I just finished my third week in the army. I’m actually off on leave right now with what’s called a gimalim–which is sick leave from the army; I thought I’d make use of the freedom and update my blog. The past couple of weeks have been a bit of a whirlwind. A phrase I heard a few days ago really rings true and accurately describes the army: the days take forever but the weeks fly bye. Our days each last about 18 hours — 5am to 11pm and they just seem to trudge along. Time slows down when, during most of the day, I am literally counting the seconds. The way we travel around base is by standing in two lines and then running to the next objective in the allotted time. 15 seconds is a lot of time; 30 seconds feels like forever, and a minute, well we never get a minute to run anywhere.
Generally, our days begin at around 5am. Our room has no heat, so even without an alarm, the cries of agony of 30 soldiers changing from their warm pajamas into their uniforms is wake up enough. We pry ourselves out of bed and do our best to organize our room. It’s a pain, but every morning our beds must be made and everything must be packed neatly into our bags. Then, every night, we have to unpack what we need again. We meet for our morning formation and typically get yelled at for five minutes since half the people in my tzevet can’t seem to read a watch. We are than given Galchatz — an acronym meaning the 15 minutes every morning that we get to shine our boots and shave. Most people, myself included, shine our boots in the night, so people tend to spend the time shaving and organizing. I put my contacts in during Galchatz. People hate shaving…everybody always complains about it, and people do whatever they can to avoid it. The only way you can not shave in the army is if you experience a lot of irritation from shaving or if you are religious. It’s funny the lengths people will go to convince the commanders that they shouldn’t shave. One friend of mine told the commanders that while he wasn’t religious (he didn’t want to have to go to synagogue every morning), he said his father was, and thus, he needed to grow a beard. And it worked for him.
After Galchatz we have our daily lesson in futility. “You have four minutes to clean your rooms, bathroom, and shower: go,” our commander shouts. It really is futile…each Tzevet (14 guys) gets two squeegees and a bucket, which means that four minutes is just about enough time to throw water on the floor, push it around a little, and then run back out to formation. We then tend to get yelled at for a few minutes concerning our lack of cleaning efficiency, and then are given another 4 minutes. This pattern continues for about a half hour until finally, the rooms appear clean…enough. The irony of the task is that it’s really not about cleaning the rooms, but about managing time. If our mifakedet (commander) wanted us to really clean, she wouldn’t give us four minute increments to clean.
Breakfast comes after and typically consists of cucumber and tomato salad, two hard boiled eggs, and yogurt….could be worse…could be better. After a couple of weeks, all the food starts to taste the same and we only get 10 minutes to eat each meal, so not much thought goes into taste. After breakfast we usually get a fifteen minute break after which we are sent to some kind of lesson. So far, we’ve had lessons on chemical weapons, gun safety (lots), first aid, the Israeli National Anthem, the IDF Tank Corp., the rules of the IDF, and the rules of deadly force. When on guard duty, if you see someone suspicious, you first yell out in arabic and hebrew: “stop, stop, or I’ll shoot.” If they continue to progress, you cock your gun three times. Then you shoot in the air. If they continue to move forward you then are allowed to shoot them in the leg. Despite the way that the media constantly portrays Israel, those rules sure don’t sound like the regulations of an aggressive occupier.
Lunch comes next and is the only meal to feature any kind of meat. Having a protein other than hard boiled eggs is always a welcome sight. The rest of the day is filled up with various breaks, lessons, push up sessions, and meaningless objectives. At night, we get 1 hour – 1:15 hour break known as shatash. This is the only time we are allowed to use our phones, shower, etc. and right after, we need to be in bed. I don’t think that ever before has time gone so quickly, and yet I have also been able to fit so much into an hour.
Two weeks ago we got our guns: they’re really old, huge m16s with “Property of the United States Government” printed on them. We all like starting out sentences with: “Back in ‘Nam…” They have quickly become a pain to carry. We have to carry them everywhere, except home, and they constantly hit things (including my shins) and bounce around. We even have to sleep with them under our mattress and bring them in the shower; we also don’t even get bullets or magazines for them…so they really only serve as a cumbersome club.
This past week we spent in the field. Coming from Alaska, I was expecting a barren field where we would put up our own tents and eat canned food. In fact, the “field” was really a set of permanent tents, bathrooms, and barbed wire with nearby firing ranges. While the nights were definitely cold, it was far less miserable than I thought it would be. We also got to shoot our guns for the first time. We shot 6 bullets during the day and then 10 bullets at night. I hit the target on every shot. We also completed the Bar-Or Fitness Test. To get 100% on the test, one must run 2K in 6:30 or less, do 76 pushups, and 84 sit-ups. If you don’t reach those marks you lose points in increments. I ran 2K in 8:00, did 66 push ups and 84 sit ups.
A special moment that I had the past few weeks was when, in the field, I wore tefillin for the first time. I and 10 or so other soldiers huddled in our tent, with our rifles in one corner, combat vests in the other, wrapped tefillin and said the Shema.
This week we graduate from basic training with a ceremony in Acco. I still have 2 months left of hebrew lessons at Mikhve Alon, but it’s nice to officially finish something.