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Lone soldier from Sweden joins IDF looking for adventure
By CARA DORRIS
07/23/2013
Sgt. Yossi Käyhkö explains why he left his peaceful town to live in Israel and join army.
 
Sgt. Yossi Käyhkö never had to join the army. He could have stayed in Värnamo, Sweden, a small, quiet town of verdant fields and icy lakes, where everyone knows everyone. He could have worked in an office for eight hours a day, seen the same friends and drank lager at the same bars.

“All my friends wanted to do after graduating was go straight to work. But I wanted to see new things, meet new people and learn as much as I could,” Käyhkö said in a recent interview with The Jerusalem Post.

Käyhkö, who serves in the infantry corps in a battalion located in the Etzion Regional Brigade, wanted an adventure.

He recounts one week of field training, when his battalion was away from the base, that challenged his motive for coming to Israel.

The battalion had been stationed outside for seven days and the rain was relentless, the tents blanketed with mud.

Käyhkö was slipping, covered in it. He couldn’t even see his fingers in front of his face. As he frantically searched for his fellow soldiers, he couldn’t help asking himself: “Why did I come here?”

The IDF is not for everyone and most Israelis call it the most challenging years of their lives. It’s even harder for lone soldiers like Käyhkö, who lives in Benji’s House – a four-story house in Ra’anana designed for soldiers without family in Israel. He can’t come home to his parents on the weekends for a homecooked meal and a clean set of clothes.

An average day for Käyhkö includes hours of physically exhausting drills and dangerous tasks like patrolling the border and making arrests.

During training his battalion marches 40 kilometers at a time with crushing equipment on their backs.

“The next day my feet were destroyed and my shoulders were screaming with pain,” he said, describing his first march.

But Käyhkö would take 40 km. marches any day rather than live a mundane life. He has already had a greasy taste of the 9 to 5. Before he came to Israel he spent three years at McDonald’s, flipping burgers.

“It was kind of hell,” he said.

Unlike other immigrants who join the army for a sense of duty to Zionism or encountering anti-Semitism, Käyhkö is a rare breed of soldier – he had no political motive to leave his tolerant town and he never experienced hate toward his religion. His greatest fear was not persecution – it was leading a life without purpose. So when he first met some soldiers on a trip to Israel at the curious age of nine, he had already made up his mind that he would join the IDF one day.

“They were like gods to me,” he said.

As Käyhkö got older, he lifted weights and ran everyday after school. He became faster and stronger and moved to Israel in June 2010 and was drafted two months later. He plans on staying in the country even after his service.

“Joining the army is different from anything most teenagers do. If I didn’t join the IDF I wouldn’t have had so many unique experiences,” Käyhkö said.

“I could have led a boring and meaningless life.”
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