The gates of the unit were now open to us. There was just one right of passage left and that was to have the wings of the unit pinned to our uniforms. It being the Israel Defence Force there was very little pomp and ceremony. A beefy drill sergeant was brought into the unit to go over some of the moves with us for an hour or so. As we practised standing to attention and lifting the rifle up when ordered the reality of the situation hit home. The nightmare of being the failure watching his friends enjoy their moment of victory from the sidelines had never come to pass. The army had thrown everything it could at me and I had taken it all and asked for more. Those fields and mountains I had trudged through with a pack on my back, the endless nights of moving through the desert, lost, sweating, thirsty and so, so tired hadn’t beaten me. I had done it. I had done it and Haim and Yuval and Aviv and Elad and Netanel and Iddo and Elisha and all the others had been with me. And now we were all there together ready to go through the final right of passage together.
We all stood on the small parade ground in the small corner of an army base dedicated to the Paratroopers of the Orev. The base was then and to the best of my knowledge still is home to the Paratrooper brigade. It was where the commander of the brigade (himself a former commander of the Orev), Aviv Kohavi had his office. My family were there sitting in the small crowd with the rest of the families, relatives and friends. There they sat engulfed by the babble of Hebrew being spoken all around them, understanding nothing of what was being said, surprised by the vision of a military so utterly unlike the one they knew in the United Kingdom. There they sat while they watched their son and brother wearing the uniform of the Israeli army, carrying a rifle and sworn to defend his adopted country. I can’t imagine how they felt. They said they were proud, I imagine they felt a great deal more. The ceremony came just days after a suicide bomber blew himself up on a Jerusalem bus killing 23 people and wounding 130 more.
They watched as I was stood to attention, my red beret on my head, rifle in my arm and silver parachute wings on my uniform. My parents sat there in the August heat, smiles on their faces, come to watch their crazy son who had moved to the Middle East and was now being welcomed into the ranks of Jewish warriors pledged to keep their country safe. There were four men stood facing the crowd, one was Green, one was the Captain who had seen us through the year, the third was Coby the commander of the Orev and the fourth was Brigadier General Aviv Kohavi. When my name was called it was to Kohavi I moved first he shook my hand and welcomed me to the Orev. He pinned that small pin to my uniform, shared a couple of words with me and clapped my shoulder nudging me down the line to shake hands with the other three warriors on the podium. When I came to Green he smiled at me and leaned forward to whisper “no one deserves this more than you”.
But what came next was the point of all that training. It was what I had been yearning for. At the age of 24 I had achieved the only ambition I had ever had, I was a Paratrooper in the IDF going to fight for my people.