Becoming a Paratrooper – Part 1
by Elie Klein
Sunday morning three of my friends and I went to Lishkat Giyus (Army Recruitment Center), and signed up for the army. The army will not send your draft papers to new immigrants until a year from their Aliyah date. However, in some cases, like mine, if you want to expedite the process, you must be proactive, and waive your right to waiting the full year to enlist. We were told the building opened at 7 A.M. but when we arrived at 6:50 we found out it opened at 7:30. After waiting, we finally entered the building and gave our Teudot Zehuts (I.D. cards) to the secretaries. My one friend from India, Ronan, was the first to give his Teudat Zehut, and after typing something into the computer, the female soldier leaned in towards Ronan and told him Floor 4, Room 31. But Ronan heard, Floor 4, don’t tell anyone. He asked his in a whisper don’t tell anyone? And I said no, she said Room 31. After that moment, all three of us broke into hysterical laughter, which lasted for a good three to five minutes. We waited outside Room 31 for an hour or so, and finally I was called in and had a short five-minute interview, mostly in Hebrew. The soldier asked me my age, how long I want to serve for, what type of role I am interested in, and if I like living in Israel. He informed me he would call me once I was entered into the system, which could take days, weeks, or months. Yesterday, we went to The Lone Soldier Center in memory of Michael Levine, and introduced ourselves and met one of the advisors. He sat down with us for two hours, explaining what they do, how they help lone soldiers, and the entire army process that we will be going through. He gave us some great advice, and told us to visit or call if we ever needed anything. About an hour after meeting with him, I received a phone call from the army saying I have been entered into the system, and my Tzav Rishon (1st recruitment appointment) will be on August 10th, in 2 days! I called the guy up from the Lone Soldier Center and told him the news, and he was shocked and amazed how quickly this happened. He said it was great the Army is finally starting to get organized, and gave me some pointers for the day. The best one was to drink a glass or two of wine tonight to lower my blood pressure in case I get nervous tomorrow.
I arrived at the Lishkat Giyus (Army Recuitment Center) at 7:30 right as they opened their doors. The first test was my Hebrew interview. I sat one on one with a female soldier and she started asking me questions about my family, background, and education all in Hebrew. If I didn’t understand the question I would ask her to repeat the question in English, but she said she wasn’t allowed to. After I somehow managed to answer all of her questions, she gave me sentences in Hebrew to read, re-write, explain what they mean, and fill in blanks. She would say what does this word mean, and this one, and this one, etc. I think my worst streak was three words in a row where I had no clue. But finally, after that painful exercise was over, she began speaking English to me, and verified all my information was correct, and said I can retake the Hebrew interview in a couple months when my Hebrew is stronger.
From there, she told me to go to the doctor’s office, where I was first instructed to pee in a cup to check my protein levels, which I thought was weird. Then my height and weight was measured, and I had a simple eye test. I weighed in at 93 kilos and 187 centimeters. I told the doctor’s assistant I was really taller than that and demanded a re-check but she refused. I hope the couple of centimeters they robbed me of won’t affect my stock value in the draft. I’m still looking to be a lottery pick from the Paratroopers! I had a quick examination from the doctor, who spoke great English, and told me he had to send me to the psychiatrist next because he said if I just graduated with an engineering degree from New Jersey, I must be crazy to move Israel and join the army. After I realized he was joking, he told me I had a 97 health profile (which is the highest, the running joke in the army is that the 3 deducted points are because of our circumcisions) and directed me towards the computer room, where I will take my IQ test, the last stop of the day.
