A Cow (Part 2)

So, the cow.

Chaim told us a story. It touches me. I can’t explain why. I can see it in my mind. I can feel the soldier’s fear, perhaps his embarrassment. I can imagine it all, step by step.

On the base where Chaim was stationed a while back; the soldiers are trained to do patrols, to guard the perimeter. At some point back, there’d been an attack on the base. Nothing is left to chance. Lights flood the perimeters, guard posts every so often.

A soldier on his first night patrol is stationed at one outpost. That afternoon, the large search lights went out. No one has changed it. He’s got to stay there in the dark and watch. No matter what, he must not leave it. In the distance, he sees an object approaching. Too big to be a cat, a dog. This is real, he thinks.

He radios to base. They can hear him, but for some technical reason, he can’t hear them. He’s out there, alone, with no lights, no backup. This could be considered a nightmare. His first night patrol and already something happens. Something is approaching the base. Someone? A terrorist? Who would be out there in the dark slowly approaching a military base? It looks, perhaps, like a man, bending low as he slowly approaches the base. Not rushing forward, but steadily moving closer and closer.

The soldier has been trained. He knows what to do. He has a gun. Even if he doesn’t have backup. Even if he can’t reach base to speak to a commander and report what is happening, he knows what he has to do. He shouts out a warning. It keeps coming forward. He calls out in Arabic and in Hebrew as he has been taught. Still, it keeps coming.

He loads his gun, making a lot of noise. This is a warning. Stop. Still no answer from base. He is armed, and still it comes. He shoots in the air. Nothing.

And with no other option, the soldier shoots at the approaching object. A direct hit, as he has been taught. Only, as it makes a sound and falls dead, the soldier realizes he has shot and killed a cow. The cow was walking straight at him and so he couldn’t see its profile in the darkness – just some large, looming object that refused to stop on command.

It isn’t funny, is it? But I can see that soldier in my mind. I can feel the emotions – not terror, but realization that he has finally come to the test. Can he use the skills he has learned from training? There is a moment I think each soldier has…when he crosses that line from training to reality. It’s there when they are tested. Can they shoot when they need to…and can they live with the results?

That’s what got to me, about the story. It was a testing. We know it was a cow now, but he didn’t know. He followed protocol; he called out a warning – in two languages. He shot in the air. He did all he could do to avoid casualties…and then, in what he believed to be defense of his position, he shot. That is Israel; that is an Israeli soldier.

And yes, it was a cow. I’m sure others laughed at him. I can imagine the other soldiers laughing. We laughed at the table but the story lingers in my mind. I think, I hope, the soldier could probably laugh at himself. He shot a cow. But more, I hope he can realize, deep in his heart, that he did what was expected, what was right. It doesn’t matter. I hope the soldier knows this; I hope someone told him.

It was a passage from untrained soldier to fighter of Israel. It doesn’t matter that it was a cow. It matters that a threat was identified; procedure was followed. Had it been real, he met his challenge. It wasn’t real, and yet, he still met the challenge. Isn’t that what training is all about?

That’s my “cow” story.

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