'Few things in Lebanon are as they appear'

"Several of my friends never returned...we all have emotional scars from our time there."

Lebanon soldiers 298.88 (photo credit: AP)
Lebanon soldiers 298.88
(photo credit: AP)
I still remember my first day in Lebanon. It was early October 1995, between Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur. We were only days from finishing our advanced training and had known for weeks that we would be heading to an outpost several kilometers over the border to relieve some exhausted troops who had finished their run. Naive and confident, our first day in Lebanon couldn't come quickly enough. The sky was blue and the sun shining as we arrived at the tiny outpost. Toward the end of the changeover, the commanding officers needed soldiers to take over the guard posts. Eager to officially begin my first tour of duty, I volunteered. Minutes later, I was drenched. The skies had opened up and the cold rain made every movement awkward. The lesson of that day is crystal clear to me now, but took some time for a teenage soldier to learn: Very few things in Lebanon are as they appear. By the time I was released two-and-a-half years later, I had done four tours in Lebanon. Several of my closest friends never returned and many others carry disabilities from our time there. We all have emotional scars. What separated a mission in Lebanon from similar duty in the West Bank or Gaza was that total anarchy reigned. For those reentering now, there will likely be even less order. At that time there was some structure for the IDF. Organized outposts. Working intelligence, which included maps showing the smallest detail of every area. And an ally of sorts in the South Lebanon Army. Despite the IDF's best efforts, the intelligence today can't match that of a decade ago. And even then we were at a disadvantage. After all, we were on Hizbullah's turf. Now not a moment can go by without potential danger lurking around the corner. In villages and towns, the enemy can be in any home, on any rooftop, or in places that cannot even be imagined - whether or not the locals want them there. The situation in the rural areas isn't any better. Any cave can host a well-armed terrorist gang. Any navigating error can turn a valley into a death trap. There is no safe area. There isn't a moment to stop and take a deep breath without exposing yourself to more danger. Unfortunately, there is no way to convey that message to your average 19-year-old soldier, who feels invincible. On the other hand, sometimes it is just that feeling of invincibility that allows soldiers to fight on and win, despite the bleak outlook.