As I wrote to myself in my private journal, I am certainly not updating enough so I’ll try both here and there to change that. Two weeks ago was “prep week” (can also be renamed equipment headache week) which included making sure that each soldier (as well as each commander) was prepared for the coming 2 months of training here in…Israel. The week consisted of fixing, tying, taping and anything else you can think of to do to equipment to make it “battle-ready.” Wednesday and Thursday of that week were devoted to misdarim (formation/display) of the equipment for the platoon, company and battalion commander (each one carrying with it higher levels of stress and demands). In the end we stood well (for a young platoon), but we (the commanders) felt that the standards could be higher and that the soldiers would get better as they learned more and had time to fine-tune their equipment and knowledge.
We looked forward all week to Shabbat, which was to be on base, which meant time to sleep a little since the week had left us with 3-4 hours of sleep per night. This was of course cancelled as we were called away to …… in order to …… . The important detail I can give you is that on Shabbat we did not sleep more than an hour or two and I got a chance to get sick again.
Yes for those of you familiar with my sinuses, they enjoy taking advantage of any opportunity to get me sick. Luckily, the beginning of this past week was “refreshers” for the soldiers in their various unique skills/weapons (light machine guns, grenade launchers etc) so they were not with us, thus I could sleep a bit and recover.
This past Wednesday afternoon we went to the field for fire-team level drills (4 person) – back to basics). Each squad leader took his squad off to practice and I had a great time working with my soldiers and was impressed with their work ethic (which up until now had been less than desirable with the day to day stuff to do on base) in the field. They did the drills with energy – running, diving and shooting well, exceeding my expectations. I let them know that they had worked well and that I expected things to only improve both on the field as well as on base. Indeed, if they continue at this level I will really be pushed to up the bar myself in order to keep up, which is excellent. Afterwards, I had a chance to sit with them while waiting for our field tests (with our officer T) and I discussed with them how I felt we should be when training in the field. I explained to them how important it was, especially in the field, to be quick, on time, serious and energetic. With the free time we had while waiting I also gave them some background on navigation and how various landforms were called in navigation.
WARNING: Tangent up ahead
Navigation skills are not taught and are not a requirement for the regular soldier (only for commanders and special forces) but I feel that it is a skill they should have some knowledge in. Indeed it seems that what you are taught in commander’s course is enough for a very good soldier but only a basic commander. Similarly, officer’s course seems to teach enough to make a very good commander (squad level) but only a basic platoon officer, and so on and so on. This seems, at the end of the day, a matter of time and money, which determine the length of the courses, more than any inherent lack in quality . In any case, I think that each level passing down knowledge, as much as possible, to the level below, can overcome this handicap. I ask my officer all the time about things I didn’t learn but feel I should (how to land a medivac helicopter for example). Thus, I hope, as often as possible, to fill free time, in particular in the field, with short ‘classes’ on various skills such as navigation, first-aid (I am, after all the son of a doctor ;) etc.
Anyway, on Thursday I went home in the morning to my uncle’s memorial ceremony. Aharon Gerbi z”l, my mother’s brother, served in the Israeli Navy from 1969-70 and died in service in 1970. It was the first time I had been to this ceremony in uniform and it certainly felt a bit different. On the one hand, he died some 16 years before I was born so I have little knowledge of him other than stories here and there. On the other hand, I felt close to him as a soldier wearing a uniform in the same military – a testament to the value and fruit of his sacrifice. 10 soldiers (seamen?) and their officer from the navy and an army chaplain arrived, as they do every year, to commemorate Aharon’s sacrifice. After the ceremony, my family brought food and drink for the soldiers outside the cemetery. On the way out, the chaplain, my uncles and I stopped just a few feet away from Aharon’s grave to help another family make minyan and say the memorial service for their loved one who had fallen many years ago as well. It reminded me that every family in Israel has it’s own story, it’s own loved ones that fell defending Israel.
That evening I arrived home and hopped over to the synagogue for the afternoon service. In between the afternoon and evening service, we had about 20 minutes where someone usually teaches something from the weekly Torah portion. I happened to glance at the portion and decided to teach something small that I noticed that connected to my experience earlier at the cemetery. In the Torah portion, Parshat Chayeh Sarah, Sarah, Abraham’s wife dies and Abraham sets out to acquire a portion of land in which to bury her. He approaches the Hittites and asks to speak to Efron. He acquires from him Ma’arat Hamachpela (the Cave of the Patriarchs – Abraham and Sarah, Isaac and Rebecca and Jacob and Leah are all buried there) for 400 shekel (what a deal!). In any case, I found it interesting that only at this point in the Torah does Abraham actually buy a piece of the Land of Israel, only when he needs to bury Sarah. In light of this, I said, it seems that there is a special level of connection between the Jewish people and the Land of Israel that is actualized not only through living here but also through being buried here (which seems supported by the tradition of bringing Jews from all over to the world to be buried here – Herzl, Jabotinsky to name a few famous ones of the last century).
Shabbat was on base with just a few soldiers guarding and we all got a chance to catch up on much needed sleep ahead of the week. Last night some friends came to visit from Jerusalem with homemade pizza (Thanks B and H!) and some relief from being cooped up on base. Afterwards Pops and I got a chance to talk on the phone for about an hour about things including my up and coming visit to the States which will hopefully be at the end of January. Today we start open field exercises on a squad and platoon level, which is going to be exciting. I feel that my squad has a lot of potential and we can go far together. More to come soon.
PS Any responses to the blog are appreciated and noted by the editing department.
PPS Sorry on the lack of pictures, more to come next time!