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Vacation!….and a mustache

As my good friend Shmulik recently said to me, “You must have set a record for vacation days in the army.” I agree.

I finished my two week hebrew course and reported back to base on Sunday to find out what my job would be for the next three weeks until the draft. When I arrived on Sunday I basically sat around until 8 p.m. waiting for my officer to tell me what to do. Once she arrived, she had no idea, so she told me to come back the next day.

The following day, it took me until about 4 p.m. to see her and once again, there was nothing for me to do. I told her that I had been in a similar situation at the Bakom, where I was placed somewhere for a short period of time and understood that there wasn’t much for me to do. She explained that she couldn’t just let me go sit at home, but I was able to persuade her that I’m a lone soldier and have things to take care of and It’d make more sense for me to be at home until the draft.

So here I am, on Vacation for three weeks. So far I have been spending it studying and working out. It’s only been a few days, but hopefully I can keep it up. That’s pretty much it. Once I’m drafted into Nahal, the blog will get more interesting….I hope.

 

Oh yeah, so I just found out that a group of people, from Australia I believe, started this trend called “Movember” where you grow a mustache for the month of November to show support for Prostate Cancer. Thus, I have decided to grow a mustache for the remainder of the month. I discovered this on ESPN.com while reading about New York Yankee Rightfielder Nick Swisher growing a mustache for the cause. Click here to read about what he’s doing. I know my mustache will look absolutely terrible, but why not? Also, as some of you readers may know, my father has a mustache, for as long as I’ve been around, and in addition to showing my support for Prostate Cancer, I will use this as a chance to see if my mustache can somehow compare with my Dad’s majestic ‘Stache.

Categories: Army, Other stuff

First Week on the Nahal Base

With the surprising news, I was still hoping that the army would just let me have vacation until the draft, but of course they wouldn’t. I had to report to the Nahal base this week where I will essentially work some job until the draft.

The base is a few hours away by bus, so it wasn’t a terrible trip. I was told to be there around 2 p.m., so when I got to the base I was told I would have to wait to talk to the officer. Well, what else is new, I waited until about 8:30 at night until the officer showed up. She told me that they would put me in another hebrew course for two weeks, I missed the first week, and then I would work in the office after that.

Nothing too exciting really happened this week. I sleep in a room with 6 other guys, they all seem nice. My class is from 9 in the morning until 9 at night. I’m with all English speaking soldiers who have completed their training. All good guys. It’s an entertaining class, and passes the time. Better than doing some lame job.

Oh yeah, on Monday, in one of the classes, all of a sudden one of the guys starts singing that song “Doo wah diddy diddy dum” or however it goes. He got real into it and then the rest of us started clapping along and singing the chorus. It was an awesome moment. I wish I had it on video. The two teachers had to leave because they were laughing so hard and sent in a commander to yell at us. My description doesn’t do it justice.

Other than that not much happened all week. I started working out and next week I’ll bring my hebrew notes and such and try to study. If anything exciting happens during these next 5 weeks I’ll let everyone know. Enjoy the weekend.

Categories: Army

It’s been a while, BIG NEWS!

Last time I left everyone, I had submitted a letter to the ISraeli Army asking for my service to be shortened. I sat around all of September, with nothing to do, expecting that at some point I would receive a call from the army asking for an interview and then I would be released. I had come to terms that my dream of being a soldier were over and was more or less prepared to move back home and start the next chapter of my life.

My parents came out here for about 5 days and I was extremely excited. It was great to see them and I was expecting that by December or January, I would be back in The States. My parents arrived on Tuesday October 5, and on Wednesday we were planning to go to Jerusalem to see the Holocaust Museum. However, in the morning, I received a call from the army saying that I had to be on base for an interview at 4 p.m. Thus, the trip would have to be delayed by a day.