I was allowed to take the English IQ test, which was much shorter than the Hebrew IQ test everyone else had to take. The Hebrew test lasted 2 hours, whereas the English test was only about 45 minutes. The test was comprised of shape analogies and be able to recognize and complete patterns. There were no word problems or math equations, so I am not really sure why they called it an English test. After I finished the test, I was told I could go home, but I wasn’t buying it. The soldier said they would send me something in the mail, but I wanted to speak to someone to make sure I completed everything. I had finished everything in less than three hours, while the longest I waited for something was five minutes. So I went to another office, and spoke with one of directors of the lishkat giyus. She said to write a short letter, stating my name, ID number, and that I want to sign on for at least 18 months of service, and fight in a combat unit in the army. After putting my john hancock on the bottom, I was officially eligible for the draft. I always dreamed of declaring my eligibility for a draft, but it used to be the NHL draft, not the IDF. She told me she would be calling me next week informing me of my draft date, and other details regarding my service.
(August 30th, 2011) I received a letter in the mail from the army, and eagerly opened the envelope to a disappointing draft date of May 5th 2012, and only a service of 6 months. So I went to the Lishkat Giyus yet again, to try and change my draft date to an earlier one. When I got there, they looked up my file and told me that was incorrect, and printed out my real draft date. With a smile, the soldier handed me the letter, which read August 30th, 2011. I actually laughed out loud ((lol’ed), wow really Elie), and told them זה לא נכון! (It’s not right) !אני לא רוצה ללכת לצבא עכשיו I don’t want to go to the army now!
After about five minutes of back and forth banter, the soldier finally printed out another draft letter, with the date of December 25th 2011, with a combat service of at least 18 months. Now that is more like it. Only in Israel could my draft date be on Christmas day. I guess I’ll be breaking the Jewish tradition of Chinese food on Christmas this year.
I have been working very hard on training and learning Hebrew for the army. Not a lot was happening in my life for a while, and now my schedule has gotten extremely busy. But before I get into that, there are two things I wanted to say first. !!!ברוכים הבאים הביתה גלעד שליט Welcome home Gilad Shalit!
After spending 5 years in captivity in a dark room, without sufficient food and a single visit allowed from Israel or the Red Cross, Gilad is now home with his family where he should be. I don’t want to get too far into the whole prisoner swap and its politics, as I have discussed it in many conversations here in Israel with friends and family. Moshe Yaalon, a former Israeli Military Chief of Staff, voted against the swap, but said: “My heart says yes, but my head says no.” It is a very complicated situation, and I don’t think there is a simple yes or no answer to whether the swap was right or justified, I am filled with very mixed feelings. From a military standpoint, and to the families of the victims who were murdered by the terrorists freed it makes absolutely no sense and seems like a nightmare. But Israel is a very unique country, in that its soldiers are the children protecting its families on her own soil. Most Israeli’s seemed to support the swap, and the reason I think is everyone had the idea that Gilad was everyone’s son. Throughout its history and culture Israel has deeply valued a pledge to rescue its soldiers and civilians left behind(Operation Entebbe), whether alive or dead. To know the country you’re fighting for has your back is a tremendous and important boost to your confidence, and the morale of the IDF is its most important weapon. With all of that being said, this is why I can’t wait (35 days!) to serve alongside my fellow Israelis defending Israel, and proudly wear the olive green uniform (בעזרת השם with a red beret ;)).
I can’t believe it’s December 24th, which means the next chapter of my life starts tomorrow; the Israeli Army. As I am packing my bag for the army right now, I feel both excited and nervous. I picked up the new Iphone 4s while I was in the states, with the idea I could use it in the army as a way to stay connected with the world, but failed to realize no one knows how to hack and unlock the new apple software yet. So until someone cracks the new software or my sister comes to visit in March and we swap phones, I won’t have internet access unless I am off base on the weekends. NBD though, just means I have more time to work on my hebrew. Going to the army is a big event for Israelis, as usually the entire family sends off their teenage boys and girls to become soldiers. Although my immediate family is not present with me in Israel and I am no longer a teenage, my super-awesome and admirable helicopter pilot cousin Nati was able to take off from work the Israeli Air Force, and send me off to the army. (He also is letting me keep my stuff, and crash at his apartment until I figure out my housing situation, he and Nitzan, his girlfriend, ממש הכי טוב are truly the best!) For the rest of the night, I will try to watch and stream the important Jets Giants matchup on my laptop, and after attempt to get some zzz’s, although I doubt I will be able to because I am so anxious for tomorrow morning. Happy holidays everyone, and I hope I will be able to report soon on how my experience in the army is going.
