Becoming a soldier
The clock was ringing so loudly, it was like he was actually screaming at me. I reached my hand and slapped it. I did not want the night to be over already. I knew that this morning would be very long and grueling, the morning that I have been waiting for in a great fear for several months. It was the morning I was drafted to the army.
In Israel, every boy and girl who reaches eighteen have to join the army. It is mandatory and it is for a minimum of three years for boys and a year and eight months for girls. During the eleventh and twelfth grade you go through several classification processes, in which the army determines where will everyone serve. The process of classification includes several tests, some of them are physical and others are in math and Hebrew. So on the day you are drafted you suppose to know where you are going to serve and what you are going to do, at least for the first few months of your service.
For me the experience of joining the army at the age of eighteen was very difficult. I felt that these are my best years but instead of taking advantage of them I am going to the army. In other countries, when a person reaches eighteen he is usually going to college and “start his life”. I on the other hand, was about to do one of the most demanding mission a man can do.
I postponed my recruiting day as long as I could in order to travel and enjoy as much as I could in that time. I knew that I was going to be a fighter and give up the convenience of being home everyday, eat home made food, go out with friends, sleep in my bed. Instead I would sleep in a tent or lie on the ground on a stake out, eat bad food, and get to know new people. All that was hard for me to accept at the age of 18.
To my parents I was the third child to go into the army. My older brother, who was also a fighter, was released two years before I got drafted. And my sister, who served in the intelligence corps, was released only four months before. We all woke up that morning like we did the past two times. The morning was especially cold and everything seemed black to me. It was raining and I knew it would only make things harder. We ate breakfast together, full of good things that my mom bought just for me to cheer me up. An hour later we were at the drafting base.
“Uri Kenig”, I heard my name echoing through the speakers. That was my sign to go. It was a very exciting moment and my mom could not help it and cried. I said goodbye to my family and friends and started my journey to a new passage in my life.
At first they took us to a very long trailer. It was brown and looked like it was going to collapse. The paint was coming off from the walls and the rain was coming down heavily on it. The floor was cracking when we walked on it, and it was cold.
In the first station they took our fingerprints. The army does that in case they will have to identify a corpse. My hands were dirty from the ink. We went on to the second station where they took out teeth x-rays, for the same reason. The third station, the scariest one, is the clinic. Every soldier has to get three shots and all in less than a minute. Two guys that were with me fainted, from what seemed to me was fear. The last station was the station that symbolizes the external transition from a citizen in to a soldier, and that is where we got our uniforms and equipment. They gave us three pairs of uniform and military shoes and other essential equipment like different kind of ropes, cleaning pad for the gun and more. There was a big room for all of us to change our cloths. There was no privacy there, and you had to do it quickly.
We went out to a big area that was covered with wet grave. After five minutes came a tough soldier, whose uniforms were ironed and shining and he had a hat that covered his eyes, so we could not see them. He declared that he would be our commander for the day. A few people laughed and our new commander made us all run from one tree to another. In the army, the commander is considered “god” and everything he says you have to follow. At the age of eighteen no one is used or wants to follow commands.
We then went to the commons, which can serve food for 600 people. In the army everything has a time limit that is determined by the commander, so we had 30 minutes to eat. I had no appetite, and when I saw the food I felt nauseous, since it looked dry and tasteless. After the 30 minutes were up we stood outside like we were ordered, and we got wet from the rain, and we were shaking from the cold. It was already 3pm and it seemed to me like the sun had not come out the whole day.
From there our commander took us to a big parking lot full of buses. He told us that we are going to the basic training base. We went on the bus and we rode for two hours, which allowed me to rest for a while and to rearrange my stuff. When we got there it was already dark and a new commander introduced himself to us. He did not tell us his name, only repeated that we have to call him “The commander”. He taught us how to stand in rows of three, and what we have to do every time we saw him. He made us run all over the base and finally took us to our tents. The tent was big, and wet from the rain. The bed was actually a piece of hard canvas. It was obvious that sleep was going to be very hard and uncomfortable.
We ate dinner, which reminded me of lunch, and later we had our first couple of lessons about the M-16 gun. At the end of the lesson our commander told us we will have guard duty, even though we did not received our guns yet. I was scheduled to guard between 3am and 3:30am. I understood that I would not get much sleep.
We were released to get ready for sleep at 10pm and I went to call my parents. I spoke to them and it was very hard. I wanted them to say that they are coming to get me back home, but I knew that it would be at least a week before I will get to go home.
The whole base looked like it was taken from a very bad movie. It was gray, low maintenance, filled with wet tents, in the middle of nowhere, and no hot water for a shower. When it was my turn to guard I went outside of the tent and tried to warm myself. I was not allowed to sit, eat, and listen to the radio and of course to sleep. Finally, someone came to replace me and I went back to try and get some sleep.
It has been more than four years since that day. Today, when I look back at that day I know that it was not that black, the weather was not that rainy. It was me who saw things that way. I think that after serving in the army for three years I became mature and I found out many new things about myself, things that you discover only in situation like you run across in the army. You have to deal with things that other people can only see on movies. Today, I understand how important it is to serve in the army. When later I became the commander of new soldiers, I saw in their eyes exactly the same look that I had that day. If I had to go back I would do everything exactly the same. It was worth it.