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Introduction: : My Inevitable Path to the IDF

Growing up in Israel, it seemed that the path to becoming a combat soldier in the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) was laid out for me from the very beginning. Even as a child, the thought of being a soldier who would potentially face the realities of war was daunting. The tales of heroic fighters who never returned home resonated deeply within me.

Israel, surrounded by adversaries and often faced with internal conflict, is in a state of constant alertness. This isn’t about politics – it’s a fact of life for an IDF soldier, where the probability of engaging in combat or operations is remarkably high.

As a child, I was initially terrified by the prospect of becoming a soldier. But as I grew older, that fear gradually turned into curiosity. I found myself intrigued by what it really meant to be a soldier. While I won’t delve into the details of my preparation and training for the military in this post (that’s a tale for another time, packed with its own set of unique lessons), it was a significant part of my journey.

After 18 years of a life interwoven with the IDF narrative and three dedicated years of rigorous training, I found myself where I had always been destined to be – serving as a combat soldier in Unit 202 of the Paratroopers Brigade.

Brief History: Unit 202, THE PARATROOPER Brigade

Unit 202, (Paratroopers) Brigade, holds a significant position in the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF). Established in 1964, this unit replaced the 28th Brigade, an active reserve force since the Suez Crisis, which was reallocated to form Brigade 55. The leadership of the brigade was entrusted to Lt. Col. Efraim Hiram, with Dan Shomron serving as his deputy.

From its inception, Unit 202 has been at the forefront of Israeli defense, participating in all wars and special operations. They were involved in Operation Samua and the capture of Rafah during the Six-Day War. Their valor was notably displayed in the Battle of Wadi Mabouk in the Yom Kippur War. Other significant engagements include Operation Entebbe, the First Lebanon War and Operation Law and Order, among others.

Unit 202 gained further renown during the Second Intifada. The brigade made a substantial impact by arresting numerous terrorists in the Shechem area, demonstrating its pivotal role in national security. They even succeeded in detaining several underage suicide bombers, such as Hosam Abdu, at the Hawara checkpoint.

The Last Week of Combat Training – War Week

War Week is the final stretch of our training. It’s a tough nine-day test that packs in everything we’ve learned. We do long hikes with heavy packs, practice combat tactics out in the open and in built-up areas, and learn to fight in all sorts of conditions – night, blazing heat, chilly cold,while almost sleeping and yes, some more walking (we walked 180 kilometers in nine days!).

Every soldier has a bag filled with the basics – food, water, a bit of candy, lots of ammo, and strangely enough, heavy rocks. Each bag weighs almost half as much as the soldier carrying it – just like in a real war scenario.

During War Week, there’s a lot of shooting ( i shot like a maniac because my main weapon was a Negev light machine gun), tons of marching and long walks, very little sleep, and a bunch of training exercises in different places and situations.

But War Week isn’t just a name. It’s a test of how well we can handle tough conditions, keep our cool, and use the combat skills we’ve learned.

war week: my personal experience

war week

War Week, believe it or not, was an event I was eagerly awaiting throughout my training. I had read stories about it, and something about the mental challenge and suffering intrigued me. This was my ultimate test of mental strength, inspired by the tenacity of David Goggins, the epitome of embracing discomfort and suffering for self discovery and self respect.

Our War Week happened during winter in southern Israel. At night, the cold was unbearable, and during the day, it felt like summer. This was as bad as the weather could get. We kicked off War Week on a Sunday night. With faces painted and backpacks on our shoulders, we set out into the unknown. The anxiety was in the air, our commanders’ terrifying stories of past War Weeks had seeped deep into our minds.

I was entrusted with the Negev light machine gun, a beast of a weapon, arguably the heaviest carrying, weigthing about 7.6 kg. Its ammunition, four containers each holding 150 bullets, added another 2.7 kg per container. In total, I carried around an extra 20 kg, excluding water, food, and rocks. The first night was a trial, the bone-chilling cold and heavy fog added to the harshness. as we kept walking i started to feel my sockes getting soked and all wet, the more i walked the more i noticed the sound my sockes were mde with each step that i took. After four hours of marching in the wet grass, we completed a drill of fighting and conquering opern areas until 4:00 am. We craved sleep but had to make do with a two hours’ of rest.

The cold and my wet socks had started to take a toll on my feet. Even in my sleep, the numbness and pain from the cold and dampness was all I felt, shivering for 2 hours straight. When I woke up, the sharp pain with each step was a harsh reminder of the task at hand. This was just day two, and my feet were already in a bad shape.

By the end of day two, I saw the cause of my agony. Both my feet had painful warts and fluid accumulation. The swollen, red skin sent shivers down my spine when I touched it. This was a psychological battle, and I was only at the ending of day two. I could’nt have visited the base doctor as the combat medic suggested, this was War Week, there was no going back to base. If a soldier couldn’t keep up, he’d end up on a stretcher, carried by his comrades until the end. With this in mind, I decided to power through.

