Sunday, January 10, 2010

Standing Guard, to Paris and Back

"Don't shoot," shouted the man, shaking as he backed away from the civilian jeep with his hands in the air. "We're officers from the base, IDF officers!" I found the claim reasonable, though neither me nor my fellow soldier on guard duty were prepared to allow the two men to continue to load their jeep with crates of ammunition without authorization from headquarters. With gun trained in the glare of the jeep's headlights, my mind was buzzing at finding myself in a potentially live fire incident after a long week of guard duty on base.

Standing guard at last week's Nachal tekes kumta marked the start of shavuat sh'mira, the week of basic training devoted to instilling in soldiers the discipline of guard duty. For three hours every day and night I was stationed around our base, ordered to stand or patrol in full gear, gun at the ready while my body and body tried to stay warm and alert.

Guard duty comes with a long list of forbidden activities, though the bans on snacking, napping and sitting are tolerable in those fortunate positions where soldiers are posted in pairs. Standing guard alone led me to embrace some of the same survival techniques Natan Sharansky employed in his nine years of imprisonment in the Soviet Gulag. I am pretty hesitant to draw too strong a parallel between the challenges of a Prisoner of Zion and a soldier of Zion, though for what its worth converting my tedious walk around my guard position into an imaginary journey to Paris may not have only been inspired by Sharansky's memoir Fear No Evil. Vietnam veterans tell similar tales, or at least fellow Minnesotan Tim O'Brien has in the wacky war story Going After Cacciato. I made blessedly few imaginary hikes to Paris thanks to lucking out and spending most of my three hours shifts alongside other soldiers in my platoon. The upshot, besides avoiding boredom, were hours to improve my Hebrew in conversations--and song--that drew me closer to peers. Shavuat sh'mirah [guard week], I joked to my officer, was more like shavuat ulpan [language class week] thanks to all the talking time.

My final go at guard duty returned me to the lonely outpost by the two dozen ammunition dumps on the outskirts of the base. Known as the "bunker position," at night the vast area seems like foreign territory and it is comforting to have another soldier by one's side during the long patrols. My partner and I had barely begun our shift when a white jeep sped past our position, making a scorching turn toward a distant ammunition position. With ten hours of guard duty at the bunkers under my belt, I knew the area well and quickly informed my fellow guard where the jeep was likely heading. When our efforts to radio in for instruction proved fruitless, my partner set out at a run after the jeep, with me and a backpacked radio bouncing along in hot pursuit.

All soldiers receive clear instructions on what to do with trespassers. To his credit, my fellow guard followed the instructions to the T. While he called out and then cocked his gun to get the jeep's intentions, my mind was whirling, reflecting simultaneously on my run-ins with sentries in foreign countries and on the likelihood that my first "intruders" were fellow Israeli soldiers.

Sure enough, the gun cocking brought shouts from the jeep. Not only were these intruders members of the IDF, but they were officers. And they were none too happy to have a couple of tsa'eerim [youngsters] threatening them as they went about their business. The night ended with one final highlight: As the officers vainly tried to convince us to let them go, the Nachal soldiers serving as the emergency response team arrived, huffing and puffing after our radio call forced them to come running up the long hill from base in full gear.

1 comment:

  1. I'm not gonna pretend I was able to hide a smirk when I read this. Soon you will be able to call me tza'ir, I will rub it in while I can.