I’ve had an interesting, fun, and exhausting first three weeks in the army. On the 25th of December, my cousin, Nati, drove me to J’town to send me off to the army, my first day was the first of many long ones. The army took us to the Bakum, which is where every soldier gets registered, their uniforms & dogtags, and other essentials. First, I had to take pictures, a front and a profile, similar to those entering prisons, but I was allowed to smile if I wanted. Then pictures of my teeth, fingerprints, and x-rays were all taken just in case something happens to a soldier, so the army will be able to identify his entire body. Next, I got two shots, and a DNA finger prick, and then received my uniform. As I was putting on my jersey uni it finally hit me, that wow, I’m finally an Israeli soldier. It felt pretty amazing to look into the mirror and see an Israeli soldier protecting and defending his Jewish homeland and people. The whole process took about 6 hours, because of a) the amount of soldiers drafting at the same time and b) the slow and non-chalant attitude of the soldiers working at the Bakum. There are many different paths in the Israeli army, but everyone basically splits it up into 2 catagories. Kravi (Combat) and Jobnik (Non-combat). While there are many excellent jobs and soldiers in the army that aren’t combat, but there are the stereotypical lazy jobnik soldiers that hate the army, and watch the clock the whole day waiting for 17:00 (5 o’clock for you Americans) to come around so they can go home.
After I completed everything at the Bakum, I took a bus up to Michve Alon (my home for the next 10 7 weeks) with all of the other soldiers whose Hebrew is sub-par. My guess is there are about 200 of us, with different Hebrew levels all over the spectrum, from absolutely no Hebrew to people who are basically fluent, they just need to make some final polishings. For the rest of the night, I did the same interview with five different people, where I’m from, how old I am, what I want to do, my family, and so on. We finally got to sleep at 2 a.m, and although the beds aren’t comfortable enough to be called beds, I haven’t had any problems falling asleep because of the long and tiring days.
The first week was pretty slow, we took a Hebrew test to place all the soldiers at the correct hebrew levels, and learned how to tie our boots the special correct way so they look neat and pretty. Those were the highlights for the first week. JK. But once we were finally placed in our correct hebrew level tzevets (groups of 10-16), things were getting more exciting. The first split is two different plugots (companies) Ariel and Carmel, with about 100 soldiers in each. Then each pluga is split into two machlakots (platoons) with about 50-60 soldiers, and finally the machlakots are split into tzevets (squads). I heard Carmel (which is the plugat I am in) is the higher hebrew level one, and all of the soldiers with behavioral issues are in mostly in Ariel. There are 13 guys in my tzevet, 3 from France, 3 from Ukraine, 1 from Brazil, 3 from the USNA, 1 from Kazakhstan (not Borat), 1 from Russia, and 1 from England, with the ages ranging from 18 to 26. I’m the 3rd oldest in the tzevet, and the 26 year old from France has his masters in RF (Radio Frequency) and electronics so it’s nice to have him to talk to during the breaks about engineering and all that nerdy stuff. There are no jokers or wise-guys in my tzevet, everyone is pretty motivated which is extremely rare here at Michve. You see a lot of wise guys clowning around (mostly Russian and French) giving the mefakadots (female commanders) a hard time. I have two mefekadots in charge of my tzevet, one hebrew teacher and the other for combat. Both are probably 19 or 20, and the combat mefakadet is about half the size of me, but has the toughness of a 4th liner brawler. The average wake-up time is around 4:30, with the earliest at 3:15 when we go home of Friday’s. We get between 5 and 6 hours of sleep each night, which you somehow manage to deal with. The most important thing in the army so far is discipline and time. Everything is timed, 30 seconds to run from class to the stairs and form two lines or a chet, and then 10 seconds to another arbitrary stopping point, and another, and you get the point. We get between 15 and 23 minutes to eat all our meals, and I probably eat about two dozen hard boiled eggs each week. The food isn’t terrible, but it’s good enough to survive on, the perfect word to describe it would be ‘sustenance.’
