Friday, January 8, 2010

Hekfer Neshek: Abandoning Your Best Friend

You never lose the friends you make in the army. Friends forever. For life.

At least that is what they say. I am not quite ready to chime in, though I suppose one month is nothing compared to the fours years I have committed to spend with the guys in my squad.

I have made at least one best friend in the army. We were introduced on my first day of basic training after some heavy eye flirtation. She was lighter than I expected, though having never touched someone like her in my life I was wary of making any quick judgments. Since day one, she never leaves my side (except in the shower - showering with her is strictly prohibited!). We share a bed, even the same sleeping bag when spending nights away from base. By day my hands are always touching her. My commanders do not mind the physical contact. In fact, they encourage me to get as intimate with my M-16 as I can. Your neshek (weapon) is your best friend, my officer says all the time. Treat her well and she will do the same for you.

Treating my gun well means keeping her clean and knowing her inside and out. We spends many hours breaking our M-16s down, cleaning them with brushes and oil. Mastering the name and role of all the rifle's pieces has proven a greater challenge. I had little idea what my commander was saying when he initially explained how the M-16 operates. A chat with a veteran Garin Tzabarnik back on kibbutz did wonders to cut through the Hebrew hedge. My friend explained the inner bolt mechanism, and even made a stab at translating the various parts of the rifle into English (English speaking Israeli soldiers never have any idea what the English equivalent is for the Hebrew army terms they pickup in the IDF).

Cleaning is all well and good. Yet our officer's words were directed at the most critical element of our relationship with our guns: never letting them leave our hands. To hefker neshek, abandon one's weapon, is the most serious (and common!) offense a new soldier can commit. Stepping out of our tent without our gun in hand translates to staying on base on a free weekend. To an outsider it may seem strange how easy it is to forget an assault rifle. Remember, however, that I carry this critter with me all the time and you may understand why my gun seems like a common appliance. Then consider the high pressure timed existence of basic training, and you may understand why kus emek! hefkerti neshek is a common refrain on base.

Hefker neshek is only one of many rules we must follow with our new best friends. The army has no patience for anyone who horses around with guns. Enough soldiers (usually from Golani ;-) have already been killed in games that went horribly awry. Play with your weapon and your days as a combat soldier are over.

In my unit, removing my hand from the grip or letting the gun hang over my back are also forbidden. We only received the slings for our guns in the third week of basic, an award of sorts for completing a 6km night hike in full gear. Like other elite units, we ran around base for the first three week without straps in order to deepen our connection and responsibility to our guns.

As connected as I feel to my M16, I am always getting chewed out for letting the weapon slide onto my back. My problem, I am convinced, stems from using a IDF grade sling to carry my saxophone. Five years ago I bought the sling from an IDF surplus store on a lark. A half decade of walking with my sax on my back has not quite prepared me for the guidelines that now regulate my current life.

No comments:

Post a Comment