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:
flaps up there under the toes. That's skin bunched up.