In week 2, we got our guns (M-16s) without ammo, and although it was initially cool, they became a pain in the tokhes (yiddush word for your bottom). We have to bring the guns slung on our shoulder everywhere, and I mean everywhere. We brought it into the showers, hung it on a hook right next to us, slept with it underneath our pillows, etc. We do a lot of push-ups throughout the day, but there is not as much physical activity as I hoped for, although I’m sure that will change soon. On Wednesday in Week 2, we had a Masa, which is a hike with your guns and all you equipment. Before we ventured off the mefakedots announced the best soldiers in each group and I received the honor in my tzevet. My reward was to carry a stretcher folded up with 5 sand bags in it, on top of the same load everyone else was carrying, everything probably weighed 20 – 30 kilos. The Masa was at night, and our last preparation was to mix water into the dirt and cover our faces in mud. We trecked through a cow farm and other areas near our base, and it lasted around 2 1/2 hours; I think we covered 10-15 kms (which is about 6 to 9 miles). Not bad for a beginning Masa; the final Masa’s for combat units range from 60 to 100 km’s and last a couple days. On the Masa, we practiced shooting invisible terrorists, throwing imaginary grenades, and ducking from invisible rockets. Still it was really cool, and made me anxiously await until I am in my combat unit.
Week 3 was the best by far, although it was also my worst; I’ll explain. We spent the third week in the shetach (the field), somewhere in the north on a Golani base. We slept in tents, and most of the time when we were there it was raining. Before we left for the field I was feeling ill and needed to see a doctor, but there wasn’t enough time to see one and I also didn’t want to be stuck on base alone again. We fired about 50 bullets, and it felt amazing! It was the first time I ever fired a gun, and although I was scared/nervous at the beginning, by the last exercise I felt like a natural. I felt great when we were shooting the guns, but the rest of the time, I felt awful, I had a fever, my sinuses were congested, headache, sore throat, the whole nine yards. We got to go home on Wednesday because on Thursday we had a Yom Siddurim, when you’re supposed to take care of your errands at the bank, government agencies, etc. But my priority was the doctor. It took 4 hours at the army doctor in Tel Aviv, but I received antibiotics for my sinus infection, and a gimmelim, which is a doctor’s note saying I don’t have to return to base until Monday morning! So this weekend I’ve been resting up and recovering, and trying to catch up on the current events I’ve missed out on.
After we finished basic training, things started to get a littler easier, and Ulpan class finally started. We get between 6 and 7 hours of sleep now, which is plenty, and we are allowed to use cell phones after lunch for half an hour. Those were basically the improvements, haha. I’ve enjoyed Ulpan class so far, we’re in the classroom about ten hours a day, which is intense, but it also means my hebrew is improving hopefully improving. I can understand much more hebrew now than when I started the army, and my word bank keeps growing everyday.
During the weekend, I had to move my remaining stuff from my cousin’s apartment to my pad, so when I got to the street I hauled down a taxi and got in with my bags. We started talking (in hebrew!), and I told him I’m a chayel boded (lone soldie), what I’m doing, why I’m doing it etc…and when I got to my apartment I asked “How much do I owe you, Achi?” He replied “Kloom” Which means nothing. He thought it’s great what I’m doing, and wished me the best of luck with my army experience. When little things like this happen, I feel extremely proud to be here, and it makes it worthwhile in the end.
