So my dreams of updating this blog weekly with new and exciting stories from the army failed miserably mainly for 2 reasons. One reason is that when you have less than 48 hours to relax and unwind from the army, one of the last things you feel like doing is writing about the grueling exercises you did that week. The second excuse is that it's hard to divulge too much of what we've been doing without crossing the army's security guidelines of what is and what is not acceptable to share with the public. I'm not in a top-secret unit or anything like that but any scrap of information that terrorist organizations can gather about the IDF is a loss and a liability to Israel's security. Therefore, like one of my many mottos in the army, I will proceed with caution.
I just finished basic training and am finishing up my "regila" or army vacation. The point of basic training is to mold civilians into soldiers. The next step, advanced training, is to make soldiers into warriors. Basic training focuses mainly on the fundamental skills of a soldier, such as fitness, discipline, weapons training, discipline, team building exercises, and discipline. I think I need to emphasize the most important skill once more: discipline. While Basic started out easy and slow, it ended like a long race with everyone panting and gasping for air and crying out despairingly, "When will it end?!" The mefakdim (or commanders) on the first day were welcoming and consoling. As training went on, remarks like, "You look like a group of girls humping the ground. Give me 20 more real pushups," or "What do you think this is? Day camp? I don't want to hear your suggestions or your complaints," became quite mainstream. There a few infamous quotes that will make every tiron (or basic training recruit) shutter if you utter them to him. One of them is "Kulam b'yishur kav" which means everyone line up in a straight line. This means that on the commanders' "go" everyone will start crawling. Usually crawling took place on comfortable surfaces like jagged-rock covered ground with a side of deadly desert thorns or in the shooting ranges where metal wire, rocks, rough sand and dirt, and bullet casings became one with your limbs. Another beloved sentence was "Tiftach sha'on" or open up your stopwatches. This was followed by the commander giving you instructions for a task and then the alloted time for its completion. Almost everyone who has gone through this treatment has a new appreciation for time. You realize that you can defecate, shave, polish your shoes, and stand in line-up with everyone else in a total time of about 7-10 minutes. The fastest shave I had during basic training was about one minute and forty-five seconds. Another word which in every place in Israel other than the army is loved by all is Shabbat. It didn't happen to many guys in my company but when it did you could see how unpleasant it was. If someone screws up badly by leaving their gun unattended, sassing their commanders, fighting, or just repeated and consistent bad behavior, a not uncommon punishment will be to keep that soldier on base for Shabbat while everybody else goes home. This can be horrible for the reason that if your squad is supposed to close the following weekend, that means that you will not see home for 3 weeks. Needless to say, a lot of people get their shit together pretty quickly.
One transformation I've noticed about myself is that I've become tougher. Not in the sense that I'm gonna go out to bars now and beat up neo-Nazis with pool sticks, but rather during a 21 kilometer forced march when your thighs feel like grounded-down meat and your spinal cord like a bent paper clip, I have learned to keep my mouth shut and trek on. A lot of guys find it necessary to complain, or to speculate and banter but not of those things help. What it comes down to is what the most efficient way of getting the tasks at hand done. Worrying and complaining impede concentration and confidence and are therefore a soldier's biggest enemies. I get fed up sometimes with some of the guys around me that joke around and behave very unprofessionally but one of the worst things you can do is to fight the things you have no control over. You can't tell them to shut up because the group will ridicule you yet if you don't do anything the commanders will punish the whole group for one soldier's insubordination. So what is the solution? I found that it was best just to take the punishment and be the best at taking the punishment. Each time the commander makes you run to the fence behind the barracks and back in 20 seconds, it is another opportunity for you to prove to yourself and to your commanders how strong you are. Your experience in the army is contingent upon your outlook on it. If you pity yourself and constantly focus on the difficulty of the task at hand, you will find yourself a stressed-out and depressed mess. If you take everything in stride, the good and the bad, then you find yourself a lot more grounded and capable of handling anything. It means that when you have to carry a stretcher with 80 kg. on it on your should when you already have 30 kg. on your bag, you walk tall and strong and don't pout. It also means that when everyone is giddy, almost drunk, with excitement at the end of tironut (basic training) you walk on tall and strong and don't get caught up in the excitement. The lessons I've learned from the army are incredibly deep and I can't wait to see what else is in store for me in the later stages. More to come hopefully next week. For now, I have to go enjoy the last 9 hours of my regila. Lila Tov