Friday, November 26, 2010

Quoth the Raven, 'Nevermore.'

For twenty-four hours I was a regular infantry soldier, tasked to a company in the Paratroops in the middle of basic training. Just like that, my uncertainty over whether I would be reassigned to a regular or special forces unit seemed to be settled.

Over the weekend I had come to the decision that I would choose to serve in the regular infantry rather than sign extra time in order to serve in the Paratroop Brigade's special forces battalion. In the last two years, the IDF has begun requiring volunteer soldiers like myself, whose service commitment is less than the standard three years, to add on the full three years in order to serve in any special forces unit. While I had readily signed up for four years in order to serve in my previous elite unit (my former unit was one of a few select positions that require more than the regular three years from conscripts), I am far less eager to add time with only ten months left in my service (after leaving my former unit, my service time returned to the two years I volunteered to do as part of participating in Garin Tzabar). While there are perks to training and serving as a special forces team member rather than a regular infantry soldier, the advantages paled in light of the extra year of army time. I would be ready to add on time to be an officer, I decided over the weekend, but not to train for a few extra months and then perform service not so dissimilar from the regular grunts.

Hence I had no problem in discovering I would continue my army career in the regular infantry. The bit about doing the last slice of basic training over, however, was a nonstarter. A few phone calls to the right people proved that I was not the only one who saw the insanity of my placement. A few more phone calls and the next day I reported as ordered. Instead of arriving for basic, however, I showed up at the HQ of Sayeret Tzanchanim, the special forces battalion of the Paratroop Brigade. My new home, one that I will not be required to remain in a day past October 2011 unless I wish otherwise.

Sayeret Tzanchanim, also known as Gadsar Tzanchanim or Battalion 5135 in formal IDF language, has as illustrious a history as any unit in the IDF. The unit that participated in famous missions in the seventies like Spring of Youth and Entebbe is today a very different animal. A few years back the IDF reorganized the sayerot, the special forces companies attached to each brigade. Soldiers in Sayeret Tzanchanim still train for nearly double the length of regular infantry soldiers. Yet today within the sayeret of every brigade, there are three separate companies known, respectively, as reconnaissance (Palsar, Plugat Siyur), demolitions (Palchan, Plugat Heil Handasa) and anti-tank (Palnat, Plugat Neged Tankim). The companies each focus on their given specialty, while also training to work together and in support of the larger brigade.

The Palnat is universally referred to as Orev after the Israeli name for the main anti-tank missile the unit traditionally uses. Since Orev literally means raven, I am still serving in a unit that uses a bird as its symbol of choice. I am unsure on whether I prefer a raven to a kingfisher. If nothing else, the new bird gives me a good excuse to quote Edgar Allen Poe now and nevermore.

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