Whereas everything before Field Week had been difficult everything afterwards was easy. The second two months flew by, the weekly marches got longer and harder but we quickly fell into the routine of getting through them as best we could. The small missions were also easier as we fell into the rhythm of completing them. It became a known fact that every time Ran or Alon or the Sergeant gave us a time frame Asaf would immediately be in charge of keeping time, there was no question that we wouldn’t be able to be standing back in the same formation that we had been in when the task was handed down.
The culmination of Boot Camp was a 30km march with full equipment which included the dreaded jerrycan the weight of which had so devastated me at the start of training. The day of the march a ritual had emerged, one of the commanders would come to us each hour for several hours and stand with us while we each drank a pint and a half of water. The day would consist of light activities such as preparing equipment or some kind of classroom lesson on radios or weaponry and also we would be given time to work on our equipment. Although it’s easy to say work on equipment was never complete, each and every one of us worked hard to personalise the standard kit that the IDF had issued us with to make it more comfortable for use. Laces were tied to magazines to make them easier to pull out from the pouches, anything that could fall off the combat vests that we were issued was clipped or tied to us in some way so that once we were in combat no one would find any piece of equipment left behind. We even burned away the manufacturer’s logo from the outer soles of our boots.
Once the march was upon us we would all stand around the extra pieces of equipment staring at them waiting for one of our number to be the one to step and take them. It was always an awkward time. Those who had already carried a piece of equipment felt less pressure to carry anything on the next march but as time went by the length of the marches grew and therefore so did the strain of carrying these extras. There was a radio, a 10 litre jerrycan and a stretcher and an uncomfortable silence as the 18 of us looked at them. Awkward, pained expressions and eyes that flitted from face to face of the rest of the team characterised the few minutes it took for the brave ones to step forward.
On the 17km march Yuval had opted to carry the radio on his back, the march was carried out after a week in the field and the terrain wasn’t the flat of the desert but the hills of the North. I remembered the strain he was under as one person took each of his hands and pulled him forward. I could hear him even though he was being pulled and pushed at one end of the group and I was at the other. He wasn’t the only one, once the equipment was on your back it wasn’t coming off, on the first march I had made the mistake of removing the jerrycan but it wasn’t something that ever happened again. It didn’t matter how much pain you were or how much the straps bit into your skin as the equipment slipped and slid around on your back. It didn’t matter that no matter how much you tried to tighten the straps or loosen them you would never find any degree of comfort just hours of pain.
Seeing a soldier being pulled and pushed by one or sometimes more of his comrades was a familiar sight on a march, even when you didn’t have an extra piece of equipment you were expected to help those who did. The marches went on through the night and sometimes they never seemed to end. I would hope and pray for the light of dawn so that I would know our time on the move was coming to a close, but during the darkest moments of the march it felt as though the night would stretch on forever. The pace was unrelenting; 55 minutes of movement, 5 minutes to drink and then on again until the objective was reached. The worst part was that for our commanders it all seemed so easy, they could run from the front of the group to the back, they could talk to any one of us along the way with even breath and a voice that screamed just how free of any real effort this was for them.
When it came to the final march of Boot Camp we had that uncomfortable moment where everyone looked at the equipment lying on the ground, I was still too scarred by that first march to take anything. Eventually another three stepped forward, took the equipment and we were ready to go. The small hills and dunes of the area surrounding our base made it an easy march, the knowledge that we were getting a week off starting the next day also helped. I remember turning around and seeing that even Yoni, the one who had the greatest difficulties on each march was in a sound state with his head up and was even able to talk normally!
With Boot Camp over I had a week to go back to London and visit my family and friends, but when I came back I knew that I had the horrors of Advanced Infantry training to come and it was going to be during the Winter.