Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Flight of Passage

Many are the hikes across barren hillsides and forbidding forests when the pale glow of the moon, silver sap* embracing withered branches, lifted my spirits, providing a reminder of the wider community that is with me on this lonely road. The opportunity to visit family and friends overseas provides me with a similar glow of encouragement. And so I thank you for illuminating my service with your gracious support.

* Sacred sap, anyone? Yes, this was a shout-out to the unforgettable A Soldier of the Great War. You haven't read it? Shame!

Some generous supporter of Friends of the IDF, the American charity that provides lone soldiers with a one-time overseas flight, will receive the above message in the coming days. My name, rank and smiling face will be tagged alongside. Hopefully the smile will convince my donor that the whimsical words are just another expression of my joy in finally receiving tickets to America. After three weeks of knocking on doors, having fun with a compulsory thank-you card felt like smashing the champagne bottle to inaugurate the launch of my long-awaited overseas visit.

Flying home to see family and friends is a rite of passage for all lone soldiers. A lucky few take full advantage of the thirty days a year that lone soldiers are granted to spend visiting the folks. Most visits are more modest affairs, hedged by training and service requirements into two week hops across the Atlantic. Thanks to the bureaucratic wrangling that chewed up the last three weeks, my own visit is just twelve days. Perhaps I should not complain, considering that I was on a free flight to New York nine hours after finally getting the go-ahead to travel. I suppose that sums up IDF bureaucracy: Ready... delays, Set... more waiting, Light Speed!

As the flight touched down in Kennedy Airport hours later, I had an extra reason to smile. My last five flights concluded with me bailing out the backdoor, parachute at the ready. Returning to earth in the comfort of a couch class seat... Ah, what a treat!


Not everyone flies home on these lone soldier trips. Since the idea is simply to spend quality time with the family, lone soldiers can fly wherever Mom and Dad are hanging out. A friend of mine from my former unit, who is a lone soldier by virtue of his Israeli parents living overseas, met up with his folks in Shanghai!

I might have been jealous to hear how he joined his family for a quick tour of southern China. Any jealousy was erased by amazement, however, when my friend surprised both of us at the Rome airport. I was returning to Israel from NY. He was doing the same from Shanghai. Small word, indeed, when two lone soldiers and onetime Air Force squad-mates can meet up in an airport in Rome and trade stories of their overseas visits en route to Tel Aviv.

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