Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Masa Kumta - Beret March

Writing a blog entry about a march that begins at 7:30pm and ends the next day at 6am is probably harder than the hike itself. What can I say about it? I guess I'll just give a little background...

The masa kumta (beret march, essentially) is the final hike in a long series of hikes that begin in the first month of basic training, and end, at least for certain infantry units, at the end of advanced training. That means that for the duration of your entire training period you have to face these marches. The purpose of a masa is clear: you do them in combat. Not every battle is found right outside your barrack's doors. Sometimes you've gotta hike a few miles out there, or a few back. Why do we open stretchers and load them up and hike miles and miles with them? Because at the end of most battles you've gotta get the wounded out, and there are always wounded. Of course, the masaot also build teamwork, esprit de corps, and give training a sort of backbone - not to mention a clear finale.

What is a masa? Two single file lines. Usually at night. Complete silence. Full gear (combat vest with all related equipment, personal gun, light machine gun, heavy machine gun, water packs, stretchers). Very fast pace (6 to 10 km/h). Steep inclines.

And what is the masa kumta? This is when you earn your brigade's beret, which is simply a different color from other brigades.

OK, is everything explained well? Good, so let's get personal now. You want to know what it was like? It sucked. Everyone was in agreement: it was twice as bad as the "machin masa kumta," which is the 'preparation masa' for the masa kumta. That means it was the one right before this final one. They were the same pace, of course same gear and all that, but the machin had more inclines, meaning it should have been much worse. However, I remember laughing and smiling and singing to myself the entire machin masa! It was good times! "ONLY ONE LEFT!," I thought happily.

The masa kumta, however, brought me no such joy. I don't think I even dreaded it. I don't think I was nervous or anything. I was ready to get it over with before we started, but I did want to do it. I often have thoughts like, "I wish I could just do this blacked out, wake up during the final two minutes for the joy of finishing, and that's it." But I wasn't thinking that about the masa kumta. I wanted to say I did it with a clear mind, suffered as necessary, and finished strong.

I don't know what to tell you, mainly because I don't know myself. Why was it so hard when it actually should have been easier than that machin? I have no idea. Strange. Despite the torture that this was, I am extremely proud of myself for stepping it up with the gear. You see, we have extra gear that we have to carry the entire march - stretchers and a water pack. The stretchers aren't anything but obnoxious to carry on your back, but the water pack... the water pack is tough.

The pack we have holds 11 one and a half liter bottles, I believe.* That's 16.5 liters according to my calculator. Now, according to the infinitely wise Internet, a liter of water weighs 2.2 pounds. So, let me crunch some numbers... 36 pounds. You may be thinking that that's not too bad, it's not 100 pounds, but you try humping 36 pounds at 8km/h for even one hour. Don't forget your gun and your combat vest loaded with ammo, either.

No one ever wants to grab the water pack. We switch off just about every hour, but it always takes a long time to get someone to grab it. Usually the uncomfortable silence of no one stepping forward ends with the commanders yelling at people, and then they grab it. I took the pack the second hour, then after an hour passed it off per routine. Long story short, I was carrying the water again closer to the end, once we had opened the stretchers, despite there being numerous people that hadn't had the joy of lugging it. For the next nearly three hours I had it. No one offered to take the pack, and I didn't ask anyone to. That's 1 hour plus almost 3. Let's say 4 hours with the pack. Can't complain, though - I'm not the MAGist (heavy machine gunner).

For 7 months I dreaded masaot because of that pack, so I wanted to finish strong, with the water pack on my back, and the stretcher on a shoulder. There were guys in the back stumbling along, just trying to keep up, but about 10 of us were giving 100% so we could say we finished with everything we had. Waterpack on my back, stretcher on a shoulder, we ran to the finish line, a full sprint. I thought I was going to fall, but we went right on through to the end - 100%.

That's how you finish this crap.