I arrived to the Bakom, expecting that this would be IT, the end of my short lived I.D.F. service. As I walked into the office that I have reported to numerous times, an officer said that I was meeting with someone and that he would decide my fate. If he decided to not release me, then I had to report to wherever he told me. This made me extremely nervous that I wouldn’t be released. I figured I had two options, release or be stuck in the army doing nothing for another year. I had an real bad feeling.

As I walked across the base to another office, I was escorted by a female soldier. We had a discussion about why I was here and all that good stuff. We argued a little bit. Her telling me that there was plenty for me to do to help Israel. I responded by me cleaning toilets helps nobody.

Anyways, we both sat waiting for the interview for about 15 minutes. Finally, I was called into a boardroom, if you will. I had to salute the officer and I sat down. He was an very high ranking officer. Finally, I was meeting with someone who matters.

I sit down and he starts asking me some basic things in Hebrew, I respond, In Hebrew, but ask pretty quickly if we can talk in English. The officer asks me to tell him my story, so I do. I don’t need to repeat what I said, because I’m pretty sure it’s been discussed a million times on the blog.To sum up the conversation, I tell him, that if I can’t do combat, I want out. I told him that sending me back to Shirion is unrealistic because they don’t want me. The only realistic way this works, is if I get sent to Nahal (the infantry unit I have wanted). He tells me that he understands and that he will have me go talk to this other officer about my profile and why I can’t do Nahal. Before I get up to leave, the officer tells me how much it means to him that people like myself, and the other thousands of Lone Soldiers, come to Israel because they feel as Jews, it is their obligation to serve the country. He was an extremely nice man, and he shook my hand and left.

A side note before I continue: I have found, that you get people in Israel who either really appreciate what you’re doing, or think you’re nuts and resent you a little bit. It’s interesting.

Anway, eventually I go an meet with an officer who is just a little lower in rank than the previous one. Again I tell him my story. However, this time, I explain that my eyesight being the reason my profile is so low is ridiculous. I explained that people who wear glasses and contacts are all at the same risk. If the glasses break or the contacts fall out, we’re all screwed. The officer says wait one second and calls a doctor on his cell phone. He explains exactly what I said, but in Hebrew, to the doctor, and then gets off the phone. He asked me if I understood what they talked about and I said somewhat. He goes on to tell me that the doctor will sign me off to go to Nahal.

Well ladies and gentlemen, I was shocked. I never figured in a hundred years that I would be cleared for infantry. I figured, at best, I got to tell my story one last time. Unbelievable. The one catch was, that i had to agree to add an additional 6 months to my service starting from the draft date in late November.

I didn’t think his was fair because the army were the one’s who screwed up, but in the end I agreed. So starting November 23, I have 18 months of service. I will be in the Nahal Brigade. I still can’t believe it.

Here’s an entertaining video of the Nahal Brigade of patrol, enjoy:

Categories: Army

Total Shocker….NOT!

After finishing my course last week, I had to report back to the Bakom on Sunday. I arrived around 10 a.m. and waited until 12:00 p.m. to meet with the officer. We sat down and he started asking me how the ulpan was in Hebrew. I did my best to answer, but I guess he wasn’t impressed enough because he then told me that my Hebrew wasn’t good enough to go back to Shirion. I wasn’t totally shocked, as I had somewhat expected this to happen. However, I asked him what happened to the plan of going back to the Shirion base and using what I had learned to further enhance my Hebrew. I thought that was the whole point of the course. Give myself a foundation and then build on it. I guess I was wrong.

I asked how someone could be expected to learn an entire language in three weeks. They knew exactly how much I could learn in that period of time. Essentially I was sent on a Fools Errand. I asked the office what was next and he basically said that we could find some sort of jobnik job. I told him absolutely not. I told him that if I can’t do combat I want to shorten my service or get out immediately. I only need two more months to fulfill service for someone my age. The officer then said he would make a call to Shirion and find out what they think. I went back outside and waited.

