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Sunday, July 16. 2006
July 16, 2005 A soldier readies for deployment north
Today - after two soldiers killed and one kidnapped in Israel by Gaza, after several soldiers killed and two kidnapped in Israel by Lebanese, after rockets designed in Iran have landed in Haifa, Sfad, Carmiel, Naharya, and other places - I sit in Netanya in the down-at-the-heels Green Hotel lobby, the TV running with news of the eight killed in Haifa today to write.To tell about D.,a 21 year-old sergeant in Nachshon, a unit trained for close-combat urban warfare.
He apologizes that he did not call me Friday when he returned: had an hour to spend with his main squeeze on the beach; apologizes for not being in shul this a.m.-- went with his little sister to see her friend at an another shul; wants to see me today for one of hour walks that last a few hours. He will be heading back at nightfall.
July 16, 2005 A soldier readies for deployment north
I stay with small stories. The big ones -- political matters, wars --
are too large a canvass for me.
Today -- after two soldiers killed and one kidnapped in Israel by
Gaza, after several soldiers killed and two kidnapped in Israel by
Lebanese, after rockets designed in Iran have landed in Haifa, Sfad,
Carmiel, Naharya, and other places -- I sit in Netanya in the
down-at-the-heels Green Hotel's lobby, the TV running with news of the
eight killed in Haifa today to write. To tell about D.,a 21 year-old
sergeant in Nachshon, a unit trained for close-combat urban warfare.
About how he prepares his nine men for deployment in the North.
Saturday, D. approaches me in front of the Beit Kenesset after
services. Wants to talk with me some time today, before he gets called
back. He must check in hourly for status, but has been getting
intermittent phone calls from his men. Asks them to call only if it
seems critical. These newly trained recruits, trained by D., seem
nervous, I think. The other trainees consider D. too tough, to
distant, too demanding. His men defend him. I gather that D. is
particularly good at training his men to stay alive. For this they
are grateful. He knows that at the end of the training in a few
weeks, he will "break distance" : they will be able to call him by his
first name, likely toss him into a pool and such. For now, he keeps
the distance he needs to keep them alert. He does night guard duty
with some of his men to make sure that they stay awake. Tells them do
push-ups, run to stay awake. When one fellow takes a jog to keep
alert, he is almost clocked by a buddy; the night is no friend to
He apologizes that he did not call me Friday when he returned: had an
hour to spend with his main squeeze on the beach; apologizes for not
being in shul this a.m.-- went with his little sister to see her
friend at an another shul; wants to see me today for one of hour walks
that last a few hours. He will be heading back at nightfall.
Our walks are meanderings. I can't navigate them, but have learned
to trust: with his photographic memory, he finds his way back easily.
He is also vigilantly alert to what is behind us: I hear nothing, and
he turns abruptly about, checking on the woman walking a few meters
back. She's closing in on us, power walking.
He seems to prefer to talk about small matters: how his one
recalcitrant recruit is functioning, since they have learned about and
solved his family problem; talks a bit about a future in medical
school; much detail of what he has learned from his new paramedic who
has three years of training and volunteers for this risky unit. Too
much detail from the paramedic, I say: how to be decisive in plunging
into the throat for a cricoidectomy; how and when to use tourniquets;
yank out bullets; how the guts spill out with some abdominal wounds. I
suggest that the paramedic do more and talk less. D. notices that his
fellow officers avert gaze at some of the surgical photos of wounds
displayed by the paramedic. D. is less assured when he learns that
Paramedic has thus far done cricoidectomies only on dummies.
D. has secreted two tourniquets, which are not for general
distribution. Used one once when he wounded a senior Hamas commander
in the leg, then, recognizing an arterial spurt, bound the leg to get
him out alive to hospital. After ligaturing, the Hamas commander
screams at him it's too tight, calls him various Arabic curses
(something along the lines of someone who engages in personal acts
with female monkeys and such). The Arab seems startled when D.
responds in Arabic to shut up, then offers to remove the tourniquet
(and let him bleed to death). Commander Hamas begs him, in Hebrew,
not to; shuts up. At the hospital, the entire floor is emptied and
guarded. D. is guarding him in his room; another is at the door;
others guard the entrance to the floor. Once, after a wounded
terrorist is disarmed before being flown to the hospital, the doctor
in the hospital found another gun on him. This guy D. checks
As we walk past a Kenesset member's house, the new guard booth, D.
talks about the boredom of guard duty like this; we walk the sedate,
bucolic streets of R.; he diverts us from an early return to his house
and he embarks upon how he prepares to go North.
Life and death is in the details, exactness, over preparation, and
more preparation. Two days without sleep as he checks all the weapons
for his "boys" (who are perhaps two years younger than he. For
instance, he says, if you don't check the ammunition cartridges for
handguns, you might insert and older one with worn "ears." If the
ears are too worn, a bit far apart from over use or being dropped,
then two bullets may load simultaneously, jamming the gun. A jammed
gun; fatal in battle. He checks each soldier's guns and cartridge
clips. All "ears" must be straight.
I realize that I would follow this boy into battle. A reversal of
generations here: the "sons" care for the fathers.
His is a close urban-combat unit, he explains, as if to reassure me
that in such big air or possible ground battles such as now happening
in Lebanon, his unit is not likely to be called up. But, when I
recall his description of taking a house with hostages, of how most
difficult it is to take a staircase from below --how it's done in
pairs, each depending fully on the other -- I take little reassurance
He has already saved two men in his unit. One was "grazed" by a
bullet on his neck; nicked the carotid. D. punched his fist into the
pressure point below, hopped the helicopter; told by the hospital not
to let go. His fist turns blue, hurts. At the hospital, the doctors
are prepared, then count three, then D. releases. He is stunned at the
amount of blood that spurts out all over him. Not his blood, he tells
himself. Then, the night done, he volunteers to the doctors that he
has a rare blood type. So, they take his blood.
Another time, much more terrifying. D. is the second prepared to
alight from the helicopter in a night action. A buddy, drops first,
and takes a spray of machine gun fire into his chest. D. grabs his
straps and yanks him back into the chopper. The bullet proof vest
diverts the bullets somewhat: three hit; one penetrates the left
chest, the second into the sternum, the third breaks a rib and rests
on the pericardium. The M.D. on board does an emergency cricoidectomy
to reinflate the lung; gives D. the paddles to shock the heart back
into action after stripping off the vest, the bloody uniform. At the
hospital, the soldier screams to the doctors to save the bullets,
which he now has mounted in his bedroom. D. tells him the doctors are
supposed to save his life. After four months of rehab, the soldier
insists on returning to his unit.
This is how boys prepare to protect this land and our people.
Reminds me of a variation of an old joke about navigation. How Moses
had a bad sense of direction: had he just turned right instead of left
at the Jordan, we would be sitting on oil fields, us Jews. Wearing
Kaffiyahs and flowing robes. Riding camels or horses through the
sands, befriended by Lawrences of Arabia Not being envied for this
paltry sliver of land along the Mediterranean coast.
These boys live stories like those from Homer, Aenied. They are today's heroes.
They are a far cry from the ghetto Jews of Europe. But still the heart cries.
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