Sunday, January 31, 2010

Food Amid a Freezing Field Week

Someone in the Nachal scheduling office must have thought it a stroke of genius to hand my battalion shavua sada'ut [field week] right after our swearing-in ceremony at the Kotel. No better way to test our new oath than have us crawl up stony hills and brave freezing rainstorms during the most grueling week of basic training.

My week in the field would have been memorable enough thanks to the crawling and hakpazot [middle of the night wake-ups designed to simulate responding to a sudden emergency] that filled most of our waking, and worst of all sleeping, hours. Days were dominated with numerous crawling drills. Tough is racing on your hands and knees--butt firmly planted on the ground!-- in six inches of mud. Torture came during one particularly intense crawling drill later in the week. With the mud having dried after the rain slackened off in mid-week, my platoon was ordered to crawl up a steep hill covered with stones and thorns. We were told we only had to reach the pile of stones, known as a wuju in IDF slang, some twenty yards up the hill. Little did we know that our commanders had made sure to set up a wuju every twenty yards, each spaced accordingly so that we would only notice yet another wuju awaited us after arriving at each pile of stones.

Tearing up my knees and hands during thrice daily crawling exercises was preferable to the inescapable nightly hakpazot. Waking up to a siren at three AM and rushing to throw on shoes and combat gear is not in itself so bad. The terror lies in the dank cold, the reality of settling back to sleep minutes later, fingers and toes struggling to escape frostbite, in a soggy freezing bag amid a less than reassuring two-man pup tent. Knowing that another hakpaza awaits in a few hours, one that will include packing up and carrying the platoon's incredibly heavy gear on a forced march towards a new campsite, does not lend to a good night's sleep.

The crawling and hakpazot are not the main lessons I took from the week. That honor goes to food, not so much the field rations we survived on as much as the ethic I mastered of quaffing down every morsel of non-luf fare that was available. Luf is the kosher version of spam that famously crowns the rations Israeli soldiers survive on during field exercises. While I avoided the pink blob of canned meat, I joined the rest of my platoon in ensuring that not a shred of the rations--that also include tuna, non-dairy chocolate paste, halva, peanuts and bread--survived the seven minutes we received for meal time. Something about living in the wilderness, or maybe just all the crawling and freezing, made me constantly ravenous. If eating everything in sight is a key rule for wilderness survival than at least I know I left the week having thoroughly mastered one basic skill.

Back on base at the end of the week, our officer informed us that he had just come from awarding a chamshush, an early weekend exit from the army on Thursday night, to a squad of Nachal soldiers in our brigade. The Nachal squad received the coveted prize for coming out on top in the squad competitions that had taken place on our brigade's last day in the field. The competitions consisted of timed events that tested how fast each squad could run with a stretcher, crawl up a hill, set up a two man tent, move across an area without touching the ground (hint: rocks!), properly follow our officer's hand instructions during a hike and, most competitively of all, open and quaff down a can of luf (this last event is know as the "luf aluf"). Needless to say, the two squads in my platoon finished in first and second place (our officers refuse to inform us which squad came out on top!). The award went to the Nachal squad that finished in third place, following a tradition that takes for granted my unit will take the top two spots. All well and good, though not getting an early weekend exit still hurts!

1 comment:

  1. im not a vegetarian, but i didnt eat the luf either. it was hard and annoying, but somehow i was able to succeed. thing is i dont like tuna either...but in imun mitkadeim they let us bring sauces and spices and stuff to put in the tuna. and we could smoke it too...good stuff...