This is what I look like at the office. It's a tough job. At least I have mastered the craft of napping during my time in "the army"

Around 2:30 p.m. I went into his office and he said Shirion would not take me back and he asked me if I was sure I wnated to opt out. Answer: YES! He then went on to call me a quitter, to which I responded, “don’t you dare call me a quitter. You don’t know my story at all!” He took back the “quitter” line, but then said why did you come here, to serve Israel or to do what you want. My Answer: both. I came here to get combat training. To be a fighter. To fight for Israel. As simple as that. I wanted to be a soldier.I have not gotten the training that I wanted or anything close to it. To me, I have not served in the Israeli army. I really don’t consider what I have done so far being a soldier. I simply don’t. I’m sorry if that insults people who are jobniks, but that’s how I feel.

There is nothing wrong with being a Jobnik. Someone has to do it and there are certainly important jobs and pretty cool jobs, especially in the Air Force, Intelligence, and so forth. However, to me, most Jobniks are not soldiers. They are people required to do military service. If Israel went to war, they would not be capable of fighting because they do not have the training. I WANT the training. In the U.S. military everyone goes through the same basic training for the most part, so regardless of whether they sit behind a desk afterwards they still get the respect of having gone through the same training as the other combat soldiers. In Israel, this is not the case. Those not doing combat, get very minimal training and it is somewhat of a joke. Again, I want the training of a combat soldier. That is why I came here, to defend Israel and get the training of a combat soldier, not of a jobnik.

I explained this to the officer and basically the other night I had to write a letter requesting that my service be shortened and for what reasons I want to be released of my contract. I wrote two letters, one in English and one in Hebrew. The Hebrew one took me 2.5 hours, but I was pleased with myself.

So now, I am waiting to hear what is going to happen. I have been assigned to a very important job at the Bakom. My first day was yesterday. I was assigned to work for this woman. She described her job as answering phone calls and faxing things. AWESOME! She had me fax a dozen papers or so and then she told me to wait outside her office. Somehow, I must’ve dozed off because I woke up laying down on the couch and it was about 12:15 p.m., so I went in to the woman’s office and asked to go to lunch. I got back from lunch around 1 p.m. and sat and did nothing until 2 p.m., and then just went home. Today I went in and literally just sat there for a few hours, did nothing. Went home. God Bless Israel and this army.

Categories: Army

Where I Currently Stand With The Good Old I.D.F.

I last left off, that I had to return back to the Bakom to let the officer know of my decision, so on Sunday morning I arrived at the Bakom with a rather simple answer, “no.” I didn’t want to do Karakal and I didn’t feel I should have to settle for something that I don’t want. He continued to try and convince me to do Karakal and even brought his superior in to talk to me about. I told them that I came to Israel to do Nahal, that’s what I wanted. I couldn’t do it, so I was willing to go to Shirion. After not wanting to go to Shirion, I began to get excited about working in some of the best tanks in the world. They are the backbone of the army. However, before I even had a chance, I was removed from Shirion, so why should I have to settle for something that these officers want me to do.

I told the superior officer that if I couldn’t do Nahal, and obviously couldn’t do Shirion, then I wanted to opt out of my contract. If this army doesn’t want me, then why should I bother staying here. I’m not 18 years old, I’m 23 and if I can’t do what I want to do, then why waste more of my time. There was no way I was going to waste a year and a half of my life pushing paper. When I told the superior officer that I wanted to opt out, he told me that there was no gaurantee and that I may only be able to get my service shortened to a total of 6 months. He said I would need to go in front of a board to discuss my situation. He then had the nerve to tell me that I hadn’t even tried. Tried to really be in the army I guess is what he was saying. I almost just across the desk and punched him in the face. Here’s this putz, who thinks he knows my story. For those loyal readers who know my story, I will spare you the broken record. I just couldn’t believe that he said that, and I told him that. The day basically ended nowhere. Now they had to figure out what to do with me, so I had to report back in two days.

