Diary of a reservist

‘You have motivation,’the commander writes to me, ‘I’ll see what I can do.’

IDF SOLDIERS sleep on the ground next to an armored personnel carrier outside the Gaza Strip. (photo credit: REUTERS)
IDF SOLDIERS sleep on the ground next to an armored personnel carrier outside the Gaza Strip.
(photo credit: REUTERS)
Every couple of minutes, my platoon’s WhatsApp group buzzes. Another one of my friends is being called up for emergency reserve duty.
Waiting for my call, my bag packed and already in uniform, I grow increasingly impatient.
I’ve been out of the army for a little over a year, and this is my first experience with reserves. I have no idea what to expect.
I continue to wait; my phone is silent. I call the platoon commander to try and figure out instructions.
What I really didn’t expect is that he would have no idea who I am, that I’m not on file to report for duty.
So I can stay in my comfortable life in Jerusalem – but all my friends, my brothers from the beginning of it all, are already at the border. I don’t want to take “No” for an answer. I call the company commander and give him little time to respond; speaking quickly, I explain my situation and say that I’m ready to report for duty.
“No,” he answers curtly, and dismisses me with a “Good night.” I don’t accept this and answer him back with a text message that is nothing short of a novella.
Five minutes later he texts me back, “You have motivation.
I like that. I’ll see what I can do for you.”
A few hours later, at midnight, the company commander texts me again. “It took some work, but I got you in. Report to your platoon commander.” I’m to arrive at the base in the morning, I’m officially back in the army.
Yet when I arrive, again no one is privy to my assignment.
The equipment warehouse is cleaned out, not a single scrap of gear or a rifle is available. Lucky for me, however, due to unforeseen circumstances, I get to acquire all brand-new gear.
THERE IS a back and forth – will we go in, won’t we – and we are to be prepared up to the last minute. We go to sleep and are told, “We’ll see about tomorrow.”
The next day, we wake up with the sun. The night was freezing, so those of us lucky enough to fall asleep got about three hours. By the time the sun rises, the heat has intensified and the mosquitoes are ferocious; again, sleeping is an impossibility.
It’s Friday and hoping to return home to be with family and friends, we’re instead told we have an extensive training exercise. Morale is low; who wants to train during the day of rest? Dinner that night is poorly boiled chicken and rice, water for dessert. We set out for training.
But a half-hour later, the commanders tell us the exercise is delayed until the morning, and we’re ecstatic.
We get back to base, set our gear and fall asleep with the alarm set for 5 a.m.
After another hard night’s sleep, though much better than the previous night, we board the bus to our training field. We’re informed the exercise has been shortened, with less aerobics and more practice. It’s good news for a group of exhausted reservists.
When we get back to base, completely wiped out from the exercise, the commanders tell us to relax but be ready. We could nap, but must be prepared at any moment to get back on the buses. Well, we end up having most of the day off with no interruptions.
That night, commanders go around collecting money from everyone so we can have a barbecue. I’m going to go off on a tangent and just say that the smell of roasting meat, after several days of only tuna, is the greatest smell in the world.
Everybody has a good time at the barbecue. There is plenty of food and music, and it is a nice little escape from the reality of our situation. We start a pool as to whether we will begin the invasion during the World Cup final, the following evening. There are some significant wagers placed.
Well, we don’t go in during the match; instead, we set up couches and a projector. There is something heartwarming about everybody sitting there outside watching soccer. The unity. Everyone cheering and booing together, shouting for Argentina because Israelis love Messi.
Monday morning, after a pretty decent night of sleep, the commanders tell us we’ve earned a “fun day.” After some training in the morning we’ll be going to Sde Boker to relax by the pool, and afterwards to Beersheba for a real dinner at a restaurant. This catches us completely off-guard. Nobody complains.
So, we have our fun at the pool. It is another opportunity to relax a little from the severity of our situation.
We return to base, and start setting up a carpool system to go to Beersheba for dinner. By the time we reach the city it’s already 11 p.m. Pretty much everywhere to eat is closed.
We settle down at a fancy Middle Eastern place. The manager comes by and sees 50 reservists entering his restaurant.
A little bit thrown off but still welcoming, he invites us to sit in the VIP room. We all barely squeeze inside.
The manager really comes through. He gives us a great deal on our meal, something we weren’t expecting.
We’re eating, joking, laughing, shouting when suddenly all of the restaurant’s diners begin piling into the room. The siren is going off, and the VIP room just happens to be the restaurant’s bomb shelter.
We return to base satiated. Exhausted from a long day, we all crawl into our sleeping bags. The news declares a cease-fire has been reached, but the rockets are still falling. Regardless, we are all still hopeful that we’ll be heading home the next day to return to our lives.
Not two minutes later the platoon commander texts us that we need to wake up early for a full day of training. We weren’t expecting that. We thought we’d spend the day returning all of our gear, and be home by the evening to sleep in our own beds. But the rockets are still falling, so we are still at war.
Tuesday. We wake up early and immediately check the news. The cease-fire hadn’t held – not the first time that’s happened. We head to the shooting range for practice. We are there for the entire day, practicing every different scenario we can think of. Honing our skills, making sure we’re in top condition for war. By the time we finish it’s late in the evening, and we’ve already missed dinner on base. But, to our good fortune, there is going to be another barbecue that night.
When we get back to base and see all the tables set up nicely, the smell of the barbecue is overwhelming.
Especially because we hadn’t eaten since noon.
Despite the comfort of a full meal, we’re all a bit on edge. It’s late and we have to be up at 5 a.m. We call our families and friends, and tell them we love and miss them, and hope to be home by next Shabbat.
I look at my watch, I can maybe manage three hours of sleep. But there is an excitement and nervousness in the air, and everybody is talking. As usual, army life is just one big ball of uncertainty.
I’m on the bus now heading towards the field, and am writing this essay on my iPhone. In a bit less than an hour they will be collecting our phones for an unknown period of time.
The only thing we can hope for is that we will be able to return home quickly, to our family and friends, safe and unharmed; having restored quiet to Israel’s citizens.