I also was able to play in a hockey game that weekend, which was lots of fun, and after the game I was asked by a league official if I had an Israeli passport. I said I have a Tuedat Maavar, which is a temporary passport, and in July I receive my official one. I asked him why he asked, and he said he wanted me to join the national team, but I have to be an Israeli citizen for at least 1 year, so my spot will be waiting until next year. I guess I got red-shirted in a way.
We took a trip to Jerusalem on Thursday, and went the kotel and had a short 5 minute ceremony, where we received tanachs (siddurs) from the army, although every page looked the same with really small print. It was special being back in Jerusalem, because this time I was in uniform. It was the first time I put a note inside the wall written in Hebrew, and it was funny to see the Taglit (birthright) trips looking at us like we were Israeli soldiers, well I guess we kind of are. Here are some pictures of my tzevet, “Sayeret Galchatz”, in Jerusalem. Sayaret means special forces, and galchatz is the army term for cleaning your boots and shaving, so when our mefakedot (female commanders) heard us say that, they had to walk away because they started laughing.
I also found out the gibbush tzanchanim (paratroopers tryout) is February 26-27, so I started to train again for it, by running, sprints, and some army crawling. This tryout is only for lone soldiers, which means there are very limited spots for us, so I’ll do my best and hopefully make it into tzanhanim. If not, my second choice is handasa kravit (engineering combat), which works with explosives. So bezerat hashem, I will either be jumping out of planes, or blowing stuff up!
I just finished a two week stint on base, and during the first one, my machlakah had the honor of guarding the base, “shmira”. The whole week we carried around our M-16s and vest (kind of like a cool batman belt, except not really) with 3 magazines, each had 27 bullets, 2 meme’as (canteens) filled to the top with water, although I haven’t seen one soldier drink from his unless he was dying of thirst because who knows the last time those things were washed, and a helmet probably from the Independence War in 1948. At first it was a pain, but like everything in the army, you suck it up and get used to it. There were a couple different places to guard on our base; the entrance, two different armories, the bunker, or patrolling around the whole base. Each shift was two hours long, and depending on where you were, you had to call into “chamal” (war room) on the hour, saying everything was “kol tov” (all good). On your shift, you are not allowed to do anything except guard, no music, reading, smoking, sitting, etc. A couple people got caught listing to music or sitting down, and now have to stay on base until the end of the month. The worst part about shmira, was the night shifts. If you were stuck with a night shift from 00:00 (midnight)-02:00, or 02:00-04:00, it meant that you would only get 4 – 5 hours of sleep. I got lucky and didn’t have any night shifts two nights in row towards the end of the week, which drew some animosity from the other soldiers in my group. We still had our hebrew classes during the day, so most of the soldiers were falling alseep in class, but in the army you only get 3 seconds with your eyes shut, and then you’re forced to drink water from your disgusting memia, and stand up for the remainder of the lesson. Fortunately I haven’t nodded off in class yet. For each day, there are 4 soldiers on “caf caf”, which is the first response team on base, equipped with a stretcher and 5 magazines per soldier. While on caf caf, you have to be in uniform the entire 24 hours, which means sleeping with everything on and even your boots. The day I was on caf caf, we g0t called from chamal at 22:30, when myself and 2 others in the group were sleeping, that there was an emergency and to report to chamal immediately. We sprinted to the other-side of the base in an astonishing minute and a half and were told to report to the back entrance of the base. We arrived to an intruder on base, and got down in our matzav shkiva shooting position (lying on the ground with your back up), and aimed our weapons at the intruder, ready to enter our magazines into our guns. And then the intruder moo’ed at us. It was a cow! Could it be the old classic trojan cow trick, with terrorists waiting inside the cow ready to attack us? I kept my guard on high alert until my commander confirmed it was indeed a real cow that wondered on to the base somehow, and our mission was to remove the cow from the base by any means necessary; just kidding. As we were opening the gate for the cow to leave, she started running up a dirt path next to the entrance, and then hilarity ensued. We ran after her for about 1o minutes until she tired out, I thought the uphill path was never going to end, and we successfully turned her around, chased her back down the path, and escorted her off the premise, and I yelled at the cow “Stay out ya filthy animal.” getting a small smile from my 19 female commander. Then the mamem (platoon commander) came and congratulated us on our job well done, and when we said thank you, “sayaret galchatz” (explanation in my previous post) at your service, we drew a puzzled look from her. My first mission in the IDF was fun, exciting, smooth and flawless, for the most part, and hopefully the first of many to come.
