I had rolled the dice and I had lost, the Sayeret had been denied to me and this other unit, this… Orev was to be my home. I had exercised the last of my options when I had volunteered for the Gibush, now the army owned me and I was going to have to figure out how to live with the consequences of the decision they made. Thankfully there wasn’t much time to contemplate my utter failure. Myself and the 17 other guys I had been thrown together with were directed to two large, 10 man tents with ten metal cots apiece and a small locker next to each cot. There were 6 tents in total to house all of the new soldiers being trained up and facing those tents were 3 more for the training staff. In between their tents and ours was a rectangular parade ground measuring about 20 by 40 meters and at the end of that stood a big tent that served as a dining room, next to it stood a portable showering unit with the three showers and two toilets that over 100 of us would be sharing.
There were a few people sitting on their cots chatting to one another at the far end of the tent but even if I did have the communication skills to chat to them I had no interest in being friendly. I walked out of the tent fingering the mobile phone in my pocket, considering calling home and figuring out a way out of the army. Instead I just sat down in an obscure part of the plugah feeling sorry for myself. I wasn’t left to my own devices for very long. Above the cacophony of foreign voices I heard the distinctly familiar sound of my name being called. I looked around for the source and saw a swarthy, dark skinned,soldier wearing a red beret calling me.
I slowly got to my feet and went to find out whether there had been a mistake and I was supposed to be in the Sayeret after all. “Marc Goldberg?” was all he said as I approached him, I nodded and he motioned for me to follow him. He moved around the back of the staff tents to where several tables and chairs were waiting. He introduced himself as my new commander his name was Ran and he introduced himself with a smile. His English was non-existent and my Hebrew was awful but we managed to struggle through a few of the basics.
He wanted to know if I was happy that I had been placed into the Orev and I nodded in the affirmative, worried that if I said no they would simply throw me out of the Paratroopers. He explained that he was one of four staff members who would be training my team during boot camp. He was responsible for half the soldiers in the team and another commander bore responsibility for the other nine. Above him was my Sergeant and above him my officer, beyond the officer I didn’t need to worry. The interview was mercifully brief and at the end he patted me on the shoulder and told me not to worry so much and that it would be ok. I wondered how he had been able to read my mind without it dawning on me for a second that a mere year and a half before he had been sitting in my seat and remembered exactly how it felt to be in a new place and not know anyone.
My officer also interviewed me that day, Ran came to find me and led me to the same table that the two of us had sat at earlier. My officer was a hulk of a man at over 6” tall and rippling with muscles, this was clearly not a person to be taken lightly. He motioned for me to sit down and introduced himself as my officer without giving me his name. “You’re not to talk English anymore” he said and then he went on to tell me to work hard and that he was happy to have me in his team, then he simply stopped talking. The short interview was over. Unlike Ran he never smiled, in fact he didn’t betray a single iota of emotion at all. After an awkward silence I walked away from my interview only for him to call me back and tell me to salute him, after saluting…my officer I made my way back to the hustle and bustle of my new plugah. So far boot camp wasn’t anything like I thought it would be, I had expected a drill sergeant of the kind I had seen in Full Metal Jacket to be shouting at me all the way through instead all I had were Ran’s smiles and my officer’s distance.
The following days were more like a summer camp than the army. Sleeping in tents and running from lecture to lecture, none of which I understood. I didn’t talk to anyone very much at first, it was difficult because of the language barrier but it wasn’t just that. Everyday I watched the new recruits to my beloved Sayeret wander around the plugah with their chins out and heads held high and every day it made me feel like I had failed. They would say things to me like “don’t worry the Orev is good too” and I would despise them for it. If the Orev was so good how come none of them had requested it as their first choice?
There was lots to do in those first days, we didn’t have rifles yet and we were only slowly receiving the tools that we would need in order to fight. Our rifle magazines and equipment were signed for and we spent hours being instructed how to work on them to bring them up to standard, we would have to tape them up and put pieces of parachute cord on them to make it easier to pull them out of the equipment pouches on our battle dress. This was when I began to meet the guys I had been put with and as I met them I slowly forgot my need to belong to the Sayeret and believe in the Orev.
Training in boot camp was mostly divided into a series of 1 and 2 minute missions. We would all sit in a tent with Ran holding a stopwatch. He would give an order saying, “within 1 minute you have all taped up one magazine…go!” There would be a rush around the tent as we all lunged for the tape to get the mission accomplished in the time available. There isn’t any time for shyness in this situation and I became adept at sign language in order to get what I wanted. At the end of each minute we would all be sitting precisely where we had been at the start. If the mission wasn’t complete we could request more time but we all had to be back where we started and sitting in silence at the end of the prescribed time, if not a punishment would follow. At first the punishments were nothing, Ran would simply tell everyone very clearly how important it was to be ready, it was later, once the Sergeant got involved that the punishments would really begin in earnest.