on base (not counting in the field, of course), at the end of miserable days spent in the mud, I still come back to luxurious living. I lay on my bed with the A/C blasting, tons of space all around to walk and put your stuff wherever you please, and personal and private space in my locker to keep all my mementos. At the end of a long day I crawl up in my corner, isolated by the closets between the beds, and find my privacy.

I don't think Nahal has that. I'm sleeping in comfort, and they're out in tents. They're braving the cold or the heat no matter what. I strip down to basketball shorts and a t-shirt, even if it's five degrees outside. They're sweating it out or bundled up in their jackets, even when going to bed. I empathize.

But hey, that's why Golani is called #1. I would say "Suckers!," but honestly, the Nahal base is a real problem. Here's an article from JPost about the Nahal base being a carcinogen, literally. I've been told to give advice if I'm criticizing the army in any way.

Here's the advice: Give my good American-Israeli brothers in Nahal a nice new base!