How did I feel? Anti-climatic. I wasn't tired at all, like most of the guys. They were sleepy, but I don't know, I just kinda felt like I had something to do. I finished everything, the final step in the final masa had been taken, but there I stood. What next? I thought, "Well ok, we can do another one. It's not like that was my physical limit, really." It was hard and all, but why couldn't I do another 10k? Trust me, I don't want to, but after you spend 7 months going from masa to masa, it's weird to think that it's all over.

You know when you have a word on the tip of your tongue? The word is just past that little mental barrier, whatever that barrier is. You can feel it! UGH, what's that word?! Well, I felt like I had joy or relief on the tip of my tongue. Not the word, but the feeling. I could sense those emotions right there, but there was some kind of mental/emotional barrier holding me back from feeling it. Surely it's just because I've been waiting for this masa for so long, and it was bound to be anti-climatic.

Either way, I'm happy. I got through it with the help of tons of junk food stuffed into my pockets and vest (advice: sunflower seeds). Tons of pictures were taken by my commander, who grabbed my camera 5 minutes in and didn't give it back until the next day. The physically intimidating yet mentally weak French kid quit halfway through, as predicted. The weather was great. Everyone had the worst שפשפת ever (don't ask). And there was an awesome breakfast afterward.

All's well that ends well, no?

* - There are many water packs. Don't harp on 'giving away military secrets' here. It's not important.

Here's a couple pictures:

The start

You'd think this is a bad picture, but it kinda says
a lot about what a masa is like.

Breakfast - can't beat a tower of chocolate milk

A friendly blood blister. Not me, thankfully.

The kid's foot is literally coming apart here. The skin
just peeled and got pushed upward. Look at the yellow
flaps up there under the toes. That's skin bunched up.

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Done & Done!

Masa Kumta (Beret March) - Check

Various Pains & General Inability To Walk Straight - Check

Happiness & Celebrations - Check

Brown Golani Beret - Tomorrow

Friday, June 5, 2009

This Week

Well, eight months of the army has come and gone, seven of those in Golani Brigade infantry training. Time - what an inexplicable factor of mortality! Either way, events are going to transpire this week that I thought would never come, and honestly, I even believed at times that I wouldn't have the guts or ability to live through them. Silly, silly doubts.

On Monday, this very Monday, we have our masa kumta. If you are just stepping into this blog right now, I can't explain it to you the way you deserve, but let's just say that a masa (journey) is a massive hike at a very fast pace with full gear, and stretchers. The last one we did was about 40 kilometers, and the last 10k was with open, loaded stretchers, and the last five of that was climbing one of Israel's taller mountains. The word is the same used for the Israelites 40-year journey in the desert after the Exodus from Egypt. And we remember how bad that was.

After I finish this feat, we have a ceremony on Wednesday to receive the Golani beret. For the past eight months I've had the army's basic green beret, a true sign of 'youth' in the army. The brown Golani beret, so colored because this brigade was originally composed of kibbutznik farmers, is a holy item in Israeli society. It symbolizes the greatest sacrifice for the country. If anything historical is still cherished in this changing, modern country, it is the Golanchik's color. At least this is the way we think of it in the army, and in my first-hand experience, I regularly receive encouragement and even thanks from civilians when they see the Golan tree on my shoulder tag.

For eight long months me and my fellow soldiers have been itching, just plain yearning for this moment. We've been trained, we're fully combat rated, we're ready for whatever the army needs us for, we've completed every single test thrown at us, and now it's time we receive our prize. We've earned it.

Last week was hell on earth, War Week, but we won't even discuss that. What passed passed, and I'm stronger for it.

But this next week, despite the physical strain to come... it will be something good to dwell on. Wish me luck, though I hope I only need determination. Funny how all things come in their due time, even when it seems they never will, no?

Sorry, But I Had To Share

Sorry for this totally unrelated post. I just was blown away by this, so I had to share.

