Boker Tov! I’ve had quite an eventful 2 weeks since my last post, so I am going to split up everything into 2 posts, this one focusing on the tryout of the paratroopers, and the latter on all the other stuff. Gibbush Tzanchanim; it finally arrived. The gibbush was on Monday and Tuesday, so on Sunday I returned to Michve and was told by our commander what we needed to bring (although, I only used 1/4 of the stuff I packed). The tryout was held in Tel HaShomar Base, which is located just outside Tel Aviv, so Monday morning 3 full buses departed from Michve Alon at 05:00 with about 150 soldiers all with the same goal in mind, to become a paratrooper. The first two hours once we arrived, we sat around doing absolutely nothing, as the tzanchanim commanders slowly started to arrive one by one, most of them with smiles on their faces. At around 11 o’clock, we were split up into tzvetim, with 40 soldiers in each group. In total, I think there were 9 groups, so if my math serves me correctly, there were 360 soldiers at the tryout (regular Israeli teenagers were also at the gibbush). We headed to lunch around noontime, but before we entered the cheder ochel, we were commanded to fill our canteens ‘od a sof’ (until the end), wait until we received approval from our mefeked (no more mefakedats, all male commanders now), and then we had to chug the 1.5 liters of water. This was the first of many water drinking drills, in the two days we probably drank 20 liters of water. As we were entering the lunchroom, I was struck with shock when I ran into a college buddy of mine, who is serving in “Shesh Shesh Tesha” (669), the elite search and rescue unit. After lunch, my group was assigned to torenut, and given the task to make chocolate sandwiches for everyone’s breakfast the following morning, and cleaning all the dishes from lunch. It doesn’t matter who you are here, everyone has to clean something, even the shesh shesh tesha guys were on torenut cleaning bathrooms, one of the most elite units in the world. I didn’t mind cleaning the dishes, because we were told the 2k run was at 4 o’clock, so 2 other soldiers and I started getting into the competitive spirit in the kitchen, and cleaned those pots like they’ve never been cleaned before.
The 2k run was not held on a simple track but rather on an uphill, downhill, sandy, grassy, and gravely course. Each group of 40 ran by themselves; there was a commander at the 1000 meter mark who was supposed to mark on your hand that you reached the checkpoint, but when you got to him, he just said “Lachzor” (Return). On the 1k run back, you can see everyone at the tryout watching you, cheering you on, but really hoping you fall or quit, so their chances improve on making it into tzanchanim. I ran my 2k in 7:40, which was good but not great. I heard some of the Ethopians ran six and half minutes, which I’m sure I could have beaten if I had my ice skates, and the track was on ice. We relaxed for a couple hours, and then we were split into new groups for the physical tryout the next morning (my group had 23 guys). About 10% of the people were cut for running too slow (I heard 10 minutes was the cut-off), and afterwords we told to report outside in chet the next morning at 3:45. We slept in tents, which was better than I thought it would be, and when my alarm went off at 3:30, I was all pumped up and ready to go. We wore our bet uniforms with our running shoes, ordered to have nothing underneath our uni’s (expect underwear), and had to also wear a hat. We had to drink a full canteen in the morning, which dropped my body temperature a lot, but that would all be soon forgotten.
The commanders that ran the physical tryout for my group were ex-paratroopers (6 guys ranging from the 20s-50s), who were all wearing sunglasses, and seemed like no-nonsense guys. The gave us a motivational speech, and then said they are only going to take the best five guys from this group, so “bahatzlachah” (good-luck). The first part was sprinting, and if you ever played hockey with me, you might remember that sprints are not my forte. We had to run about 20 yards/meters, circle a sandbag, and return to the starting line. Half the time, the first 4 had to yell out their numbers, and the last 4 also had to yell out their numbers. My number was 17, and surprisingly i was yelling out “Shvah-Esrai” almost everytime they asked for the top 4. The sprints lasted for 40 minutes, with only three 20 second breaks, but we were not allowed to drink water or go to the bathroom during those breaks. During the last 10 minutes, the first 4 soldiers had to carry a stretcher with about 200 lbs on the next run, and I somehow managed to finish first or second about 75% of the time, and never finished in the bottom 4. Once we were done, I noticed 5 soldiers quit during the sprints. Next we were told to pick up a sandbag (mine was extremely heavy), close our eyes and hold it above our heads for 15 minutes! I knew it wasn’t going to be for 15 minutes, and I told myself no matter how much it hurt, there will always be an end to each exercise, and “hakol berosh” (it’s all in the head). The commanders kept saying it would not bother them if we wanted to drop the sandbags, stand on the side and rest, trying psyche us out (it worked on 2 guys, haha). After about 5-7 minutes, we were told to drop the bags, and we had a 3 minute break to drink an entire canteen, and go to the bathroom if we needed to. Next was army crawling for an hour, the hardest part in my opinion. When crawling, you had to keep your stomach on the ground, and use your elbows and knees to move (my cuts and bruises are still healing). I never finished in the top 4 during the crawling, but never finished worse than eighth, so I was contempt with my performance there. Then we went over to some monkey bars, and were given the same instructions as the sandbag routine, close your eyes, hang on and don’t let go until we say so. I finished in the top 4, and afterwords my shoulders were so sore. Ludacris was also training for this exercise, though I didn’t manage to bump into him there.
The next exercise was a break from the physical tests, and were given 5 minutes to tell the commanders 5 pros and 5 cons why women should be combat fighters in the Israeli army. I tried acting like a leader, and split everyone up into two groups, and I saw one of the commanders
right write (my English is going downhill, haha) my number down. Then we had to make a map of Israel with anything we could find (which came out excellent), and then the best assignment by far: to make a 3D flying-turtle. Rather than using objects, we climbed on top of each other, and assembled into the shape of a turtle; I was a flipper. Afterwords the commanders told us to close our eyes, because they took a picture of us and were all laughing. But the fun and games came to an abrupt halt when we were ordered to drink more water, and prepare for a masa (hike). But as a nice warm-up, we first did some more army crawling for 30 minutes through rocks, thorns, and sand. I kept telling myself; never stop moving. On the masa, I was carrying the stretcher most of the time, and when we returned back to base, the mefektdem congratulated us and told us we finished the physical part of the gibbush. It lasted 4 hours, and although I don’t think it’s the hardest thing I’ve done in my life, it’s definitely top 10. We were told to go shower and change and prepare for an interview.
My interview lasted for ten, fifteen minutes, and I amazingly did the entire thing in hebrew. They were asking me questions about myself, my family, why I came to Israel, why I want to be in Tzanchanim, etc. I think it went really well, and overall, I was very happy with my performance. I finished everything, and gave the maximum effort and left everything on out in the field. If they pick me, I’ll be really happy, but if not I told them it’s not the end of the world, and I’ll still be happy serving my country; Israel, in another unit. If you have any more questions (future chayelim bodedim) in specific about the gibbush or just in general, simply drop a comment and it would be my pleasure to answer your concerns. Enjoy your yom rishon (sunday) everyone, and for my friends that were in Hoboken yesterday, hope everyone is alive and summons-free.