Sunday, December 12, 2010

Memory Lane on Navigation

You are Moses. Now lead us to the Promised Land!

With these dramatic words, one of the guys on my team called on me to lead him and a few other lost souls to the end of a recent navigation exercise. At home in our surroundings, I could only laugh at his request. Months ago, I had stumbled through these same hills during a traumatic navigation that helped usher me from my former unit. Many months earlier, my army career had begun here as well with the pre-military Gadna program.

Not only were the valleys, pathways and, most importantly, dangerous svach (undergrowth) familiar, I knew the local history. As my small troupe of disorientated navigators walked alongside, I recalled how sixty years ago, a select group of German Jews had trained here as Nazi officers. The group were part of a desperate attempt by the Haganah to ready the Jewish community of Palestine for a Nazi occupation they feared was imminent with Rommel advancing on the Holy Land. As we reflected on the recent past, we followed an ancient walkway whose stones were first laid two thousand years ago by the Roman Empire.

A week later navigation training had relocated to the south. Now we were training in urban settings, learning how to find targets in a smattering of Bedouin towns. Navigating through the Arab towns by night, in full gear with only one soldier by my side, is the closest I have felt to an actual mission. We slipped through courtyards, avoided raging sheep-dogs, and meandered for hours looking for the "color of the door on the third house on the right" or "what tree is planted in front of the white house." One could only hope that colors, trees and address numbers had not changed in recent years.

Our urban navigation training made me feel at home for the second week in a row. This time I could not credit prior experience in the region, although I had paid a brief visit to one of the Arab towns years ago. The familiar feeling came from applying our generally field based navigation training to avenues and driveways, an urban jungle I easily connect to the cities and towns I have lived in my entire life. The army is usually the den of the field mouse. So when the games come to the city, city mice like me can only feel at home.

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