I went back and forth to the office a few more times and basically this is what was decided: I would take a hebrew test and they would send me to a Hebrew course (Ulpan) for about a month. Afterwards, it was mentioned to me that I would go back to the Shirion base and do who knows what until the next draft, which is in November. Thus, as it was last left off, I will be returning to Shirion and for a second shot. In November I will have exactly a year left of my service. While it isn’t ideal, it seems pretty reasonable, as learning the Hebrew is an obvious positive and I will still get to do everything that I set out to do and will have nothing left to prove to myself or anyone.

Some thoughts on what I think will actually happen, because, well, after all, this is the Israeli Army:

I have been in the ulpan for 2 plus weeks. This is my last week. It is a four week course, but because of my situation, I joined a week late, which they didn’t think would be a problem. I arrived to the class and every person in the class is fluent and has more or less lived in Israel for at least 4 or 5 years. I have learned a lot, but the vocabulary is way over my head and i have trouble following the class discussions, but I am able to follow the lessons on grammar and such. After this week I will be finished with the ulpan and I have no idea what will really happen.

In the end, I’m still expecting the army to screw me over, which can work out in a number of ways. The entire plan to go back to Shirion could fall through and they could try and make me a jobnik or something along those lines, or they let me go to Shirion, but once again don’t give me much of a chance. However, this time, they let me hang around Shirion for a month so it looks like they really gave me a shot. Or, amazingly, they let me go to Shirion, give me a real shot, I succeed and in a year from November I will be heading back to the U.S. to sit down at Thanksgiving with my family as a former soldier in the Israeli Army. I’m hoping for the third option, but really think the second one is going to be reality.

I just really don’t think this army wants me. I don’t think they’ll give me a true shot to succeed. The best thing that can come of the second option is that I will have served at least 6 months, will be 24 years old, and we will both just call it a day. I guess only time will tell.

Categories: Army

Week Following Shirion

Lets see, where did I leave off? Oh yeah, so I took a bus to the Bakom and got there around 7:45 a.m. Naturally, the Bakom doesn’t really open until 8 or 8:30 a.m. so I had to sit around and wait to find out what was next for me. Lets just say, I sat and watched two movies before I even talked to anyone. One of my commanders from Shirion had come to the Bakom because there were a few guys who needed to see a doctor and whatnot, so I guess he was there to supervise or something along those lines.

I remember sitting and watching that first movie and just thinking what the hell am I doing here? I’m tired. I’ve had enough. At about 11:30, I walked over to my former commander and told him that I was leaving. I had been sitting there almost four hours and nothing was happening. I live about 15 minutes from the Bakom, so when they are ready to see me they can give me a call. I’m done waiting on these incompetent people. He tells me that I can’t leave and that I just need to have patience. They were having trouble with their computers.

Finally, at about 12:30 in the afternoon, My name is called and I have to go up to this window. They give me a sheet of paper and tell me I have to go somewhere else. I sat around for hours, just to find out I had to go somewhere else. I can’t say I was all that surprised. After all, I’ve been dealing with this army since December or so.

I ask where I have to go, and no one knows where the office is. It’s on the base, but the base is huge. My meeting is at 2 p.m., and I asked a few soldiers and they told me to take a bus. I get to the area I need to be and just figure that I will ask someone where I need to go. Lets just say I walked around for over and hour and a half, asking people, and no one knew where to go. I was clearly having a blast. Finally, I find the building. I go inside, ask where to go and I, by some miracle, find the office.

I end up sitting down with an officer, who is probably my age, or younger, from Texas. I tell him my story in Hebrew, but by this point, I’m tired of explaining myself in Hebrew. I’m sick of the army, I’ve had enough, let’s just get this over with and part ways. I tell this officer, that I came here to fight, not sit behind a desk. I left home. No family in Israel. Blah Blah. You’ve all heard the same story a million times. I go on to tell him, that I want to do Nahal and that there’s no reason I shouldn’t be able to, and that if I can’t, I’m done and I want to opt out of my contract. Since I’m a volunteer and not a citizen, I can do this.

