It was a long, hot week in Israel. Hard to believe that summer is just starting and already we’ve had days and days of hot, hot, hot weather. Elie is in a place where it is so hot, he told me that they could melt marshmellows outside in the sun. The army is very strict about respecting the heat and the dangers it presents. Soldiers are ordered to drink at regular intervals, ordered to wear hats outdoors. Soldiers are given permission to wear sunglasses when their eyes are sensitive to the sun and depending on the level of heat, training may come to a halt or be rescheduled for cooler hours.
This past week was dedicated to training on the equipment that the men of the artillery division will use in war. Elie and three others learned how to drive these massive vehicles. Because of the heat, they were required to do more training at night. This is also important because there is always the possibility in real life that they will have to drive these large armored vehicles at night. Elie was given night vision goggles to help him see.
“It’s really green,” he told me, “just like on TV.” I laughed when I heard that, reminding me that deep inside the man, remains the boy. There isn’t much more Elie could tell me about his training and what will happen in the weeks to come. Undoubtedly, the army is preparing for whatever threats it envisions will be presented to Israel this summer and in the months to follow. It’s a scary time. Iran continues to make noises about going nuclear. Syria has now stockpiled tens of thousands of missiles. Hizbollah in Lebanon continues to threaten the north and is much emboldened by last summer’s apparent victory and not so far from Elie’s base, Gaza remains a hotbed of violence and terror.
For now, it looks like Elie’s unit will remain in the south for the next few weeks to complete their basic training. “They want to keep people out of the north,” is Elie’s suggested reason. This coming week, Elie will continue to learn about the artillery aspects of his military service.
Again, Elie was on base for the Jewish Sabbath, taking his turn patrolling. This week he’ll be training again and less on patrol. He tells me he still has cookies to spare and will be home next weekend. And so it goes, from week to week, as he reaches the end of this first part of his service. Three months have passed – one more and he finishes his basic training.
Tonight, the heatwave finally broke and it is likely cool in the desert. For the next few days, Elie and his unit should enjoy moderate temperatures, lessons in air-conditioned rooms, and patrol responsibilities on occasion. He lives, it seems, in a parallel universe to ours. Our lives have shifted to summer vacation and a different schedule from the rest of the year. His life remains one of intense scheduling…to the minute…to the hour. Last week after several days of training at all hours to avoid the heat, he was excited to be able to get 7 hours of sleep.
Next week, he will be home.