Friday, December 25, 2009

Time Passes Like A Demon In The Night

(I'm really putting myself out there on this one, in terms of one of the pictures. And I've had a hard time writing, so I'm gonna be experimental. So, you better enjoy it.)


Nearly a year ago, in the beginning of advanced training, I had a conversation with one of our new commanders about what it's like to have finished the first year in the army. We were pulling guard duty together in the middle of the night, at the front gate of the training base. I was super-green in the army, only about four months in, and he was a brand new commander. I wondered who this guy was, and what he could tell me about earning the coveted Warrior's Pin.

In the Israeli Army, you have what is called a maslul. That's your training path, and "path" is the literal translation of that word. Every unit differs in their training cycle. For some jobnikim, they only have basic training for a month or so, and then a month and a half course, and that's it. Within a few months, they're "full soldiers." Short and sweet.

For us combat soldiers, however, we have to suffer a little longer. The infantry maslul is about a year. For the brigade-level special forces guys, it's just a few more months, and the elite SF have much longer. It all depends on the unit. But whether or not you're suffering for a year, like us, or two years, like Sayeret Matkal (Delta Force/SAS), you're suffering all the same. In terms of the niceties of life, a soldier in "training" will soon forget that they even exist. Breaks for free time are rare. When you eat, and who you eat with, is strictly dictated to you before each meal. Privileges are hard to come by, and easily retracted. Essentially, the comfort level is minimal, as you can imagine.

That's your first year. Or it's supposed to be. My platoon, because we were sent to a special company and are qualified for a unique and complicated weapon, got to basically skip the final four months of our maslul because that weapon comes with a long training course. We call that "Danny-Luck" where I come from. But either way, when you're a rookie, you're a rookie, and that's been the essence of this introduction.


I was standing in the middle of the night with that fresh out of commanders' course kid, just a 19-year-old, and wondering out loud what it's like to finish the training cycle. Having just started advanced training, and knowing that it was going to be the hardest, most physically and emotionally demanding months of my life, not a small amount of worry and stress drove me to explore his reality. I asked him what it "felt like" to finish the cycle.

"Wow. You don't know yet, but advanced training is BAD. Lots of guys aren't going to make it. You've never ran so much or carried so much heavy gear in your life. It's almost impossible. And then the four months after that, when you leave the training base but are still "in training," you're just itching to finish. It's amazing. And you know what? When I go home after a hard few weeks, and listen, we were in the commanders' course for 35 days or so when Operation Cast Lead broke out, so we were going a little crazy... I go home after a couple weeks on base, missing mommy and girlfriend, and take off my dress uniform. I hang my shirt up, and just admire the pin. It takes a while for it to set in and seem real, but that pin..."

He trailed off mid-sentence as the late February winds whistled mist off the walls of our stucco guard shack. I couldn't help but stare at this kid and marvel at his innocence. On the one hand, as far as I knew, he had suffered through a nearly unbearable advanced training course, and that was commendable. At the time, I was amazed at anyone who had finished what I had heard was hell. But really, on the other hand, the right hand, the hand of my own experiences in life, I knew that he had only really lasted for a year in a strictly-controlled environment. A year, to me, is nothing. It's a wink of the eye. A year in the army is slightly different, but time passes no matter where you find yourself.

And so, while I kept his positive perspective and motivation in the back of my head during the worst hours of the War/Hell Weeks, I also remembered how I felt standing next to him. He was no more important than anyone in the army, certainly no more experienced, and he had simply survived for a year longer than me. For what? A pin? Trust me, I wanted that pin just as badly as anyone: To walk through the Tel Aviv train station on a Friday morning with an "I Am A Real Golanchik" sign on your chest... You can sense that desire in this post from January 2009. But still, at the time I was too far away from getting that pin to really feel some sort of yearning. It was just too far.

Father Time had only just flipped his hourglass.


By October of 2009, however, our turn had come to become Israel's newest full-Golani infantrymen. I, like that new commander I had months before, had survived the first year. There were no fireworks in my heart, and no great wave of emotion swept over me. I lasted. We had our Pin and End of Maslul Ceremony, where my roommate and two good friends were present, and went home. I hung up my dress shirt, and stared at my newest, and final accruement to my uniform. It just was.

Don't get me wrong. When my commander stuck those sharp pins into my skin, as is customary for most combat units, I was ecstatic. I'm not sure that I was so happy for the pin, as much as I was for the ability to strut like a peacock in public. It all seems so silly, and I know I'm way too old for it, but you can't help showing off when you've worked your butt off for a little piece of metal on your chest. This form of motivation lends itself to vanity.


