IDF soldier goes from cleaning combat boots to wearing them

New York native, Naomi Silverman, gave up dreams of university and made aliya with dream of becoming combat soldier.

By CARA DORRIS
July 29, 2013 02:42
4 minute read.
Naomi Silverman.

Naomi Silverman American IDF soldier 370. (photo credit: Courtesy)

 
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Combat soldier Naomi Silverman spent a year cleaning shoes. Trapped in the back of a chalky storage closet on a field intelligence base, she organized the equipment room, cleaning weapons and unpacking boxes of new uniforms. In the mornings she measured girls’ feet – new combat soldiers – and fitted them for boots.

One could call her Cinderella.

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Except Silverman wasn’t in the countryside of France and the other girls weren’t going to the ball. They were wearing bulletproof vests, not dresses.

They were going to war.

No one knew that Silverman wanted nothing more than to be a combat soldier herself.

“There is no way you could ever do that,” Silverman’s commander told her, when she suggested switching positions.

Silverman, who is in the Search and Rescue Unit, always knew she wanted to be a combat soldier. Though raised by non-religious parents in Queens, New York, each year her family vacationed in Israel.



As she grew older she admired the soldiers from afar during summer abroad programs.

This wasn’t how it was supposed to work. She made aliya to be a combat soldier. She gave up her dreams of university to defend Israel and she was stuck cleaning boots.

“I wanted it so badly. I remember wishing any of those girls were me,” Silverman said.

When Silverman first joined the army she was part of the air force. However, finding it too difficult, she left early. Not allowed to join a combat unit until she had a job somewhere else, she settled on a logistics position in the equipment room. She thought it would be temporary.

However, it was much more difficult than she imagined.

“I was not assertive and very quiet. I also never did sports so I wasn’t that physically active.

Sometimes I cried. They didn’t think I was going to last where I was, let alone in a combat unit,” Silverman said.

Not only was Silverman short and thin, but she also couldn’t speak any Hebrew.

While other soldiers rested, she had to take lessons.

“I could read and write but it wasn’t enough when commanders were yelling directions at me,” she continued.

However, slowly Silverman’s Hebrew improved and she became stronger. At the completion of a 5,000-kilometer run under the crushing weight of a vest, Silverman couldn’t help but remember the day she arrived for basic training – too tired to complete a 500 meter jog.

After a year working in logistics, one day she woke up early for a full day of tryout drills.

Her family came to Israel the night she was supposed to receive the results. She didn’t want to let them down.

When she heard she was accepted her whole family celebrated.

But a few days later her parents left and she was alone again. The real struggles began.

Suddenly Silverman was pulled from the air-conditioned equipment room and alternated between long nights of guarding the Egyptian border and exhausting Search and Rescue drills.

She learned how to operate the equipment that extracts people from exploded buildings.

Using dolls as dummies, she learned how to determine the severity of bodily damage, whom to save first. Wearing a special suit and mask, she also learned how to identify chemicals in the air, how to administer special showers to exposed victims.

“There are so many different scenarios we trained for. There even is a certain way you have to cut the clothes – so the chemicals don’t burn the skin.”

Silverman would have never learned any of this in school.

Sometimes she cannot help but wonder how different her life would’ve been if she went to a university like her twin sister.

“If I didn’t go to the army I’d be taking classes. In the summer I would do all sorts of internships and little side jobs,” Silverman said.

“But the hardest thing is not having any family here. I am still finding a way to cope. It gets kind of easier as time goes on,” she continued.

But Silverman has built a life here. She wants to stay in Israel after her service. She wants to become a social worker and insists on only speaking Hebrew with her friends, so she assimilates faster. She wants to be a real citizen in the fearless eyes of Israelis.

In the end there wasn’t a fairy godmother or a prince. Silverman didn’t even have her parents to save her.

“People ask me why I would ever join the army, coming from a comfortable life in America,” she said.

Silverman is no Cinderella.

But she finally wore the shoes she always dreamed of wearing.

“I tell them I wanted to do something bigger than myself.”

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