Wednesday night, we had a special lesson with the entire machlakah, and we were split up into groups of 6-10 soldiers each with a fun assignment given to us. One group had to draw a new Israeli flag (they made it 3-D), one had to make a commercial for bamba (israeli chip), and another had to think of all the funny things Israelis do. My group was assigned the task to write a Mizrachi song. Mizrach literally means east in hebrew, but the term Mizrachi refers to the Jews in Israel who are the descendants from the middle-east and northern Africa such as Iraq, Iran, and Yeman. Mizrachi music is Israeli music with an Arabic and Mediterranean flavor, and usually all the songs are about love. The song we wrote was hysterical, and titled “The Flower of the garden of my Heart.” We had really funny lines, such as I miss you like I miss my hummus, and we got everyone, including the commanders to lol.
Next week we have two important interviews, the first is our hebrew test with the bakum, which I took back in July, so hopefully my level will be much higher this time around, and the second is where you want to go in the army. I have gibbush tzanchanim (paratroopers tryout) in a week, I’ve been training really hard and running in preparation for that, so I’ll try my best and hopefully deliver a Jeremy Lin-like performance , and b’ezrat hashem I’ll be a tzanchan (paratrooper). I was awarded the “chayel mitztayen” (best soldier) award for the last 2 weeks on base, and was one of only 6 soldiers out of our entire machlakah (60 soldiers) that was allowed to go home yesterday on time. If you forget your gun (put your foot out the door without your gun) the punishment was a delayed departure of 4 hours), late to guard duty (15 seconds) 2 hour punishment, caught on your phone 1.5 hours, etc. Two weeks is a long time to make a mistake, and somehow I managed sneak away without a punishment.
The tryout was held in Tel HaShomar Base, which is located just outside Tel Aviv, so Monday morning 3 full buses departed from Michve Alon at 05:00 with about 150 soldiers all with the same goal in mind, to become a paratrooper. There were 360 soldiers at the tryout (regular Israeli teenagers were also at the gibbush). We headed to lunch around noontime, but before we entered the cheder ochel, we were commanded to fill our canteens ‘od a sof’ (until the end), wait until we received approval from our mefeked (no more mefakdots, all male commanders now), and then we had to chug the 1.5 liters of water. This was the first of many water drinking drills, in the two days we probably drank 20 liters of water. As we were entering the lunchroom, I was struck with shock when I ran into a college buddy of mine, who is serving in “Shesh Shesh Tesha” (669), the elite search and rescue unit. After lunch, my group was assigned to torenut, and given the task to make chocolate sandwiches for everyone’s breakfast the following morning, and cleaning all the dishes from lunch. It doesn’t matter who you are here, everyone has to clean something, even the shesh shesh tesha guys were on torenut cleaning bathrooms, one of the most elite units in the world. I didn’t mind cleaning the dishes, because we were told the 2k run was at 4 o’clock, so 2 other soldiers and I started getting into the competitive spirit in the kitchen, and cleaned those pots like they’ve never been cleaned before.
