Monday, December 01, 2014

My army service - part one

(we take time off from DBA studying to dive 35 years into the past ....)

It's a well known fact that there is compulsory military service for Israeli youth: 3 years for males and 2 years for females. What is less well known is that there is also compulsory military service for immigrants such as myself, and that the length of this service is dependent upon the age upon which one immigrated (and not the age of commencing the service). An 18 year old male immigrant will serve 3 years, a 21 year old will serve 2 years and a 22 year old will serve a year and a half; being married 'saves' half a year. When I was preparing to immigrate in 1978, these distinctions were important: one non-academic friend (i.e. he had no external timetable) waited until he was 22 then emigrated the day after - this saved him six months of service. 

I emigrated at the age of 22 and so knew that I was facing a year and a half of military service. To someone coming from my background, this was quite a frightening scenario. Someone had put into my mind the idea that the army would find use for my studies and that I could serve in a professional (non-military capacity). In the time between my immigration and my induction, I tried to follow this idea up as much as possible. At one stage, it seemed that I might be able to serve as a microbiologist in Eilat, although this would require me to 'sign on' for two extra years. Unfortunately, this fell through as a result of staffing levels - there wasn't a place available for me.

About a month before my induction - which would be about today, 35 years ago, I realised that I was going to be cannon fodder like everyone else. I reacted to this news with the maturity that I possessed in those days: I locked the door, stayed in bed and cried for a day. Due to prior medical problems with my stomach, I didn't have a clean medical profile and so was not eligible for some of the more gung-ho elements of the Israeli army. With little option, I signed on to the Nachal branch of the army; whilst the length (or lack of length) of my army service prevented me from spending time on a kibbutz, at least this branch understood people like me. I joined a notional group of immigrants, along with a few others from my kibbutz who were in exactly the same position.

One of the advantages of this army service was that the first five weeks of it were spent in a special course for new immigrants: in the morning, we would learn Hebrew, and in the afternoon and evening, we would learn about the army and get some basic training. Fortunately, I was in the top Hebrew class, where we spent most of our time falling asleep (I don't know what it was like in the other classes as I was too tired to ask). Otherwise, we spent a lot of time running around and not sleeping. 

If I were to sum up my basic training, I would say that it was composed of equal amounts of laughter and tears. For example, my first weekend: we looked upon our married colleagues with envy as they left the base on the first Friday. We looked forward to our first shower in several days. I think that there were about 40 'soldiers' in my platoon; we were led to a shower room which had six shower heads, and told that we had ten minutes in which to shower. This was accomplished by having three people under a shower head: one person would get wet, then shuffle out of the water stream to allow the second person to get wet. After the first person was wet, he would soap himself, then wait for his turn to get under the shower head so that the water could wash the soap off. We barely had enough time after this to get dressed; we were so occupied to finish in time that we didn't have enough time to laugh. Then it was back to our tents to wait for dinner (held late on a Friday), during which we fell asleep without meaning to.

[SO: 3703; 3, 15, 36
MPP: 574; 1, 2, 6]

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