Saturday, October 16, 2010

My blog is the reason not everyone should be able to have a blog...

I’m just going to warn all of you, I have no idea how to write a blog and my English has not gotten any better in the army…if anything it is ze much worcer zan it has ever wased.

By the way thank you to my brother for inspiring the blog titlle ;)

That being said, continue to read at your own risk.

I had waited a long time for this – to start as a commander, to lead soldiers to become combat-ready warriors…but the first days came as a slap in the face.  Commander’s course had taught me well how to lead troops in a various field exercises and use all of the weapons in our arsenal but the difficult day to day duties of a commander were clearly left for on the job training.  The main problem was that as some of you know the IDF isn’t known to be the most disciplined army in the world and my platoon apparently had taken it upon itself to be a leader in this particular field…of being very undisciplined.

Unrelated picture giving away the IDF's most cared for secret weapon...the way we stay awake through boring classes on gas masks and how to clean your rifle again (after cleaning it for over a year and half)

The first night my officer asked me to get dinner rolling in the small 25 person outpost and finding “a few good men” to help make their dinner was a challenge.  Everyone had a different reason why he wasn’t the ideal candidate for the position and only after 15 minutes of searching for the soldiers with the weakest excuse and then convincing/cajoling and borderline begging them into the kitchen did I narrowly succeed in my mission….of making dinner myself with the other helpless soldiers as sous-chefs (I’ll embarrass my dad by letting you all in on the secret that I initially spelled that as sue-chef, su chef, psu chef, sooooo chef anything else you can think of only wikipedia saved….my French is limited primarily to “we le surrender” and “hembergerrrr”). 

Me pretending that someone is listening to me.

The challenges continued.  The complaints about the guard duty list, the simple “no, I’m not doing that” to just about anything I told a soldier to do followed by the more gentle “it just don’t work that way around here…you know the whole commander soldier thing, you can’t just tell us what to do” all caused me numerous times to escape to the staff living quarters and scream silently “what is going on?!”  The other commanders, who had been with these guys only a month or two, recognized the my frustrated face, just smiled and said “yeah I was the same way, don’t worry about it.”  That reaction, by the way, did not make me much happier since it meant that an untenable, at least for me, status quo was in place.

Picture from navigations during commander's course

Nevertheless, while it took me a bit of time to get my bearings, things did start to get better.  I worked with the soldiers so that they would not feel that another "bossy commander" who did't lead by example had shown up and that we were instead a team.  I stayed up late and visited them on guard duty to talk to them, get to know them, hear their problems or grievances with anything from medical to financial issues as well difficulties they had with the command staff  and various other tzuris.  I tried my best to understand their issues, write down notes of things that need to be checked such as one soldiers foot pains etc but I also let them know about me and how I felt the platoon should look, how combat soldiers should act etc.  Most of them agreed in theory but said once again “here it isn’t like that.”  I explained to them that maybe it wasn’t until now but it will start being that way soon.  A long road lies ahead.

In any case, I realize a few things during those first few days: a) commander’s course hadn’t prepared me for this at all b) this was going to be harder than pulling teeth from an ornery alligator (only funny for those who saw the Waterboy) c) I would have to get a game plan fast and make sure that my officer and fellow squad leaders were on board as a unified front.   

We finished off the last week or so on the Egyptian border (you know the part with all the sand and giant beetles) with my nights on a Hummvee patrolling, looking for tracks and catching dangerous civilians who had gotten lost on their family trip to….no idea where since nothing is around there.  Monday morning we packed up and set sail to Einot Tsukim (Cliff Springs – this becomes relevant in a second) near the Dead Sea for a battalion level drill which had a 15 mile hike starting with a several hundred meter climb of aforementioned cliffs.  Towards morning we arrived at our destination for a dry run at 7AM (temperature already at around 98 F) that ended 2 hours later just in time for logistics to discover that “woops we didn’t bother to bring more water during those two hours.”  Waited around in the blistering heat that had crossed  into the 100’s with ease somewhere during the first few steps of the dry run for water to arrive.  I should mention we didn’t have food….since we were to have finished both runs by 9.  Around 10:30 we started the wet run or live-fire run (temperature around 104) which was stopped in the middle around 11:30 at which point we started treating two of our soldiers for dehydration and mercifully kept them from getting a heat stroke (all in all about 25 soldiers were treated for mild to severe dehydration by the end of the drill).   We started gathering up the guys and heading back to for the 7 km hike back to base through the mountains.  It was tough keeping them going, they were exhausted, thirsty, hungry and most of all pretty angry that things hadn’t gone according to plan. Long story short, 2 hours later, we were all back at base minus 2 folks from another platoon who had been evacuated to the hospital for possible heat stroke (last I heard they were doing just fine). 

Picture from previous battalion level drill

All in all, it was certainly “baptism under fire”  (ok considering that I am in the army, that is an exaggeration since no one fired at me…but we fired?) in some cases, trying to keep myself going as well as help the soldiers get back as well.  As is the case whenever the going gets tough, the bond between soldiers and me as well as between the platoon as a whole gets just a bit stronger. 

Well I hope this was at least passable as a first blog and hope even more that somehow the quality improve.  In any case, Shauva Tov and speak to you all soon!

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