"C'mon, It's Just an Uzi!": A Personal Perspective on the Israel Challenge Experience
By Ed Nunes-Vaz
Here's a unique trip to Israel for you.
Imagine training in the desert to counter a terrorist attack-advancing from boulder to boulder, taking turns with your comrades giving each other covering fire-with your own Uzi-firing live 9-mm ammunition.
Imagine preparing your face with camouflage paint, then heading out on a night mission-where stealth and speed are a must-in order to snatch critical documents from an enemy camp. To get there you must get through a barbed wire fence, past a guard, scale a cliff and rappel down the other side-all between one and 3 in the morning.
Imagine training to rescue hostages held by terrorists in a bus-over and over until you get it right.
The Israel Challenge Experience is all of this and more. And to ice the cake, imagine that your leader for all this training is one of Israel's finest soldiers-a retired Lieutenant-Colonel from Israel's Special Forces , and a veteran of some of Israel's most remarkable military operations, including Beirut-and Entebbe.
May 16, Frankfurt Airport
Why is 54-year old over-the-hill man from the Diaspora heading off to Israel to learn combat and counter-terrorism tactics? The answer is quite simple. After my first visit to Israel in 1968 I dreamed of moving to Israel and joining the Israel Defense Forces-a dream that never materialized. So, here's my last chance at chasing a remnant of that dream.
And Miriam, my wife of 33 years, has encouraged me to go. She knows-even if she doesn't understand-how important it is to me to do this.
This is what I am thinking about as I wait to board the Lufthansa flight from Frankfurt to Tel Aviv.
May 16, Jerusalem
Ben Goldstein, co-founder and my initial contact for the Israel Challenge Experience, meets me at the airport as promised. He looks me right in the eye. His handshake is firm. The vibes are good. We take the new highway to Jerusalem. Beautiful, rugged terrain. It inspires.
Ben drops me off at the corner of Ben Yehuda and King George V. He tells me he will pick me up at about 8:15 tomorrow morning for the ride to the base and the beginning of the program.
I check into the Lev Yerushalayim Hotel across the street, then went out for a stroll on the Ben Yehuda Mall. The masses of people make this a preferred target for terrorists. I look around. The people are not afraid. They are going about their business, enjoying their evening walk, relaxing at cafes, eating ice cream. I stop at the corner of Luntz and Ben Yehuda, sit down on a bench and survey the vibrant scene. Security is everywhere, but neither obtrusive nor oppressive. I find the scene moving.
I get a pita and falafel, walk back to the hotel and call it a night.
May 17, Base (near Netanya)
Ben picks me up the following morning as planned. On our arrival at the base we all meet each other-the group comprising the inaugural Israel Challenge Experience. David R, 58, is a lawyer in Dallas. Larry R, 49, runs a big game hunting enterprise out of Seattle. Sam G, 20, is a university student in Tennessee. David Goldstein, 52 is a rabbi and paramedic with Magen David Adom in Jerusalem. And his nephew Ben Goldstein, 28, is a Sergeant in the Givati Brigade in the I.D.F.
We are introduced to our instructor for the week, Shai Ish-Shalom. He issues us our uniform, our army vest that carries everything from bandages to a flashlight to extra gun magazines ('eh-fod' in Hebrew)-and our Uzi.
We are ordered to have the Uzi with us at all times-in the bathroom when we shower, in our bed when we sleep, in short, everywhere.
After changing into our uniforms and picking up our Uzis, Shai calls us to attention in front of the flagpole outside our quarters. We watch as the flag of Israel is raised. For me that moment standing to attention in uniform in Eretz Israel with the flag waving proudly against the blue sky is frozen in time. I will never forget it.
Lunch is served. The cafeteria on the base offers magnificent views of the hills to the north and east and the Mediterranean to the west. The idyllic scene is suddenly punctuated with gunfire from another group training nearby on the base. This snaps me back to the reality of what I am here for.
After lunch it's down to business. A remarkable adventure-far more than any of us had bargained for-is about to begin.
At 5:42 p.m. today I fired an Uzi for the first time. But what happened before and after was-or is-far more important.
Shai spared no effort on preparation before allowing us to use real bullets. Take the gun apart-first the cover, then the spring loader, then the barrel-and put it back together. Over and over until it seems like we have known how to do it our whole lives.
Then prepare. Step forward, back foot at 45 degrees. Raise the gun towards the target that is some 20 yards away, and cock to check the open bolt for bullets that might be stuck. Point the gun forward and pull the trigger. Then step back and lower the gun. And then again and again-until we get the stance and cocking action just right.