The 2k run was not held on a simple track but rather on an uphill, downhill, sandy, grassy, and gravely course. Each group of 40 ran by themselves; there was a commander at the 1000 meter mark who was supposed to mark on your hand that you reached the checkpoint, but when you got to him, he just said “Lachzor” (Return). On the 1k run back, you can see everyone at the tryout watching you, cheering you on, but really hoping you fall or quit, so their chances improve on making it into tzanchanim. I ran my 2k in 7:40, which was good but not great. I heard some of the Ethopians ran six and half minutes, which I’m sure I could have beaten if I had my ice skates, and the track was on ice. We relaxed for a couple hours, and then we were split into new groups for the physical tryout the next morning (my group had 23 guys). About 10% of the people were cut for running too slow (I heard 10 minutes was the cut-off), and afterwords we told to report outside in chet the next morning at 3:45. We slept in tents, which was better than I thought it would be, and when my alarm went off at 3:30, I was all pumped up and ready to go. We wore our bet uniforms with our running shoes, ordered to have nothing underneath our uni’s (expect underwear), and had to also wear a hat. We had to drink a full canteen in the morning, which dropped my body temperature a lot, but that would all be soon forgotten.
The commanders that ran the physical tryout for my group were ex-paratroopers (6 guys ranging from the 20s-50s), who were all wearing sunglasses, and seemed like no-nonsense guys. The gave us a motivational speech, and then said they are only going to take the best five guys from this group, so “bahatzlachah” (good-luck). The first part was sprinting, and if you ever played hockey with me, you might remember that sprints are not my forte. We had to run about 20 yards/meters, circle a sandbag, and return to the starting line. Half the time, the first 4 had to yell out their numbers, and the last 4 also had to yell out their numbers. My number was 17, and surprisingly i was yelling out “Shvah-Esrai” almost everytime they asked for the top 4. The sprints lasted for 40 minutes, with only three 20 second breaks, but we were not allowed to drink water or go to the bathroom during those breaks. During the last 10 minutes, the first 4 soldiers had to carry a stretcher with about 200 lbs on the next run, and I somehow managed to finish first or second about 75% of the time, and never finished in the bottom 4. Once we were done, I noticed 5 soldiers quit during the sprints. Next we were told to pick up a sandbag (mine was extremely heavy), close our eyes and hold it above our heads for 15 minutes! I knew it wasn’t going to be for 15 minutes, and I told myself no matter how much it hurt, there will always be an end to each exercise, and “hakol berosh” (it’s all in the head). The commanders kept saying it would not bother them if we wanted to drop the sandbags, stand on the side and rest, trying psyche us out (it worked on 2 guys, haha). After about 5-7 minutes, we were told to drop the bags, and we had a 3 minute break to drink an entire canteen, and go to the bathroom if we needed to. Next was army crawling for an hour, the hardest part in my opinion. When crawling, you had to keep your stomach on the ground, and use your elbows and knees to move (my cuts and bruises are still healing). I never finished in the top 4 during the crawling, but never finished worse than eighth, so I was contempt with my performance there. Then we went over to some monkey bars, and were given the same instructions as the sandbag routine, close your eyes, hang on and don’t let go until we say so. I finished in the top 4, and afterwords my shoulders were so sore.
The next exercise was a break from the physical tests, and were given 5 minutes to tell the commanders 5 pros and 5 cons why women should be combat fighters in the Israeli army. I tried acting like a leader, and split everyone up into two groups, and I saw one of the commanders right write (my English is going downhill, haha) my number down. Then we had to make a map of Israel with anything we could find (which came out excellent), and then the best assignment by far: to make a 3D flying-turtle. Rather than using objects, we climbed on top of each other, and assembled into the shape of a turtle; I was a flipper. Afterwords the commanders told us to close our eyes, because they took a picture of us and were all laughing. But the fun and games came to an abrupt halt when we were ordered to drink more water, and prepare for a masa (hike). But as a nice warm-up, we first did some more army crawling for 30 minutes through rocks, thorns, and sand. I kept telling myself; never stop moving. On the masa, I was carrying the stretcher most of the time, and when we returned back to base, the mefektdem congratulated us and told us we finished the physical part of the gibbush. It lasted 4 hours, and although I don’t think it’s the hardest thing I’ve done in my life, it’s definitely top 10. We were told to go shower and change and prepare for an interview.
