No live fire training exercise in the IDF ever takes place before the same routine has been drilled dozens of time minus the ammunition. In other words, soldiers know to expect many dry run drills before loading up for the one or two wets [live-fire] that take place under their officer's close supervision. And so the week I learned how to advance and attack an enemy position saw me drilling the same commands and maneuvers hundreds of times, yelling "aish, aish" [Hebrew for "fire," or in this case "bam, bam"] before I ever got the chance to shoot real bullets.
While dry and wet runs have nothing to do with drilling in the rain, army slang has a way of smashing through metaphor to arrive at a Zen-like realm of self-realization. Or at least that was the case this past week when my platoon slogged through the same masa [ruck march] twice under very different weather conditions.
The original masa was designed to bring us back to base after spending a week in the wild learning to advance on enemy hill positions. Rain had made our final morning drills a soggy mess. Faulty logistics had failed to provide lunch. Wet and hungry, my platoon responded by raiding the camp's supplies, devouring some twenty loaves of white-bread as we set off for our nineteen km masa. The mana-like bread
foreshadowed the true gift of heaven that came down from above moments into the march. The rain came hurtling down, bringing with it a fierce wind and an all consuming darkness. Soon our feet was dredging up parapets in the sludge as icy fingers clung desperately to rifles made slick in the downpour. Amid the deluge, I would never have guessed that this trek was just the dry run before an even more challenging "wet masa."
The wet masa came the next week, a redo of the rain soaked trek that had been suspended halfway through after two Nachal soldiers had collapsed with heat stroke. Instead of setting out at night, standard procedure for a masa, this redo masa was scheduled for late morning on a very hot and sunny day. Heat stroke, the very reason we were redoing the masa, was now a clear and present danger. Other dangers were diminished by laying on the sunscreen. Not only did it protect our skin, but the lotion did wonders for the general odor. Before the sweat of hiking through the midday sun under a heavy load set in, the lotion left my guys with a sweet smelling beach aroma. Of course, the sweat had the final word. We returned from the masa soaked in our own perspiration, wetter than the fiercest rainstorm, putting an ironic stamp on the past week's dry and wet runs.
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