Before moving to live ammunition Shai explains: "The gun is not your goal. You kill the target with your eyes. The gun is simply a part of you. Don't surprise the bullet, let it surprise you. Squeeze the trigger gently. Don't take the finger off the trigger until the magazine is empty."
Now we are ready. Take 2 magazines. Fill each with 9-mm bullets. Load one into the Uzi, put the other one in your eh-fod.
Then remember. Body: Front leg out, raise gun with stock into shoulder, elbows tight. Gun: Cock. Fire until the magazine is empty. Cock aggressively and check the chamber. Remove the empty magazine, replace with the full one, fire until empty. Cock and check the chamber again, take out the magazine, fire towards the target once more to make sure it's empty.
I'd forget to cock, forget to pull out the magazine. Shai looks at me. "Ed, you are thinking too much. Just do it. It's not so hard. C'mon, it's just an Uzi!"
Fitness tests followed in the early evening - a timed 1000 metre run, chin-ups, dips, and as many sit-ups as you can do in 2 minutes.
Then supper, but the day was far from over. At about 8:30 night training began. We broke into 2 groups to practise night flanking attacks. Speed and stealth were the order of the moment. Shai wasn't easily satisfied. Nor were we given allowance for the fact that this was our first day, the majority of us were over 50 and had our clocks out of sync with a 9-hour time difference we had just bridged.
Soon we saw that Shai made no further demands on us than he would make on himself. "You have no idea what you are capable of until you are pushed to the limits," he told us. "You will surprise yourself."
We did not know it yet, but truer words were never spoken. The Israel Challenge Experience was going to be far more challenging than I had imagined.
The night maneuvers were followed by a debriefing-what we had done right, what had gone wrong. The day's work was over by midnight.
May 18, Base
Up at 6:30. Light calisthenics followed by breakfast. We loaded our Uzis and got to work. All morning we worked on countering a terrorist attack in open field conditions. We split into 2 groups of three. Shai yells at the first group signaling that it is under attack. Run, dive for cover while cocking the Uzi and keeping the gun out of the sand. Start firing, empty the Uzi, change the magazine, aim and fire one bullet at the target from the next magazine, your comrade gives covering fire as you advance to the next cover, aim and fire, get up, run. Stop. Body, gun, aim and fire. Run, stop, aim and fire. Get to target, finish it off. Down on one knee, cock, take out magazine. Then back. And we repeat the exercise again. Then back. And again and again. And don't forget to drink lots of water. It's hot out here.
The afternoon was very full. First to the pistol range where we were taught the body position and mechanics for firing a pistol, then we practised firing a CZ75.
Afterwards we were introduced to Avi Avisidon, who trained us for a few hours in 'Krav Magen', a unique martial developed by the Israel Defense Forces. What impressed me most about Krav Magen is the extreme economy of movement. Avi kept reinforcing the point that if someone attacks with a weapon, the attacker is focussed on the weapon. Neutralize the weapon, then you neutralize the attacker. Example, Avi handed me a toy knife, put me in the position of having one arm around his neck and the toy knife to his throat. I should add that I am quite strong and in very good physical condition in my own right. I figured I had him. If he moved, I would simply apply the knife to his throat.
Was I ever wrong! In a split-second Avi had gotten the knife away from his throat, disarmed me, and had my arm twisted over my back. I asked him to show me how he did that-in slo-mo. He did so. No question-once I lost my weapon, my focus was gone and I was at his mercy.
No one is going to learn in 2 hours. Avi, a Seventh Dan Blackbelt, has been studying it for 33 years-and is still learning. He is responsible for training many of Israel's Special Forces in this unique discipline.
Anyone seeking further information on Krav Magen can visit the website at www.kami.org.il or contact Avi by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
After supper we gathered around Ben for a lecture on night camouflage. Ben is a sergeant in the Givati Brigade with some 8 years experience. The point he stressed was not to necessarily make yourself as dark as possible, but to blend in with your surroundings in the dark.
We were then divided into 2 squads of 3 men each. Our squad was assigned the task of capturing an enemy position. The other squad was assigned the task of defending the objective. We were given 30 minutes to complete the mission.
