After eight months of training, and then another three or so of brigade-wide retraining that we unluckily stepped right into, my unit has found its place in "combat." I use that word lightly, especially considering that we have found ourselves in the West Bank during one of the quietest periods in Israeli history. Knock on wood and all that, but I simply believe that it's peaceful because we've brought the hammer down hard on the terrorist groups. Operation Cast Lead sure as hell put a beating on Hamas, and I don't think they're ready for round two.
Thursday, October 22, 2009
But they will be, eventually. For now, peace.
While the rest of my platoon took a pre-dawn bus to our base in al-Madina al-Muqaddasah, I was chosen to stay at our previous base in order to help put the final touches on cleaning up. Logistics officers, jobniks with big ranks that you couldn't care less about, were roaming the area, just looking for an excuse to yell at the young, arrogant combat soldiers. "You're aren't leaving here until..." was the line of the day. I heard that no less than twenty times.
Suddenly, in the middle of carrying some containers back to the kitchen, the commander watching over us told me to run to the transport truck waiting at the base's front gate. "HURRY," he told me numerous times. It seemed like the truck was waiting for me, specifically. However, upon getting to the gate, there was no one to be found. After waiting nearly two hours, I finally hitched a ride with a transport carrying our shipping crates which we use to store gear.
"Jump on up!" the animated driver told me. For the entire five hour ride I was all alone in a tractor-trailer with a reserve duty soldier who rambled on and on with his wife on the phone. With just three hours of sleep the night before, I fought back my leaden eyelids the entire way. I was told to not let this guy stop at his base for the night, but rather to carry on all the way to our deployment, so I had to stay awake. And as they warned, between calls to his wife, he called just about every officer in the IDF for permission to go sleep at the truck base.
Finally we neared the border crossing into the West Bank. The driver started showing his true colors pretty quickly. He made a call to his dispatcher on the speakerphone. It essentially went like this:
"Uh, so when I cross over, what happens? I only have one soldier with me. Is that enough?"
"OK, are you sure? Because it's just one soldier, and you know, it's at night! How will I know if I'm going into a bad area or not?"
"There's nothing to worry about."
"Well!.. Famous last words, no? OK, I have one soldier, but should he put the magazine in the gun, and a bullet in the chamber? Ready to shoot!"
"No, that's not necessary."
"Is there a signal truck that could guide me to the base?"
As he drove hesitantly toward the border crossing, unarmed Israeli civilian cars zoomed by, headlong into the territory. My jumpy driver and his wide-open eyes rubber necked the entire way to our base, making terrified comments one after another. I giddily seared into memory the crossing, marveling at the towers and guard posts and concrete barriers and mazes of chain-link gates used to check Palestinian pedestrians. All the things the world hates Israel for. What all the protestors were losing their minds over. Every little detail shone brilliantly under the yellow, sodium lights. I was happy to finally be deployed, after so much waiting. The frightened driver was ready to get the hell out.
My favorite line of the night? While driving past an Arab town with a green-lit minaret, he asked seriously, "Do they have rockets?!" And then once we made it to the base, with relief he inquired if we had "finished the Arabs finally?" That's less racism/prejudice than it is excitable cowardice.
After wishing him a good night and laughing at his catharsis upon reaching the safety of a Golani base, I made my way to our barracks. I entered the small, squat building to cheers from my platoon. I had no idea what al-Madina al-Muqaddasah was all about, and at night I had seen nothing, but I had arrived.
Time for patrols and guard duty and checkpoints and guard towers and seated ambushes and arrest operations.