Wednesday, February 02, 2005

Day 7 - On responsibility

Most Olim Chadashim don't do a full army service and when it comes to Miluim generally serve as regular soldiers. I arrived at a slightly younger age than is the norm from the UK and during my compulsory army service, I was one of 5 soldiers from my unit who got sent off to NCOs' course earlier than the rest. There are a few perks to being a mefaked (commander) during Miluim - the one which I'm most pleased about is that I don't do Toranut in the kitchen (which I loathe), but of course with the perks come responsibilities and when you're in uniform the stakes are high.

I was perhaps understandably a little nervous when my Commanding Officer ordered me to prepare a mission to go into the largest of the local neighbourhoods to carry out some check ups in a number of homes on behalf of the Shabak (or Sherut Bitachon Clali - the General Security Service). He made it clear that we weren't going after wanted men as such and therefore it should be a matter of routine with little potential for any problems but this did little to sooth my worries - little potential means that there is still some potential after all.

More stressful was the fact that although the CO would be with me, I would actually be the one in overall command of this particular mission - more usually the job of an officer - but since we were short of officers, I understood that he wanted to check my credentials out - a little flattering I suppose but an honour which quite frankly I would have been happy to forego.

Any time that I set out on a Humvee patrol, I have an immediate responsibility for the 3 soldiers who are with me (as well as a far larger responsibility to prevent terrorists from getting past us) - the first priority is to get the job done properly but of no less importance is to achieve this without anyone (on either side) being harmed in the process. This mission was going to be larger; 13 soldiers, and would involve us being inside a hostile town for an uncertain period of time whilst we got the job done.

Planning for such a mission is carried out taking into account as much detail as possible and with plenty of contemplation of what to do if things were to go pear shaped. The briefing that I gave to the guys reflected this, with everyone knowing precisely what their role was, what equipment they'd need, the chain of command and numerous other details before we set out. It's never possible to cover all the eventualities however and I set out from the base with a degree of trepidation and butterflies in my stomach.

We reached our target without incident - fortunately my navigation skills are pretty good - and got down to the work which we had come to do. My heart sank when I heard a loud bang, followed by more loud retorts - not the kind of sound you want to hear in an Arab town, but I quickly realised that they were fireworks - that we should only know simchas! We finished up in double quick time with little inconvenience to the locals and less than half an hour after we went in, we were heading out again without further incident.

Whilst doing my compulsory service, I always thought that I wanted to go on to become an officer. We sat a battery of tests during my NCOs' course and I'd come out with very good scores but in the end I opted against as I was already 24 years old and wanted to start living properly in Israel. Having been briefly exposed to the pressures of command on this mission, I felt a sneaky sense of relief that I had chosen not to progress - I certainly don't have any problem with taking charge and even feel a responsibility to do so if I'm the best man for the job - but when lives are involved, I'd prefer to leave it to someone else.


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