Ideas becoming reality can be an exciting and frightful thing. Over a year ago, I had the idea to come join the IDF. In December, I donned the uniform for the first time. In March, I joined Tzanchanim, the paratroopers. For most of basic training, we fired weapons on the shooting range, practiced drills in the field without ammunition, and learned what it means and what is necessary to be a soldier. Still, all just an idea.
The idea of serving in the IDF as part of a combat unit was at some point glamorous and noble. The Israelis in my unit ask me if I want to be in a war. I respond with “no, but if Israel is in a war, I want to be a part of it.” I did not come seeking to fight; I came seeking to defend. While that is still my driving motivation, the ever-changing reality of my life is taking a different shape than I ever imagined.
I’m always amazed by the power of the M16. Even after weeks of shooting drills, the sheer force of the machine still excites me. You peer through your sight at the target 100 meters downrange, and as the guy next to you fires, you feel the force of his shot and your body reacts, shifting your rifle a few centimeters off-sight.
In the field, you still need to wear earplugs despite the greater distance between shooters. The rapid rattle of the Negev light machine gun lights up the hill as you advance upwards, spraying each target with a few shots before continuing on to the next one. You take great care not to aim outside forty-five degrees to your right and left to avoid friendly fire.
We started Advanced Training a few weeks ago and spent a couple days learning about urban combat. We went into the field to practice entering buildings as a pair and unit of four. Our officer oversaw the live fire practices. You enter a dark, padded room and open fire on the back wall. The noise is deafening. Expended bullet casings are ejected with such speed and heat that can they burn, scratch, and cut your skin. At night in these rooms, you can’t see anything the darkness is so complete.
Another day, we threw live grenades. One by one, we ran up a hill to a bunker from where we would throw a grenade to the other side. From down below, a good hundred meters away, the explosion is first seen, then heard. You can feel the shock and power of the baseball-sized weapon.
All of these experiences, combined with the advanced drills in which we are now learning how to operate as a squad, then platoon, then company, all bring together the reality of what it can mean to be a soldier. Combat must be loud, shocking, confusing and terrifying. And add to that the language barrier.
The other weekend, my unit guarded in Hebron. I stood with a bulletproof vest, combat vest, loaded weapon and beret on the side of a dirt road that snaked through an Arab section of the city, a few hundred meters from the Tomb of the Patriarchs. The commanders made their rounds and asked me if everything was ok. They noted that I must keep an eye on the rooftops to make sure no one was there to throw stones. I was to keep everyone safe as they made their way to and from the tomb before and after prayer.
Here I was, finally protecting my people as they practiced our religion. The six-hour shifts standing were not always fun and they were not always easy, but at the end of the weekend, they were fulfilling.
Advanced Training is well under way, and I can already see the light at the end of the tunnel. Now, there are less formalities between the soldiers and our commanders. It is becoming physically more rigorous, but mentally easier. We are soldiers becoming warriors. My training will prepare me physically for combat. The idea of combat is becoming more real as we learn about new weapons and tactics. With the reality of what that means, I hope I will also be prepared mentally.