My interview lasted for ten, fifteen minutes, and I amazingly did the entire thing in hebrew. They were asking me questions about myself, my family, why I came to Israel, why I want to be in Tzanchanim, etc. I think it went really well, and overall, I was very happy with my performance. I finished everything, and gave the maximum effort and left everything on out in the field. If they pick me, I’ll be really happy, but if not I told them it’s not the end of the world, and I’ll still be happy serving my country; Israel, in another unit.
This last week we finished our ulpan classes and at the end all of us gave a 5 minute speech about ourselves in front of the entire group and our commanders. I can’t believe I am able to speak in hebrew for 5 minutes straight now, and somehow hold a conversation in hebrew, I’ve come a long way in just 7 months! But I still have a lot to improve on. My speech was really simple, who I am, what I like to do, what I like to eat, family, why I’m here, etc. My hebrew teacher/commander commended me on my speech, and said she was very proud of my progress.
The last week was really fun at Michve Alon because the first two days I was at the paratroopers tryout, and then Wednesday night we broke the distance with our mefakdot. It was really funny when they broke the distance, and it was really weird to see that they are normal people (19-20 year-old girls) that laugh and get embarrassed like everyone else. Now I know why Israeli girls are considered the toughest in the world. Our mefakdot told us about themselves, and one of my mefakdots told me a story that she saw me out at a bar a couple weeks ago, and was really nervous that I would see her. During that same night, the entire pluga gathered together and the chayelim mitztayinem (best soldiers) were announced for each machlakah and for entire pluga. When my name was called for the best soldier of the whole pluga (~120 soldiers), I was really surprised and humbled. I received a special certificate (gold-colored, with color ink on it! haha), and then was congratulated by my commanders and my peers.
The next day we had our tekes (ceremony), and unfortunately the weather was horrible. It was really cold and raining, so we had to do the ceremony under a hanger that was still half outside. My aunt, my sister, and her friend came to my tekes, and I was so excited to see them! During the ceremony, the best soldiers from each unit got their names announced, and we had the privilege to shake hands and meet a tat-aluf (third highest position you can hold in the IDF). He asked me where I was from, and where I want to go, and when I told him I finished the gibbush for tzanchanim but was still waiting for an answer (he was a tzanchan), he said “Don’t worry, if you standing here shaking my hand, it means your in.” If he’s wrong, I am going to hunt him down, and make him take those words back! jk.
Then we sang the Hatikvah (national anthem of Israel) which gave me the goosebumps, and at the end of the ceremony we threw our kumpta’s (berets) up in the air like I did just last year when I graduated from college. I can’t believe it’s been 9 months since my graduation, wow. Then we all congratulated each other, thanked our mefakdots, and gathered our things to head back home.
The combat unit I will going to is…..צנחנים (Paratroopers)!!! I got a call from my mefakdots Tuesday night, and they simultaneously yelled into the phone that I made it into Tzanchanim. Unfortunately, most of my friends from Michve Alon didn’t make it in with me, and I want to wish them all the best in the units they will be serving in, especially Tzevet 1! I was really happy and proud that all the hard work and training I’ve done paid off, but I know the hardest part is yet to come, I still have to earn my wings. I’m really excited to be a Tzanchan (paratrooper), and to start this next chapter in my life. My sister was in town for the last week, and one of my best friend’s also came to visit me for the weekend. I had a nice and relaxing week off from the army, and tomorrow I report back to Bakum to exchange my boots and uniform for the Tzanchanim red boots and special shirt that is worn outside with another belt outside the shirt.
Elie with his sister and with his parents during their visits to Israel, and with his father and the championship trophy
More to come…
- To read more about Elie’s experience in the Israeli army click on this link: The Tough Road to the Red Beret: Becoming an Israeli Paratrooper
- Based on Elie’s blog: Elie’s Aliyah and Lone Soldier Journey
- To learn about other lone soldiers click here: IDF Volunteers