It''s cold out. Too cold. The thin blanket which the IDF provides scratches your skin and leaves you turning and cursing. Through the thin mattress you feel the metal brackets of the bed frame which poke and creak, echoing loudly throughout the tent. You try to remain still, but feel the coldness enter from beneath the covers and hover over you, perhaps even in you.
5:30 a.m.: Wake up time.
5:40 a.m.: Run outside.
6:20 a.m.: Change into army uniform.
Welcome to basic training.
It was not what I expected, there was no huge wall to climb over, no great distances to run, but then again this is just my particular basic training, each unit requires different levels of intensity. My job as a foreign liaison did not require me to be able to jump hurdles and climb walls, that was just a bonus.
During my basic training, 11 girls slept in a tent; they came from different backgrounds and hailed from various regions of Israel. Together we constituted a class. There were three classes in my squad and three squads in my platoon. Our training took place during the winter months and thus, sleeping at night for the most part was impossible. During those three weeks of training we learned about the IDF structure, the use of a rifle, navigation and many more lessons which gave us our first real introduction into the IDF.
Many of the girls took the beginning hard, they were no longer free roaming individuals, they were away from home, provided with very basic, yet dirty living conditions, and were constantly being yelled at. We were stripped down to the bare essentials, mentally speaking. The first three weeks were meant to break us down and rebuild us as soldiers. Our commanders kept us on a tight leash and turned the individual on mute to create a group setting.
It wasn''t easy; I constantly craved sushi, makeup and real, warm showers. Showering in training had become a nightmare. Our days were long and we had hardly any free time until the evening when we were given one hour to make our beds and prepare for sleep. The second the commander would discharge us, girls would head off furiously to their tents, unpack their bathroom essentials, run to the showers, where there awaiting them was a line of girls who somehow had gotten there earlier, to stand in wait for one of the four shower stalls to vacate. There were 84 girls and four shower stalls. By the time they would finally enter the shower, there was hardly any water.
A friend and I found a loophole in the system. For lunch, we were given 30 minutes to eat, but found we never needed the allotted time. So we began the habit of devouring our food, and once we were allowed to leave the dining hall, sprinted to our tents, grabbed our bathroom supplies and sprinted off to the showers, only to find them empty. It was our little secret.
It is hard to fully capture in words the enjoyment and difficulty of that time. Basic training is fun if you approach it in the right mind frame. I met girls from all corners and backgrounds of Israel, started using Hebrew vocabulary I had never heard before, learned to shoot, and provide first aid. I learned lessons far from the University campus.
When I joined the IDF in October 2009, I was asked to choose three jobs for which I wanted to be tested. The options for women are many and can be found online on the main web page of the IDF. Before making aliyah, I had debated between combat and physical trainer, both were intensive, impressive jobs, especially for women. Regretfully, I chickened out and applied for the foreign liaison, educational, and social services units. My goal was to become an NCO (non-commissioned officer) in the social services unit.
I didn''t pass the test to become an NCO in that unit and was given my second choice, NCO in the foreign liaison unit. When I heard that I didn''t receive my choice, I felt angry and disappointed. That was my first experience into how the IDF system worked. It is a large bureaucratic organization that doesn''t act to make the individual happy but, rather to serve the IDF as a whole.
Soon after I was denied the job, my friend came to me and said, "The system has a way of choosing the right person for the right job...don''t worry." At the time, I didn''t know want to believe, but with time, especially during those first three weeks of training I came to see her point, even though it is discouraging to be rejected, I didn''t come to Israel for the job, I came for the experience and to sort of "find myself," and while being in basic training and befriending Israeli girls, again that sappy, warm feeling came over me because already at the start I knew for this I came; For this feeling.
Basic training ended with a small closing ceremony where certain soldiers were awarded certificates for portraying friendship and care for their fellow troops. The frigid air rocked us from side to side as we stood in our lines and waited to hear the closing remarks. Each soldier was heading down a different path; some were heading to the foreign liaison course, others to the IDF police unit and others to unknown places. All in all, regardless of the petty arguments that were fought between the girls, there was a feeling of sadness for this was yet another goodbye. Soon new friends will be made and this will become but a memory.