From then on, each step was more painful than the last, the pain felt so real like i were walking on spikes. The visible limp i had made my teammates offer to carry me on the stretcher. Each time, I refused. I pushed myself, crying in pain but never quitting. The mental strength required was immense. I was supposed to be at the front of the team while walking as a Negevist( negev carrier). Whenever I fell behind, I had to run back to the front. It was a dark place to be in, the pain, the exhaustion, all seemed too much. my friend’s tried to encorurge me or to push me but i was already too deep in the ocean, too deep with my thoghts, too deep in the darkness. I cried out of pain so much but i didnt quit , desperate to finish the week i read and heard stories about for so long, I was afraid of letting myself down. but the voice of david goggins kept wispering in my ear: “what if? what if you can pull this off? to finish war week with feets like that can be your gratest accomplishment, you think you hard? lets see buddy, lets see how hard you are” i bit my lips and kept on walking.

The days moved along, and I cried in a way I never had before, crying out of pain is a different kind of tears. A storm of pain and misery washed over me, unlike anything I’d experienced up to that point. Days three, four, and five were kind of a blur – it’s like my brain was too caught up in trying to deal with all the pain and just keep putting one foot in front of the other.

Day six brought us “the withdrawal to buff lahish”, a relentless 25 km straight walk. I braced myself, knowing the journey would leave my feet bruised, open, and infected. But the determination saw me through. i said goodbye to my feet and started walking. I walked 20 km like a warrior, disconnected from the pain. The last 5 km were agony, I twisted my ankle and fell with each step that I took, my blanace wans’t there anymore. cursing and crying while walking the hardest last 5 km of my life but made it to the end.

We reached the abandoned houses for our 24-hour rest on day seven. I was in dire condition, unable to walk on my own. Despite my state, I was adamant about not returning to base. I had come too far and the end was in sight. Unfortunately, I ended up spending the next one and a half days on a stretcher, i just couldn’t keep up with my team. the platoon leader orderd me to get on the strecher, i had no other choice.

Finally, on day nine, we were at the foot of a gigantic mountain, the last hurdle. Against the advice of the Platoon leader who offerd me to get back right back to base and see the doctor, I chose to climb it. With groans of pain echoing around but determend more then ever to finish this week, I reached the finish line and rode the bus back to base.

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The ordeal was unimaginable. What worried me was the impending beret journey, a 45 km march carrying 45% of our body weight. This was the final challenge to earn the red beret of the paratrooper bridge, and it was just three days after War Week.

the beret journey:

Two days had passed since the end of War Week. To help my feet heal, I received permission to walk in flip-flops until the start of the beret journey. Still recovering from the ordeal, the thought of walking 45 km straight with heavy weight seemed impossible. Despite the struggle, I turned down the offer to walk only 20 km because of my condition. It felt like an easy way out, suited for those with weaker minds. I believed in my mental strength.

So, the beret journey began, expected to last around 10 hours. The initial five hours went surprisingly well. My mind entered a euphoric state, thrilled by the thought that this was the final hurdle of basic training. The prospect of feeling proud of my accomplishments powered me forward. We marched on, transitioning from the darkness of the night into the dawn. The euphoria carried me through until we hit the 30 km mark. Suddenly, the familiar pain returned with a vengeance, almost unbearable.

Despite the pain, I kept walking. At the first light, tears started streaming down my face. As the pain intensified and a sense of desperation began to take hold once again, the tears flowed even more freely. This was supposed to be the best part of the journey, with all the soldiers’ parents cheering us on. While everyone else was laughing and smiling, I was the only one crying, wrestling with the most intense pain I had ever experienced.

In the midst of my tears, I kept on walking and finally completed the beret journey. The pain subsided, replaced with tears of joy. I had done it. No more walking through the pain, no more tears. I received the red beret, and everyone was ecstatic. My family, whom I hadn’t seen in two weeks, were there. They were shocked by my condition. My father saw my struggle to stand and offered to carry me on his shoulders. They noticed the look in my eyes, one they had never seen before. It was a look of survival, a look that spoke volumes about the pain and suffering I had endured.

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take a look at my legs, i can bearly stand in this picture.

When I got home and took off my shoes, my feet were swollen to the point where if I pushed down on the skin with my finger, it wouldn’t bounce back. The imprint of my finger remained. I rested for a solid week, and finally, I was able to walk without pain again. but my feet never really fully recoverd

the Lesson Learned:

In those two weeks, I learned a hard lesson, one that pain imparted in ways words never could. Yet, I will attempt to convey this lesson in words: You are capable of enduring far more than you think. By default, your mind fears pain, but when pain is the only option, your mind has no choice but to adapt to the situation. Each time you believe you’ve given your all, trust me, there’s always more left within you.

It’s okay to venture into dark places and feel uncomfortable, it’s ok to cry and keep on walking. The growth derived from these situations is invaluable. Like the hardened skin on my feet, I developed a metaphorical layer of toughness on my soul and mind. I can bear pain because I’m familiar with it. My mind has already endured an insane amount of suffering. I am no longer a stranger to pain, nor am I a slave to my mind. I’m the one giving orders to both my mind and body.

If I could turn back time, I wouldn’t change a thing. These tough experiences build character and resilience. Listening to people like David Goggins or Cameron Hanes isn’t enough. You must venture out and experience some form of hardship. Only then can you truly understand the depths of your potential.

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