He explains to me that opting out won’t be easy. it could take a month. The best I may get is a shortened service, which would’ve been three more months, because I’m 23, and at certain ages you only need to serve six months. He tries to sell me on this unit Karakal, which is part of Nahal, but it isn’t Nahal. Karakal is a unit where men and women serve side by side, and sit on the Egyptian border basically catching drug smugglers. I say no. I didn’t come here to catch drug smugglers. Also, you can say what you want about me, but here on my personal thoughts on the unit: While you get the same level of basic training as all of the other infantry units, I’m sorry, call me sexist, but I didn’t sign up to serve with women. Also, Karakal seems to be the “orgy” of the Israeli Army. Put 18 year old men and women together and what do you think goes on? I’ve already done the whole college thing, I don’t need to go back and experience the same nonsense. While, in my opinion, Karakal is very good for women, because it allows them to go see action and get good training, I feel like the guys who do it, are just looking to hook up with all these girls. This is all MY OPINION by the way and my reasoning for not wanting to do it. Also, I talked to a number of people and they all told me not to do it.

Basically, I’m sitting there and talking to the officer who is trying real hard to get me to go to Karakal, because, essentially, it is part of Nahal and he works in the Nahal office, so of course he is going to try to get me to go there. I tell him I need a few days to think about Karakal. He gave me the weekend, because the Karakal draft was that Monday, so they needed a decision.

That was my first of about five meetings with this guy for the next week. Check back later to find out what happened next… Suspense? Not so much.

Categories: Army

Herbie, Where Have You Been?

Merkava III

Shalom boys and girls, it has been some time since my last entry. To be honest, I haven’t thought to much about the blog because of everything that has happened and continues to happen to me. Just as a warning, if I sound bitter in the entry, well it’s probably because I am. My string of bad luck with this army has continued. Here we go:

It has been exactly 25 days since I reported to the Shirion base. When I first reported it was extremely overwhelming. The hebrew was way over my head as everyone speaks rather fast. I thought Mikveh Alon was a shock at first, this was much more of a shock. It was similar to having culture shock all over again. I was the only American, which was more or less expected, and I was almost 5 years older than everyone, also expected. I’m not going to get into the details of each day, as they were that exciting, but I will discuss the major events that occurred, in only three days. Yes sir, three days!

After arriving late Sunday night, we ate something and went to bed. The next morning we had to be in formation around 6 a.m. I woke up, got outside, and there was no one there. Guys showed up late, which would become a recurring theme of my three days. Not much really happened those fews days. We had to fill out a lot of forms, which was a struggle for me, but my commanders helped me out. They were all great. Meals were lonely. I felt like an outcast. When I did try to use hebrew, most people would just try and speak English for the most part. After doing a bunch of nonsense, every new soldier was brought into the gym and they called out names. They were splitting up everyone into their respective units, the 188 or the 401. The 188 unit, uses the Merkava 3 tank. The 401 uses the Merkava 4. The Merkava 4 is a brand new tank, and probably the best tank in the world. I personally didn’t care which unit I was assigned to, I figured, a tank is a tank, as long as it’s not from WWII then I’m good.

Merkava IV

I got into the 401 unit. I figured it was pretty cool, but it wasn’t that big of a deal to me. That was pretty much the excitement of day 1, until, after dinner, I was told to go see the מ’פ (Commander of my entire company). I had no idea what it was about, so I was pretty intrigued. When I got into his office, I sat down, and he asked me (in Hebrew) how everything was going. I said fine, but that the hebrew was difficult, but that with time I would get it down. We talked for about 20 minutes, and he told me how proud he was to have someone like myself come to Israel to fight, someone who left everything behind in America. He told me to keep speaking Hebrew and that if I needed anything, to let him know. An extremely nice guy. I came away from the meeting feeling much better. i figured it was my first week, and things would only get better with time. I thought back to my first few days of Mikveh, and they were pretty crappy as well, but much different. After the meeting, I went back to my platoon and we didn’t do much the rest of the night.