I almost forgot where I was going with this! Ah, what a difference Time makes! That fact of life seems to be a constant theme of mine, like Doestoyevsky's redemptive suffering, or Thoreau's solitude and nature. I've grown so much in the army, from an inexperienced foreigner to a front line 'warrior.' Just look at this picture taken the first week of the army:

And now, after exposing a picture that I promised myself would stay locked and hidden away from any eyes besides mine, feast your eyes on what a real soldier looks like. This one was taken right around October, when I received my pin:

Those two snapshots in time, one taken for novelty, the other taken for prosperity, reveal pure and raw growth. When I had that first picture taken, I thought it would turn out like the latter. I was sadly mistaken, and quickly realized that once viewing it on the full computer screen. The second, however, was taken by a friend after a foot patrol that left us all feeling like dogs, totally exhausted, but alert for our next mission. It was not planned or choreographed. It simply was.

And so, Time, that demon in the night, the passage between then, here, and another then, unravels itself before us at the most unexpected moments. We have to grasp it, the moment, and hold it however long we can. Like a man clutching a loved one hanging from a cliff for dear life, we have no option but to last as long as possible, to not let go, to savor this exact point in time.

"Defer no time, delays have dangerous ends." As true as Shakespeare says, there is no more important heartbeat than the one that beats now. I look at these photos, and I look at my pin fastened onto my dress shirt, and know that I have captured a moment to the best of my ability. I shy away from giving imperatives, but I know this now to a degree that I never expected from simply being a soldier, just a number, another helmet:

If you wait, and if you do not chase the present with an eye to the future, you'll never move forward.


Anonymous said...

sports illustrated had an article on omri casspi in the nba. After i read that article, i read yours as well and wow pride just swept in. I saw the two pictures and wow what a difference.

May you be safe, and enjoy the present.

Unknown said...

Contrast between the two photos is amazing. Thanks for letting us see the changes, and stay safe.

Beacubes said...

I am really proud of you even though I do not know you at all. Your blog is an inspiration to many. I just came back from Jerusalem though the hassle at the immigration it did not deter me from visiting again in near future. The Haram el shariff and the other Muslim sites are simply awesome. You are blessed to be in this holy land.

Anonymous said...

Honestly I don't see much difference between the two other than the tziud. In one you have pure michve alon shit, including the m16 aroch. In the next picture you have real combat gear.

Israeli by Day said...

Really? Look at the body language, one is an awkward pose, the other is real confidence. It's all in the body language.

d-rose said...

i see what u the first pic it looks as if just the strap of your gun is weighing down your entire head/neck, meanwhile in the next pic its like throw 50 lbs. of more gear on my back cuz i dont give a shit! i def. see a transformation - way to go man

Anonymous said...

Uh, posterity, not prosperity, me thinks.

Great post, as always.

Israeli by Day said...

yeah yeah, posterity. everyone's a critic.

Jacob Da Jew said...

Sweet pics. The second pic simply says "Do not f*ck with me. Ever".


Anonymous said...

I'm curious. I've seen Golani analogized to the US Army Rangers. Do you think, if you could make such a comparison, that it would be a valid one? Additionally, you talk about the brigade-level special forces guys. Have you ever thought about gibush for Sayeret Golani?

The everyone's a critic guy

DanielC said...

great post. youve got to add pictures more often, at times they really convey the experience more powerfully than words. the second pic makes you look like a ten year veteran or something.

hearing some pretty bad news from west bank. stay safe man.

Anonymous said...

I enjoy your writings. - Will

Rafael said...

Man, great post. I really liked it. And there's no mistake in those pictures...I see two different guys, you have to be blind not to see it. Be safe soldier.

BZL said...

mazal tov and b'hatzlacha! Is this pin like the Combat Infantry Badge?

BTW, did you put on weight (obviously all muscle) since you've been in the army?

Ruanne said...

Congratulations, Danny. What more need be said? :)

Israeli by Day said...

Thanks, everyone.

BZL - Yes, this is like our Combat Infantry Badge, but it is specific to the brigade. Each brigade in the army, combat and non-combat, has an "end of training" pin. This is ours. It's easily the most kickass of all the pins in infantry, and I'd only say that like 2 or 3 are cooler in the entire army. Maybe.

