Next week marks a year since I began the army. On 13 October 2009 all of Garin Tzabar, including the sixteen strong fellowship of Kibbutz Tirat Zvi, marched out of Tel Hashomer as freshly minted property of the state of Israel. And so it was fitting that this weekend was a Garin Shabbat, the thrice a year event when every member of my garin is released from the army in order to allow us to share a rare shabbat together on kibbutz.
If the military can be divided between training and active service, this past year was very much about training. Everyone in my garin underwent some form of basic training in the past year. Most of the girls entered active service in the spring. The guys in the regular infantry trained through July before joining their front-line units. Although their training ended a few months ago, the infantry guys received the pins that mark them as lochamim (fighters) this past week. For those of us whose goal in joining the IDF was to serve as a locham, a trained combat soldier, those pins signify mission accomplished.
No locham pin adorns my own dress uniform. The silver bird that I would have received in a ceremony atop Masada next September will never grace my chest. Instead my service has ground to a halt, stuck in limbo as I await reassignment. While my training has exceeded that of a soldier in the regular infantry, I am not considered a locham until I rejoin a combat unit and meet their own requirements for locham status. In other words, for all that I have done, I have yet to accomplish my baseline goal of becoming a locham in the IDF.
I could not mask something like envy while listening to my peers on kibbutz describe their frontline service. They spent the summer chasing down cross-border drug smugglers and preparing for junior command positions while I trained relentlessly. They continue to defend our country while I now do nothing at all. Of course I realize that much of their active service is pure drudgery, hours spent guarding inane installations and cleaning dishes. Yet even the most numbing of frontline jobs possess a spirit of authentic soldiery that is absent in ceaseless training. Nothing we did in training, no matter how cutting edge, ever escaped the feeling of summer camp. The lack of any real danger, the constant attention and direction from above...whatever the reason, no one wants to be the ultimate trainee. The goal is to be the real deal, to complete the education phase and get where the action is.
My unsettling resentment only disappeared when I shared my grief with one of the guys in my garin. Ron, a medic in the Golani Brigade, insisted I was misreading the garin experience. Sharing our stories with each other is not about wishing we are in each others' shoes. It is about allowing us to have multiple army experiences, to live vicariously through our peers while riding our personal ups and downs.
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