The next day was similar. Filled out some forms. Didn’t understand them. Got help. Ate food. Lonely. Met a few good guys. Sat in the classroom to go over very basic things for new soldiers. Then in the afternoon, I was pulled out of the platoon to go and speak with one of the Officers for the entire 401. He was higher up than the מ’פ. When I walked into his officer, I had to salute him. I’m going to get off topic for a quick second, but Israeli soldiers, including myself, can’t salute for anything. Everyone does it differently. It’s an afterthought, and mostly everyone looks sloppy and like they have no clue what to do when it’s necessary to salute. I don’t understand it. Israelis don’t salute as much as in the U.S. military, but if you’re going to do something, do it right.

Anyway, as I got into the office, the Officer asked me how it was going and what was wrong. I basically told him the same thing as the מ’פ, the Hebrew was hard, but that I knew I could figure it out and that I wanted to be there. As soon as he started talking I could tell he just didn’t want to deal with me. He said that in tanks, you have to be essentially fluent in hebrew, because of all of the communicating that goes on in a tank, as well as dealing with a machine that is entirely in Hebrew. I told the Officer that I wanted a chance to prove myself, but he immediately told me that in the next day or so he was going to send me back to the bakom, to possibly go to another unit or something else. I left the office distraught. I absolutely couldn’t believe it. It seems like nothing seems to work out for me in the army. Not one thing. I was crushed. I figured my time in the army was pretty much over. i had just wasted a year of my life. I immediately started to blame myself. I should’ve studied harder. I was pissed. Why can’t I do this. I have friends in infantry who speak no hebrew and they are fine. Why can’t I just be there, and they would give me time to learn the language. I couldn’t believe that Shirion gave up on me after two days. TWO DAYS!

The rest of the day, and the following day were terrible. I was depressed. I felt like crying. It sucked. I had failed before I even had a chance. On Wednesday, day 3, I asked my commander if I was being sent home. He said no, so I figured they had changed their minds. I was ready. I was going to wake up early every morning to study. I was ready to go. Later in the day I talked to my מ’מ, the commander of the platoon). He told me to just work hard and that he knew it was hard, but to give it a shot. He seemed to be on my side.

At night, we had Krav Maga. I was really excited. Finally something physical to do. As we were just starting and running around, my commander called me over. He said follow me. I immediately knew I was going home. “I’m getting kicked out, aren’t I?” I asked. “It’s not that you’re getting kicked out, it’s just that your hebrew isn’t good enough.” Basically, I was kicked out. It sucked. I never thought enlisting in the army would be so difficult. I really didn’t. I was taking a bus back to the bakom at 3 a.m., so I was going back to my room, to give back the gear that I had gotten while on base and to go to sleep. After giving everything back, I talked to my commander, in English. I told him my story and that all I wanted to do was be a warrior and fight for Israel. I told him about myself and when I told him my age he was shocked. He thought I was 18. I’m older than him. I am older than all of the commanders and a majority of the officers. Which is pretty funny. He turned out to be a great guy. He told me that my commanders, and both my officers fought for me to stay, but that in the end, the higher up guy just didn’t want me around. He told me about an American he had in the last draft who spoke a little better than me, but that they worked with and gave a dictionary with tank terminology to and now he is a driver in tanks. I just don’t get why they wouldn’t work with me.

At 3 in the morning I woke up and boarded a bus to go to the bakom. As I was sitting there my former מ’פ walked on and came up to me and shook my hand and told me good luck and that he was sorry and that I was a great man. It’s a shame I didn’t get a chance to stay, my commanders and officers were absolutely great guys and it would’ve been nice getting to really know them after my training. When the bus started moving, I had about a 4 hour ride back to Tel-Aviv, so I passed out.

Everything else to come in another post. Probably will do it tomorrow.

Categories: Army