I actually lost weight in the army! I went in at about 220, which was the heaviest I have ever weighed in my life, and in the first week lost about 3 kilos (6.6p or so). I'd say those few pounds were fat, but if you were to have seen me before that week, you wouldn't say there was much fat to lose. I had a 6-pack and all, but you know, there's always fat to lose. From there I kept losing weight, but it was a combo of fat and muscle. You see, they want runners in this army, and I've always been more of a heavy lifter type. "Combat Fitness" demands running and carrying heavy weight, and when you combine those two things, you lose more fat than you gain muscle. And, we don't lift weights, so... Essentially, I now weigh about 200 pounds MAX, if not 195 after a week in the field. Which is the lightest I've weighed since high school, and that was 7 years ago. I've always been in shape, but more of weight room and situps shape (beach body, I'll admit). Now I'm a runner.

Long answer to a short question.

Unknown said...

ahahahahaha you look so dorky in the first picture compared to the second!!!! (the second is definitely a bit intimidating)

i miss you - don't get too addicted to the army!

Tae_Ki_Girl said...

Danny, you may have lost weight, but I tell ya, you look bigger. Buffer. Between that and the demeanor, there's a definite difference between your green photo and your experienced photo.

I really enjoyed this post. Not that I don't enjoy your other posts. I do. You have a great writing style. Maybe when your done with your army days and you've hung up your gun, you could put together a memoir or some such.

Until then, keep the posts coming, sling in more photos when the opportunity arises, and above all, stay safe.

- Shari R.

Anonymous said...

You went into the army as a "boy" and you have grown into a "man." We are all so proud of you. Mom

Kipp said...

I remember getting that pin, bro. Tekes hashba'ah was too unreal; Tekes kumta still didn't cut it, but tekes sof maslul... It felt great.
We sat around the Eshkol Regional Council for hours after the ceremony feeling like accomplished army kings. Glorious.

Oh, and by the way... ezeh chong in that mikveh alon picture!

Well expressed ya'Golanchik!

Israeli by Day said...

Anonymous "everyone's a critic" guy - I never responded to your question, and I know you won't get this, but in case someone else was looking for the answer. I would only compare the brigade-level special forces guys to Rangers, not us. I think we do a lot more various training than regular infantry guys do in America, but we were not special forces. But, Sayeret Golani (Golani SF) is probably pretty similar. I did not even do the tryout (gibush) for SF. Honestly, I wanted to go straight into the action after 8 months of training, not wait around for a year and 4 months of SF training, and then sit around and wait for some mission once a week, maximum. You know what our SF guys are doing? EXACT SAME THING AS US. Was a year and 4 months of hell worth that? Uhhhhh.... No regrets.

Holy crap. Kipp. What a freaking difference time makes. I do look pretty badass in that second picture, though. When I finally got to walk around with all my gear, no bullshit green kumta or empty shirt, I felt content. Like, I've got my job in the army and don't have to worry about any of the superficial stuff. It was really comforting to feel... appreciated?

Anonymous said...

Hi,I was in Golani brigade unit 51 from 1971-1974.The before & after photos are well understood!Someone asked if Golani is like the USA army Rangers.I have an American friend in Israel who was a Ranger,and having seen them on YouTube it "seems"like they are more elite.First, they volunteer we are drafted 3 years.We defend our home,they volunteer to fight anywhere for who knows what.They are so few and can pick from a population of the whole USA!Israel in my time 1971 was 3 million people mostly older people.They have to be super-animals with knotted muscles to get in.We had the heart,belief and courage to do the impossible and did with G-D's help. A guy in my unit was a former USA Marine & he said we were basically the same.12 of our 75 guys died.

Israeli by Day said...

Anonymous - Yeah, I don't think the regular brigade guys are like US Rangers... I mean, we ended up by the end of the two years having done a lot of training that they had, like boulder warfare, mountain warfare, advanced urban warfare, hostage situations, etc, but there is still a big differences. I'd say it's fair to say, in terms of training, that the special forces between Israel and the United States are similar. The big exception is that guys don't get to even start US special forces (SEALS, Green Berets, etc) training until they've been in the army for a while. Israeli guys just start right out in those units. Obviously they are the cream of the crop, but there's still a big difference in experience.

On the other hand, the regular infantry brigades do all the work. They win the wars, as you did with your men in 73. The kids nowadays have lost that feeling of patriotism, but still for every open spot in Golani there are 8 applicants - the demand is still there, but maybe on an overall level it has gone down.

My generation knows what yours did, and trust me, the respect and honor and appreciation is there.