"You're going home for the weekend to rest. Go out and have fun.
Drink a beer or two with your friends. Share stories. Eat too
much food. Look for girls. You should feel like kings."
Everyone seems to always ask me how much time I get off from the army. I really wanted to quote what my loquacious company commander once said before letting us go for a weekend, so I figured I'd just explain this part of an infantryman's service for some context.
First of all, your typical IDF soldier gets to go home a lot. Jobnikim, non-combat soldiers, who are a vast majority of the army, can have any manner of schedule allowing them to go home often. Here are some of the schedules that typify why combat soldiers sometimes hate jobnikim:
-Shavua Shavua ("Week week") - Someone that has shavua shavua is on base for a week, and then home for a week. That's their service. Week on, week off. Week on, week off. And so on.
-Chamshushim - I don't think there's a translation for this word, but it comes from Thursday in Hebrew. Essentially, you're on every week, no whole weeks off, but you get off just about every Thursday. So, you'd be on Sunday through Wednesday, and leave early-ish on Thursday.
-Yom Yomot - You go home every day like a nine to five job. And according to one of my friends that had this, he went home well before five many, many times. Often, even. Jerks.
Those are the basic on-off schedules for jobniks, with many others either putting them on base for much more or much less, depending sometimes on their financial or family/personal circumstances. I fully understand that not everyone can have the schedule of a combat soldier, who literally puts his life into the IDF's hands.
An IDF infantry soldier lives a one-dimensional life, and that dimension is the army. During basic training I got off tons of Shabbatot (weekends, let's say), but still closed plenty on base. Advanced training, which I'm finishing now, has found me on base much more for the weekends. However, at this point we're still getting to go home about half the weekends. You could say I'm on base for two weeks, off for a weekend, on for two weeks, and so on. Generally.
(Side Note: All this depends on your company commander, I think. Another battalion in my induction class closed 21 days, got 1.5 days off, and then came back to close 28. That's brutal. Right now they're closing another 21.)
I've been told that in the battalion, once you're finished with all your training, where I'm heading now, you do 17-4. That's 17 days on base, 4 days off. To know you're doing 17 straight is pretty rough, but 4 off sounds great! That's plenty of time to have a personal life, right? I'm really looking forward to it. I mean, they get their 17 days worth of work out of you, don't think otherwise for a second, but more than our current 1.5 days off constituting a "weekend" isn't anything to sneeze at.
But, you see, nothing is really set and determined in this army. For example, I'm writing this post at home because we were given a fluke weekend off. During Israel's independence day my company go to go home for three days of the week, but my platoon was sent up north to Tzomet Golani (Golani Junction) to do guard duty and perform the ceremonies at the Golani Brigade Museum there. You can imagine that we were jealous. If you think that soldiers value meaningful ceremonies over time off... you weren't a soldier before.
Anyway, we've been talking for the last month about whether or not they were going to let us off as a sort of compensation for closing that week. I had accepted the belief that we just got the short end of the stick, and that was that, but the rest of the guys kept up the hope. Lag B'Omer, a Jewish holiday, came and went, and we stayed on base. I was beginning to forget our inequity.
But then, this past week, we went up north to do advanced urban combat training. Shavuot, another Jewish holiday, was coming up on a Thursday, and then Shabbat comes in right afterwards to make it a nice three-day weekend. All the guys got so excited with the speculation that this would be the perfect payback. So much so that our platoon commander came marching right over, yelled for quiet, and then made it clear that he wasn't happy with all this talk of going home. That's weak, you know.
"If I hear anybody talk about Shavuot, I'm giving them Shabbat on base!"
They continued talking quietly about the matter all week, trying to forget how hot it was with frag jackets and combat vests on in the blazing sun as we ran from house to house, doing drill after drill. Through thorns and randomly placed barbed wire they continued the chatter that I thought was so worthless, never letting the possibility go.
Wednesday came, and by mid-afternoon we had finished our drills. After we had packed all the gear away in the convoy truck, we threw our personal gear onto the bus and took our seats ready for the peaceful two-hour ride back to base. All of a sudden the staff sergeant burst into the front entrance and screamed for everyone to get off the bus, twenty seconds or else!
The platoon commander walked aggressively over to us, standing before our U-shaped formation. "Everyone, matsav shtayim (pushup position). NOW."
We dropped down to the dusty ground for the first time, as I thought at the moment, for probably a month. This is basic training-style punishment. I didn't have a clue what we did.
"Who didn't understand what I said?" I didn't, and thought about asking what the hell he was talking about. "The next person to talk about Shavuot, I said, would get Shabbat. Now, every time I say a word, you go down and up, one pushup. Repeat after me: WE."
"WE!" Down, up.
"WON'T!" Down, up.
"ASK!" Down, up.
"ABOUT!" Down, up.
"SHAVUOT" Down, up.
"BECAUSE!" Down, up.
"TOMORROW!" Down, up, but at this point we all were looking around smiling.
"We're going home for the holiday!"
Everyone jumped from the pushup position to about ten feet in the air with excitement. All the commanders were standing on the side, huge smiles on their faces, and not just because of our happiness. They have girlfriends and families too, you know. The atmosphere was the lightest I'd ever seen in my 7 months of service, all for a three-day break. We still had tons of work to do to get ready to leave, but no one cared. We smiled through it all.
So, to answer the question of how much time an IDF infantryman gets off: not enough!