Saturday, August 29, 2009

Gadna III: Lessons Learned

!חמש שניות-- זוזו

Gadna came to a close on Thursday August 27 with a roaring and frankly unsettling fourteen gun salute. The fact that my trigger finger helped bring about the stormy fusillade mattered little. The burning smell, shocking roar and fierce kickback on my 39-inch M16 made it difficult to focus on hitting a two-inch target some fifty yards away. As the smoke cleared and sweet blessed silence finally returned, I could only imagine how much tougher it must be to fire accurately when facing return fire.

The night before I first laid hands on a loaded weapon also had its share of firsts when we formally completed Gadna with a brief ceremony. Military ceremonies bookend the first year of Israeli army service, with the swearing-in ceremony (tekes hash'ba'a) six weeks into basic training and a ceremony (tekes kumtah) marking the end of training some eight months later. While these ceremonies will no doubt be full of pomp and gravity, my very first tekes will always have come at Gadna, surrounded by my garin.

Gadna was full of physical tests, though none of the push-ups, sprints, crawling or even the two hour hike we did in the lead-up to our final ceremony was very taxing. The activities that really challenged me proved to be mostly mental, providing me with at least three key take-away lessons from the week of pre-army training.

The first lesson is how difficult it really is to accurately fire a rifle. As I shared at the start of this article, my first experience with a loaded weapon left me stunned at the gun's ferocious power. Of course, it was my first time and so perhaps my reaction is to be expected. Regardless, so much of basic training is devoted to training me in the art of weapons use that I have little qualms over the difficulty I had my first time around.

A more persistent challenge during Gadna was comprehending the Hebrew instructions of our commanders. I rarely missed the gist of any order. And of course, like everyone else, I will have a hard time forgetting the persistent cry of "Cha'maesh Sh'niut, Zuzu!" (5 second to do __, move!) that accompanied our every action all week. Nevertheless, there were many detailed orders I failed to completely comprehend. And while my difficulties with the language will surely improve and eventually disappear in the army, my behavior at Gadna did demonstrate that I must guard against letting my limited Hebrew cripple my confidence.

A more subtle enemy I encountered in Gadna was a lethargy that sapped me of my desire to contribute at the level I am capable of. Most of my misplaced energy was the result of tiredness, though a good part came from boredom and the frustration of never knowing what we would be doing next. The army will of course be full to bursting with each of these three uglies. And so I have to put up a better fight against allowing the fact that I will generally be uninformed, bored and above all exhausted limit my performance.

When all is said and done, I left Joara, where the Haganah's best and brightest once trained, having learned some key lessons that will aid me on the road ahead. For that, and for the chance to share many light-hearted moments and a few meaningful conversations within my garin, I am thankful and duly impressed by the merit of Gadna.


Our mifakedet was a tough daughter-of-a-gun all week, never smiling and always maintaining her command of sixteen individuals that by and large were older and more educated than she, not to mention far more religious. Her flawless hold on her authority made it easy for me to see her as my commander rather than a nineteen year old Russian immigrant.
It was not until Thursday afternoon, shortly before we left Joara, that our mifakedet cracked a smile, introduced herself as Dina and shared some background info. Dina admitted to feeling unbelievably nervous every time she approached our garin. Despite the fact that we all stood at nervous attention in a chet (in a C formation), she would feel like we were judging her. Before we left she gave each of us a personalized note. On mine she adjured me never to abandon my willingness to ask unpopular questions and raise unconventional ideas that others may initially deride. With our notes in hand, we had time for a quick photo with Dina--and as a special bonus, our pretty platoon commander at Gadna accepted my invitation and joined us in the picture.

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