Friday, August 21, 2009

Golani Versus Tzanchanim - The Showdown

After a long few weeks of sharing a small area with a platoon of Tznefim ('young' paratroopers), a period of time which involved phones stolen from our area, combined guard duty, and trading responsibility of cleaning the bathroom, a brouhaha finally erupted. If you're just coming in now, to put a long story short, Golani hates Tzanchanim (paratroopers). Why? Honestly, it's not worth getting into for the 30th time.

One night last week my platoon was singing some of our company and platoon songs when the paratroopers across the way turned up their music to drown us out. We carried on, however, louder than ever. Undeterred, the paratrooper jerks came out of their tents with shirts on their heads, symbolizing who knows what, and pans and ladles in their hands. West Side Story was about to go down, IDF style.

While us Golanchikim sang our songs and clapped our hands, these sissy-kids were busy banging on pots and pans! They couldn't even play fair, as far as we were concerned, and we just laughed them off. We stood on our opposing sides, like the Jets about to trounce the Sharks, and battled for who could sing and yell the loudest. Apparently no one told the tznefim that musical instruments aren't allowed in these showdowns.

Here's a short clip from my phone of the impromptu rivalry face-off:

That went on for probably 30 minutes. It was the same cycle of us belting out some song, while they made as much noise as possible. Then it'd be their turn to sing a song, and, well... not much. They'd just bang on the pots and pans. I don't think Tzanchanim has as many battle songs as Golani.

In all seriousness, I wasn't sure where this clash was leading. Our platoon commander, a second lieutenant, was looking pretty nervous. He loves when we sing and go all crazy, but I gazed over at him and saw what only could be described as anxiety wracking his face. Making matters worse was the paratrooper platoon commander, just standing on the side smiling, not saying a word to our C.O.

You see, this is all fun and games, but I think there is a real amount of dislike between our two groups. At the end of the day, Golani and paratroopers are both in the same army, but you wouldn't know it at this point. Our CO knows and appreciates that we have to work together, and like a good officer hates division in the army. I understand that. I understand his concern.

But how can you not jeer these guys when they cheat even at making noise?! And how about this one:

After getting up at 5am and going out into the desert in our M113's, working in the 100 degree Farenheit weather without a break, and without shade all day, we finally come back late afternoon to find a whole squad of Tznefim sleeping in the bathroom's sink room.

Let me repeat that: they were sleeping in the room with the sinks. Why? Because it was hot outside. I just got finished working in the most uncomfortable conditions - happily, I might add - and these guys had to escape indoors. See, you ask why we don't like paratroopers?! They're soft...

and of course, they wear dresses.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Watermelon Picking Israelis In Uniform

The army involves a little bit of travel. During training you go here or there, to this "shetach" (zone, field, territory) or that. These trips can take a couple hours, which are the absolute best because it means you get to sleep during the middle of the day. In fact, you won't even take a nap during the middle of the day until you're two years and four months in - except for bus rides. So, traveling is awesome.

While traveling with a group of sharpshooters late last month for a week of shooting, the bus randomly stopped by some field. We had no idea what was happening until we all heard the bus driver, a crazy guy by the name of Abu, shouting in his slobbering, disheveled voice from the right side of the bus.

There happened to be a watermelon field over there. Here was this guy and a veteran sergeant picking watermelons from the corner of the field. They were really taking advantage of that Biblical allowance. Anyway, I couldn't believe my eyes when they picked up a few really big, choice melons from the side. Finally we made off with the produce, just like that.

In the army I've seen it all. Honestly, things like this happen all the time. Random occurences are the norm in Israel, but in the army - life is just ridiculous. Not that this is TOO crazy of an incident, but hey, we were in uniform. Before you start the army you think everything is so serious and strict, but really, life is just kinda funny in the IDF!

By the way, this post was really just an excuse to post the following video - the bus driver, Abu, was nearly the Israeli version of Don Vito (beware of strong language, and total idiocy):

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Little Victories In The IDF

When you finish one stage of the army and start another, you generally get new commanders. So, having moved up to the battalion, I am surrounded by fresh faces telling me what to do. That's not easy when you're almost 25 and these guys are either 19 or 20, and moreover, they don't have a clue who you are.

