Friday, June 27, 2008

The punishment

On 31st October, 2005 I finally got rid of my clumsy weapon. I handed it over to a newcomer and instead received a regular, lightweight short M-16.

There's a plastic magazine holder that fits this type of weapon, it's called a "banana". I got one of those, only that it's slightly broken and falls off the weapon all the time. I used some tape to thicken the holder so that it would fit in the slot, but it's a bit too thick, so now I had to punch it to make it stick.

On the next day, like every other morning, I cleaned up the base and checked my magazines and flasks for full readiness. I put my vest on and inserted the holder along with a magazine inside the weapon, giving it a light punch.

When the time was up, we all stood in a "U" formation outside the barracks. The commanders were checking our magazines and flasks, just like they always do. When my commander approached me, I gave him all my magazines including the "banana" holder. He checked that one and noticed that a bullet was missing!

If you don't have your flasks and magazines full and you get caught, you can get a pretty bad punishment, depending for example on how many bullets you have missing. If one bullet's missing, you usually get a day or two - staying at the base while all the other soldiers go home. While it might not sound that horrible for someone who gets to see home everyday, for someone who doesn't see freedom for weeks, a day of vacation is a lot!

How come it was missing? I checked my vest, hoping to find a bullet to save myself from being punished, but couldn't find any. I was unable to explain my commander why it was missing.

"it probably fell off on his way here, it happened to Rami as well." - Daniel tried to help me.
"I checked the magazines before... it probably fell off on my way here" - I confirmed Daniel's word in what looked like a desperate attempt to save myself from an inevitable punishment.

Sometimes I forget to check that magazine, because it's always attached to my weapon. Therefore, it is highly likely that it had a bullet missing all along.

I got back to my room, feeling upset. As I sat down on my bed, I inserted the holder back into the weapon when I suddenly noticed how a bullet almost flew out of the magazine! I walked up to my commander and explained him this theory - just before having to join the formation, I checked the magazines and inserted the holder with a light punch. As a result, a bullet flew out of the magazine without my notice. I demonstrated him - as I punched the holder, a bullet jumped and almost got away. He then said: "Use something else. This "banana" isn't good." I nodded.

Since then, I use a rubber band and I check my magazines twice to make sure it never happens again. Does he believe me or will he give me a punishment? Will I get home on the 6th of November?

Days have passed and it seemed like he had completely forgotten about it.

6th November, 2005

We've been on high alert these days, spending most of our days and nights around the howitzers. At 1pm, an hour before the bus was going to arrive, my commander told me and my other teammates to change our uniforms and get ready to leave. We went back to our room to change our clothes.

Earlier that day, Daniel and Ido left the base on an earlier bus and Daniel overheard Ido speaking on the phone and saying that Shay and me are getting a 1-day punishment (we're usually told about such things on the last day, probably because they don't want to ruin our motivation straight away). Shay didn't brush his shoes on one of the days. Ido caught him and told him right away that he'll get a 1-day punishment. Shay's reaction was rather odd - he gave Ido a slap on the face.

I couldn't believe this. "What? He told me nothing! It has to be a mistake..."
"Don't worry" - Sharon was trying to calm me down while we were sitting in the dining room. "There's a military rule that requires the commanders to notify you of the given punishment 24 hours ahead, that is 24 hours before you go home."

We were talking discreetly, making sure no one could overhear our conversation. Rumors spread very quickly around here.

Before we're released home, we have to attend a briefing. One of the officers has to give us a routine briefing before we're released home. Michael was waiting for everyone to arrive. When he noticed me standing next to the other soldiers, waiting for the briefing, he asked my commander which 3 soldiers are supposed to stay at the base. "Rotem, Rami and (IsraeliDiary)" "What? Rotem, Rami and Shay." He repeated: "Rotem, Rami and (IsraeliDiary)", perhaps ignoring what I said.

Nitzan: "But (IsraeliDiary) is here." He pointed a finger at me.
The commander looked at me in astonishment, smiled, pointed his hand at me and said: "What? (IsraeliDiary)? What are you doing here? Don't you have a 1-day punishment?"

I couldn't believe this. It's so embarrassing for him to do something like this. "What? Me?! You didn't tell me anything..."

Michael was slightly amused. He took the commander aside talked to him in private. When they were finished, the commander called me up for a talk.

"After that incident you were supposed to understand that you have a 1-day punishment." (No way. Things never work that way! Commanders inform their soldiers of being punished. Soldiers aren't supposed to guess whether they're punished or not!)

Me: "but how come, I've explained it all to you."
"Yes, but still you had a bullet missing..."
Me: "yes, but it was an accident. You know that I'm a good soldier, I don't neglect military regulations and daily routines."
"Yes, you're a good soldier, but..."
Me: "Why punish me? A punishment is given to someone in order to make him realize he did something wrong and make him want to think twice before repeating the same mistake."
"You'll go home this time.."

On my way home, I tried not to have any eye contact with any of the commanders and officers on the bus. It was an unpleasant situation for us all. When my commander left the bus, he said goodbye and smiled at me. It made me wonder... what if he planned the whole thing, acted stupid to make sure that I won't get punished? Probably not, but you'll never know...

The punishment hasn't been given at all. It could not be postponed due to military rules. My commander left our battery on 18th November and was replaced by a friend of his, a guy who was in our battery for 4 months before he was sent off to the commanders course. His name is Lior.

Had I received the punishment, I would've become hostile towards the officers and the commanders, just like Daniel. It would've had serious consequences on my future in this battery. Either way, that didn't happen.

The past few weeks have been relatively difficult for us. A lot of training, classes and exams. No time for movies or anything of the kind.

14th November, 2005

In the army, when there's news, they're usually BAD news. Not this time, though. Sometimes they have pleasant surprises. Back in May 2005, while I was getting myself dirty working on the howitzer, my commander approached me and said: "get dressed", "huh?", "you're going to trial", "what? why?!", "just kidding! you're attending a memorial of a fallen soldier from our battalion."
As a result, me and some other soldiers got ourselves an extra day at home, since after the memorial they couldn't bring us back the base at the Golan Heights. It was pointless, since we were supposed to get home on the following day anyway.

This time, however, my commander surprised me with different news: "You want to fly to the USA?" He gave me a form to fill up and asked me to return it ASAP. I did.

2 months in the US for free, plus 800$ for spending. 4 soldiers from my battery were given the chance to participate. We'll have some interviews to pass. Who would reject that offer? ;)

* * * * *

For the last few weeks we've been on high alert. Spending cold days and freezing winter nights inside the howitzers, ready for anything. Hezbollah intend to kidnap soldiers. A special infantry force commences day and night operations close to the Lebanese border. We have to be ready, in case anything happens, to provide them with our assistance.

One thing really helped me kill the boredom. I use the cellphone to surf on Wikipedia. Its capabilities amaze me. You can learn so much about pretty much everything. I learned about the history of Germany, Iceland, Faroe Islands, Slovakia, Bulgaria, Lebanon, actors, scientists, national geographic, coca cola, Hezbollah, the Yom Kippur war and so on...

* * * * *

Meanwhile, the Hezbollah were in the final stages of their plan. After months of collecting data on IDF, training gunmen and planning operations, they were ready to strike.

Little did we know that the impending attack was to be launched on 18th November...

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