It's hard to believe the day has come where I can call myself a "civilian" once again. It's been a distant dream, a platonic ideal, for two and a half years and it's finally here. I was honorably discharged (freed) from the army on August 8, 2012. The past six months (since the last time I've blogged) will be the topic of this entry.
I had an extremely tough time being a commander of new recruits. It started in July 2011 and ended in March 2012. I completed the dreaded beret march for the second time with my soldiers toward the end of February 2012. As challenging as the journey was I remember feeling deep satisfaction when I glanced back at my soldiers during their beret ceremony as they each swapped their depressingly ordinary green berets for maroon-red ones. I imagine that it is the feeling that parents have when they finally see their children making decisions on their own and going out into the world. We finished the beret march and ceremony and the following week joined the rest of the 202nd battalion in the Golan Heights for training. At the time I was desperately trying to go to Course Nativ, a course for the "enrichment of Jewish Identity and Zionism". In short, I was looking for a break from the stresses of being a commander. As expected, my acceptance to the course was not being facilitated by anyone other than myself. Having learned this already through numerous trials and tribulations in the IDF, however, I knew what to do-- fight like hell at any cost to get in. I drove down to Jerusalem on the "absorbtion day" of the course and politely asked to get in, though I was not enlisted in the course's roster. The 20-year-old at the reception table told me that my name did not appear on the list and that I would not be able to take part in this course...I've heard this one before. These situations in the army remind me of a quote I once heard: "There are no rules...just guidelines." At this point I proceeded to make my way inside to speak with the "troubleshooting" officers. I was told to wait for an undisclosed period amount of time. After about 5 hours of inquiring and waiting, the powers that be called me over and asked for my information. I was written on "the list" and told to proceed to the stations on the other side of the campus. I guess that officer at the reception table was wrong. I distinctly remember sighing a deep sign of relief after I found out that I would be accepted to the course for the simple reason that if I had to return to battalion training, I would endure more carrying, sleepless nights, and other army treasures that I had grown so accustomed to over the past 2 years. Course Nativ was nice, to say the least, with benefits such as good meals 3 times a day, at least 7 hours of sleep, and regular weekend leaves. The ironic part is that I managed to get into shape while I was in the course due to the extensive free time, food, and sleep. It was a great opportunity to brush up on Judaism, the ultimate reason for my being here in the first place, and to make use of my cranial region once again. When the course ended I was once again left with the unsettling feeling of, "what will the IDF do with me now?" With only approximately 2 months until my discharge vacation and having just finished a relaxing course with excellent conditions, I wasn't exactly in the mindset of sleeping 2 hours a night, eating crap, and dealing with unruly soldiers whose main goal in life is presently to NOT do guard duty. When I got back to the battalion I put in my request to return home to the States for my allotted 1-month vacation abroad as is granted to every lone soldier. I was in my car on my way to get allergy shots when one of the social workers of the battalion called me to deliver the good news that my request had been approved. Typically I'm not an overly emotional person and my responses are usually thought-out and relatively tame. I started shrieking in the car - yelling like a crazed banshee. For the first time in my service I felt as if things were going my way. I was "falling in between the chairs" in all the right situations and nobody really needed me. Being obsolete had never felt so good - Catch 22? I returned to the States for a respite of television, movies, sleep, food and literally nothing else. It was heavenly. My parents even honored my request to turn down the air conditioning to 55 degrees so that I could light a fire in the fireplace (unnecessary in Maryland during the month of May but nonetheless soothing). After my month in paradise, I came back in mid-June to the army to finish out my last month. I came back to my soldiers' platoon where I would spend my last few weeks as a "plant" or a fill-in job that doesn't bear too much importance. When my soldiers had their sof maslul ceremony (end of training) in Beit Lid near Netanya I had positive butterflies in my stomach. I could feel the last days, hours, minutes of my service sliding away from me. My last Tuesday, My last weekend, my last dinner, my last breakfast, my last time holding a gun (until reserve duty). The feeling was euphoric. When it came time at the end of the ceremony the Brigade's Master Sargeant signaled the soldiers to count down: 10, 9, 8...3, 2, 1. My soldiers threw their berets in the air. When they caught their red berets, they were officially members of the Paratroopers' brigade and I was officially making my way out. I spent the following weeks mainly sleeping, watching TV, and sleeping some more at my kibbutz. I went to "Civilians' Course" in Ramat Gan in order to more or less learn how to be a human being again and to learn about the benefits I would be receiving as a discharged combat soldier. On August 8 I drove up to my battalion's main base in the North in order to fill out my last "Tofes Tiulim" or entrance/exit form. I'm happy to say I was not afflicted by the slightest feeling of nostalgia. Lots of people start to wonder about their future, consider signing on extra time, and seem confused by the notion of being free. Not me. I was licking my lips in anticipation of being free of my soldier status -- a free man not bound by any system and able to come and go as he pleases. To celebrate my discharge I attended numerous parties and consumed a hefty amount of alcohol. I've also been making up my significant sleep debt that I have acquired over the past 30 months. I am surprised every morning when I wake up between 10:30 am and 12:00 pm and am still exhausted. In about 2 weeks I will be heading back to the States for approximately 6 weeks for the holidays and to look at potential schools for next year. I made the decision to return to States for school about a week ago. I'm really not sure what will happen afterwards vis-a-vis returning to Israel or staying in the States but I'm not too concerned as everyone else seems to be. There's a million ways to say "one step at a time" in Hebrew and that's one of the best lessons that I've learned and I believe have taken to heart. So, to conclude, for the time being, "I'm taking things one step at a time."