Little victories over your commander help to ease all the frustration of being so dominated. When someone so completely controls you, it's great when you either show them up, know more than them, or beat them in some physical test. That's a little victory over a commander. So, what's my most recent victory? My squad commander is a great guy, super by-the-books, and in-shape to the point we've already asked him why he didn't go to the best special forces units (Shayetet, Sayeret Matkal, 669, etc).

A few nights ago we did a 5k run around the base, and most of the time I was talking to him. I was running with him, no problem at all, and even thought the pace was a little slow. I could tell he had the competitive desire to lose me in his dust...

As we got within 200 meters of our tents, he said, "Sprint to the end!" Usually I ignore those last minute sprint challenges that they love throwing out. 5k is enough, ya know?

Not this time. As we took off he was a step ahead since he initiated the all-out dash. However, within half a second I pulled in front. And then I proceded to absolutely smoke him.

Let me repeat that: I beat him so badly, when I finally turned around, I couldn't even see if he was still running. He was that far away. That, my friend, is a little victory that you will treasure. But, you won't be able to lord it over him. He is in control of your happiness, after all. It's a silent victory, to be sure.

"Don't be too modest. You're not that Good." -Golda Meir

Thursday, August 6, 2009

Golani Pride

I guess this is a post I could have written the first month I was in Golani, but I'm glad I didn't. I'm glad because what was once pride has now become obsession, and these kids are rooted in this world for the next two years, at least.

What am I talking about? The pride of being in Golani. You see, this pride started manifesting itself the first weeks of the army by singing Golani songs, especially "Golani Sheli" (My Golani). It moved from there to wearing the first Golani t-shirt we got. Stickers were found, of course, and those popped up here and there.

But then the 21st century creeped in. Many, if not most, of the guys have some type of Golani background to their cell phones. Here's some of the more popular ones:

One with characters from Gears Of War, a popular video game

Now, all of those above cell phone backgrounds are general Golani. But, once you get into your battalion, you have a specific company with a specific role in combat. I wasn't going to say where I am, but I figured I'd just say in general that I'm in the "Mesayat." I'm not giving away any secrets by saying that name, not at all, but I won't say anything about what it means. I of course won't say what my platoon's role is specifically, or anything like that, mainly as to avoid the whole issue of operational secrecy, etc.

Anyway, now that we're in the Mesayat, all that general Golani stuff is disappearing and being replaced with our company symbol: a rearing horse, since we're the "Wild Horses." Or, this Mesayat symbol:

Anyway, what I really wanted to put a picture up of was something that I knew would raise an eyebrow or two. But, as far as I'm concerned, this is totally in keeping with an infantry unit, and nothing at all wrong about it. You see, we have medics in our unit, of course, and they are constantly being tested by the commanders. One of those tests is preparing a person for fluid injections. I guess if you get shot it's good to get some fluids in you.

So, randomly during gear checks a commander will point over to a medic and tell him to open up some poor kid's vein. Surprisingly, these kids are pretty good at it, so I never mind if I'm chosen.

The other day we all were gathered around as our medics were pitted against each other in a competition of who could prep a person for fluids first. Now, one of the things you have to do when you inject a person is write on their arm the info of what has been done so that a doctor taking over will know what's been done to the patient. That's pretty standard stuff as far as I'm concerned. Now, one of the ways you make due in combat is, errr, to use that person's blood to write on their arm.

So, Golani pride took over in the competition, and one kid showboated. Guess what he wrote?

Mesayat - RESPECT!

That's the kind of stuff people join Golani for. Honestly.

Saturday, August 1, 2009

Not Everything Is Mud And Guts Tough

While brushing my teeth one night, I looked up and saw the toiletry bag that a veteran was using. I swear that I did not doctor this picture in any way. This kid fought in Gaza during Operation Cast Lead, has done tours at Hebron, Jenin, Nablus, the border with Lebanon and Syria, and who knows what else. And yet, he has a pink, flowery, grandmother style bag. These are the times that you just smile at the ridiculousness of army life.