For a Second, I Thought it Was Real

My daughter spoke those words this morning as I drove her to school. She was talking about our visit to Shmulik’s base. We arrived after a long drive, parked the car and walked past a table of female soldiers who “registered us.” They asked the name of our soldier, checked it off, handed us a note about what we would see, a business-size card with the name and phone number of the head of the Kfir division (including office and mobile phone numbers) and a rose for the mothers. A beautiful red rose…can you imagine?

We walked along a pathway until we got to a large gathering of chairs. As we walked around the curve, we saw perhaps a dozen soldiers, in full combat gear and guns, laying on the ground “hiding” behind the small hill just to the side. We sat and almost immediately, the event began.

The Kfir division commander introduced himself. He gave his name and position and then explained. He lives in Maale Adumim (where I do). He is married, and gave his wife’s name. He is the father of four daughters, named them and gave their ages, “yes, four daughters,” he said with pride, with a smile and a laugh, and people clapped for him.

He wants to show us what our sons will be learning in the months to come. When we first told them they would run three kilometers, he said, half of them had a heart attack. Now they do it easily. By the end of the training, they will be able to travel more than 40 kilometers on foot, he told us – carrying stretchers even. And then he directed us to look at the mountain just behind him.

A man in black stood crouched about half way up, “there are two terrorists that have been spotted,” the commander said, “don’t worry – they will be firing blanks only” and again, people laughed. At first I saw only one “terrorist” as he rose and began firing at us. A unit of soldiers went into action as the commander explained; as we heard the unit commander ordering his troops. They spanned out, as another terrorist jumped up and fired.

The soldiers rolled to the ground, in a coordinated effort, soldiers fired as one among them rolled and then advanced…and thus they moved into position until they fired and took out one of the terrorists. The young man fell, raising his legs in the air as he “died” – gaining another laugh from the audience…an actor he will never be.

The unit continued to fire and advance, taking out the second of the terrorists. “They continue beyond this point,” the commander explained, “to determine if there are more terrorists.” A third we had not known about stood to fire and again was “eliminated.”

“These are soldiers who entered the army in November, 2009,” the commander explained as the parents clapped for the soldiers. “Just four months ahead of your sons.”

They will learn to master weapons, the commander explained. He directed us to look to his left – targets had been set up. He introduced the weapons our sons will use – guns and grenade launchers…

They fired each of the weapons. Each came with a ping as they hit their target, up to a boom and a small explosion. They set part of the field on fire – “Don’t worry,” the commander said, “we are prepared for this too.” And we watched as a group of soldiers ran out and put the fire out.

“Look on the mountain,” the commander told us again. There was a house there, a small structure with Hamas and Fatah flags on it. This too, our soldiers will do. He explained that a wanted terrorist is inside and we watched as those soldiers we had seen when we first arrived, came over the small hill and began their advance. It was like a play-by-play of a football game, only this was too real.

As the soldiers secured the position…we heard the terms they use. They surrounded the building. “Notice how they are alert to all directions. Imagine this was a house in the casbah” – the market in the center of an Arab town. “Enemies can come from all directions, shots from any window.” More than a mother wants to imagine.

Part of Shmulik’s unit includes trained dogs who can sniff out explosives, or take a terrorist down. They threw in smoke bombs and the “terrorist” emerged and began to run. The soldier playing the part was heavily padded – the dog attacked and brought him down. Quickly the soldiers surrounded the fallen terrorist. “First we secure the situation,” the commander said, “then we call off the dog.” The dog quickly was removed but watched at attention as the soldiers checked the “terrorist” and led him off.

The house was still a threat, the commander explained, directing our eyes back to the the small structure. It has to be checked…and so the unit continued.

With the fears of a child, I learned today, my daughter thought perhaps that the terrorist in the house was real. For me, perhaps the most chilling part of the day was not the actions these soldiers took but the commanders next words, “remember, these soldiers are just four months ahead of your sons. In four months, it will be your sons doing this for another group of parents. You aren’t invited, though,” he said with a laugh.

In four months…less even, because part of that time has already passed. “Time is short,” the commander had said when we began the event. Yes, it is…four months….

1 Comment on For a Second, I Thought it Was Real

  1. You inspire me so much. As in Australia we celebrate brave sons and daughters who have served our military on ANZAC day this weekend, my thoughts will also be with another group of soldiers in Israel. It’s perhaps vain to think, but one day, post aliyah – perhaps 20 or 30 years from now – I will not need to learn from experience what it is like to see my son or daughter enter the IDF out of necessity. In saying that, it would make me the most joyful woman on earth to have my sons enlisted as yours have been, to go through the same learning as you have. If it doesn’t come to pass I thank you so so much for sharing your experiences with us… Your writing touches my heart. My thoughts with you and your boys – and all the men and women in the IDF, and the unseen army of beautiful mothers like yourself – this anzac day 🙂 xx

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