Here's the original

NEW YORK (Reuters) - An owner of a New York store thwarted a robbery only to take pity on the perpetrator, who claimed he could not feed his family, and gave the man $40 and a loaf of bread, a video of the incident showed.

A video posted on Tuesday by the Newsday newspaper on its website www.newsday.com showed a masked man wielding a bat as he entered a convenience store in Shirley, Long Island, just after midnight on May 21 and demanded money.

But when the store's owner, identified by the local Channel 12 TV station as Mohammad Sohail, pulled out a rifle, the masked man dropped to his knees and appeared to beg for forgiveness.

"He said 'I am sorry, I have no money, no job, my family is hungry,'" Sohail told the TV station. "Then I feel bad for him ... I take $40 for him."

Sohail said he was not planning to press charges.

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Golani Soldiers Get Hot Girlfriends?

I've been wanting to post about this one guy in my unit and his girlfriend for, oh I don't know, maybe about four months now. Forever ago we were on a bus heading to a different base to do some training, and he used my cell phone to access an Israeli version of MySpace or Facebook. He wanted to show me pictures of his girlfriend. "OK, I thought. This'll be interesting."

Now, this guy is very nice. He's quiet and kind and well-behaved. He doesn't get a temper over every little thing, and he knows how to talk to people calmly. In short, he's basically un-Israeli. He's a good seed. However, his beauty is, how would you say, found on the inside. Don't get me wrong, he's not ugly by any means. I've seen him shirtless, and he may not be Brad Pitt, but he's in shape. He's an average looking person.

So when he loaded up the photo album of his girlfriend, I was expecting an average looking girl. It would be fair to say that I was speechless when I was shown about 50 pictures of a drop-dead gorgeous female. She's probably about 5'8, dark skin and dark brown, curly hair, a cute little nose that sits perfectly between tastefully prominent cheekbones. He showed me some bikini shots (relax), and this girl is fit! She not only has a beautiful face, but she also has an athlete's body.

My speechlessness turned into suspicion. I asked him if he was rich, or if maybe she was crazy, and even if he was lying. I apologized for my insolence, but I told him that this girl was out of both our leagues, combined. He swore that she was his real-life girlfriend, and that he could prove it. He went to another album, and there were all the cheesy, corny, bf/gf pictures that 18 year olds take. Hugging, cuddling, kissing, etc.

I secretly harbored the notion that she could be a hired model, or maybe a slightly morally debased cousin. He put all the suspicions to rest, however, when he recently showed me some more risque pictures. Nothing too serious, of course, but no cousin outside of West Virginia or Kentucky would be caught in a photo like that. And if she's a hired model, well, he really knows how to keep up an act.

So, the real impetus for this post came just this morning when another guy showed me pictures of his girlfriend. This guy is nice and all, but he's a major mooch sometimes, yells like everyone else over every little thing, and simply isn't the angel that our first example is. Looks-wise, he's just normal. He's definitely not fat now, but he was, and he's by no means the type to envy. He's just average, or even a little less... (not trying to be mean here, just making a point).

OK, his girlfriend is pretty much a model too. She's actually pretty similar in that she's dark-skinned with dark, curly hair. I guess I can't really describe a face that well, but let's just imagine a Sephardi Jewish chick that you'd easily introduce to your ubercritical friends with pride. And did I harbor suspicion? No, I didn't. By now I've just kinda grown used to Israeli girls having bad taste.

But honestly, can someone help me figure this out? I know Israeli guys are totally into blondes, mainly because that is more of a rarity here, but are dark-skinned, dark curly haired girls so abundant that even the gorgeous ones are stuck with mediocre partners? If that is the case, which I'm seriously entertaining the thought of, why haven't I met any on a personal level? Not that I'm looking, and not that I'm immodestly comparing myself to these two guys (I am), but come on, at least let me encounter this apparently bottomless pit of dark Jewish girls.

I think that Israeli girls are just better looking than Israeli guys. Or these guys are really good liars.