In January, Tzanhanim held its ﬁrst brigade-level exercise in ﬁfteen years. I had the distinct privilege of being a part of it. But did I also have the pleasure of participating? After the fact, it is quite easy to say yes. Before and during the exercise, however, I could not say whether it was fun. I could only say that I at times found myself at many “mosts”: uncomfortable, fearful, tired, pained. Welcome to the “tarhat.”
A tarhat is a targil hativa, a brigade-level exercise. It included all three Tzanhanim battalions--101st, 202nd, and 890th—as well as special forces. For the ﬁrst time in nearly ﬁfteen years, these units would be conducting a concerted, multi-day drill.
And it all began with a paratroop jump...
It was an impressive sight to see hundreds of paratroopers gathering in the lengthening shadows of airplane hangers, from which their ordinance would drop us from twelve- hundred feet in the air at some random location in the desert. Brigade commander Colonel Amir Baram gave a speech to mark the signiﬁcance of the exercise as reporters captured his every word. As the sun set, the ﬁrst units were sent off to put on their jump harnesses and prepare for takeoff.
Darkness had long since descended once my battalion, the 202nd, was ordered to prepare to jump. I carried my heavy jumping bag that held my heavy machine gun and walked off towards the drone of the propeller planes. After the plane took off, we were all ordered to stand up...or at least as best we could. The weight of our equipment connected to our harnesses kept our backs straining to stand upright. I was constantly being butted in the head by the guy in front me’s parachute pack.
I wasn’t ready for this jump. I wasn’t in the mindset. Is there a restroom anywhere? Why the hell are we doing this? But once that light changed from red to green, I was out the door in seconds, followed by the rest of the plane. I could not wait to hit the ground. I did not enjoy ﬂoating down to earth. After what seemed an eternity, I touched down softly on the hard desert sand and did a proper roll, executing my best landing ever.
I quickly undid my packs and built my machine gun. As I was collecting my equipment, I heard shouts of help and walked over to ﬁnd my machine gun partner lying against a hill, not moving. He said he had hurt his back and I shouted for a medic to help him.
He is still yet to return to us.
I had to rejoin my unit at the rendezvous point. I threw my equipment on my back and shoulders and started off into the darkness, doing my best to traverse a terrain that is identical to sand on a beach. My foot sunk and slid backwards with each step. My muscles burned in no time.
I met up with my unit, sat down, and started to freeze as we waited for more soldiers to meet up. Eventually, around two in the morning, we grouped into our platoons, and started off.
Within a half hour, my platoon had gotten separated as we had to stop for various reasons. Ultimately, what was supposed to be an eight kilometer hike, turned into fourteen and it was well into the morning when we ﬁnally rejoined the rest of the company.
I ran with my commander to a ridge, loaded my machine gun, and let the bullets ﬂy.
That was my only action during the entire tarhat.
The entire “attack” took a few hours, but my company, once advancing to a certain hill, sat down, ate, grabbed a few hours of sleep, before starting off again. And we walked all evening.
We could see lights off in the distance of a “city” built by the IDF to train soldiers in urban combat. We set off in its direction, knowing we wouldn’t stop until we reached those lights. As we neared, speakers blared out the Muslim call to prayer. We heard potshots as soldiers entered the town. My platoon stole across open ground to a nearby building, sat down, and went to sleep.
The “battle” was over by time we woke. The tarhat had concluded. We ﬁnally ate a decent meal and wrapped up the experience with a small ceremony.
I was a part of IDF history. In retrospect, I am honored to have been involved. It wasn’t fun, was one of the hardest experiences I have had, but then again, that’s what it means to be a ﬁghter for Eretz Yisrael.