The objective in question was at the confluence of 2 sandy pathways within a well-forested area. Our plan depended on planting Sam G within a few yards of the objective under the cover of darkness and the forest. I was to flank from the opposite direction and come as quietly as possible through scrub brush down a hill. Then when David Goldstein yelled for me, I was to come charging down to create a diversion that would allow Sam to walk in and secure the objective.
Everything went wrong. First, Sam learned first-hand the lesson Ben had taught about blending in. He had painted his entire face black, so his face stood out like a gleaming coconut in the moonlight. He was 'killed' immediately. Then David was 'killed' by an alert member of the other squad. That left me waiting for a signal that was not going to come.
I looked at my watch. 12 minutes left. I knew that something must have gone wrong.
I started moving slowly down the hill until I got within 30 feet of the objective. I started to feel an adrenaline surge. I looked around. I couldn't believe it! Nothing, nobody! I got up, ran into the objective, was about to let out a triumphant 'whoop'-but fortunately I checked first.
I had secured the wrong objective!
I looked around to get my bearings. The real objective was some 40 yards further down the path. I then got down and began to crawl while cradling my Uzi in my elbows so that the barrel would stay out of the sand. I hugged the side of the path, staying out of the bush at the side because of the noise that would make. The back of my battle helmet was rubbing against the top of my eh-fod as I was crawling, making a creaking sound. Much too loud. I tried to move my head forward, but that didn't work. Surely, the enemy would hear me.
Nothing yet. I slowed my crawl as I got with 10 yards of the objective-the right one this time. I stopped. My heart was pounding. I heard stirrings, muffled voices. I looked at my watch-less than 2 minutes. I continued crawling until I was within 15 feet, expecting any moment to be 'killed'.
Still nothing. I heard voices clearly. I couldn't believe that nobody had seen me yet. I quickly got up and ran into the objective 'firing' my (empty) Uzi. I caught the defenders by surprise-and we won!
After 10 PM we went back to our building for a BBQ on our front porch. In the debriefing over dinner Shai explained that this mock situation is often replicated in real battle. Namely, things go wrong. The situation in the field changes. Adapt and improvise.
May 19, Base
Up at 6:30. Ben led a morning jog with a stretcher. Each of us took turns lying on the stretcher while the remaining 4 each took an end.
After breakfast Shai got out the blackboard and laid out in detail what goes into planning a military operation.
GOAL - What needs to be achieved
BACKGROUND - Why (to be kept brief)
MISSION - The role of our unit in the greater picture. Here Shai stressed that there are often several units participating in an operation, each with its own mission. It is important that each unit knows its own role, but not be burdened with unnecessary information pertaining to the role of other units
INTELLIGENCE - What is known about the area and terrain (topography, waterways, hills, trees, rocks, desert), enemy forces (numbers, how well trained and armed, deployment, expected resistance), our forces (where and when we can expect help, and equally important, avoiding 'friendly fire' incidents)
SCHEDULES - What must be done when-split-second timing is crucial
WEATHER - Weather conditions must be utilized to one's advantage. For example, to attack from a point where the enemy is looking into the sun
ASSESS ENEMY OPTIONS AND INTENTIONS IN DETAIL
WITH REFERENCE TO THE ABOVE, ASSESS OUR OPTIONS IN DETAIL
Now one is ready to test plans and assumptions with a WAR GAME. Shai always use his second-in-command to lead the 'enemy' forces in the war game because he knows the plan will be intelligently and thoroughly challenged.
FINALIZE PLAN - However, back-up plans are established in the event conditions change in the field.
In the Israel Defense Forces all officers, regardless of rank, have the right-indeed, the duty-to question the plan up until the moment it is final. However, once the plan is final, the orders are carried out without question.
The morning training was capped off with 2 more hours of Krav Magen with Avi. After lunch it was to the firing range. We had the opportunity to experience the firing of different weapons-the Galil, AK47, M16, Benelli and Remington. I find the M16 very 'user friendly'-uncomplicated to operate with excellent sights. The Kalashnikov recoils very strongly. We were told that if you are firing the Kalishnikov correctly, you will have a bruised cheekbone. I must have been firing it correctly…
In the late afternoon we were off to the paintball field. It is set up to mimic an urban combat theatre. We were divided into 2 squads for a couple of games of Capture the Flag. Here we were given the opportunity to put into practice tactics of attack and giving covering fire that we had already learned. It's not often that one has the opportunity to play paintball under the supervision of one of Israel's elite soldiers!
The point of this exercise was to secure an objective within a simulated urban combat setting. I found myself so busy trying to shoot the enemy while avoiding getting shot myself that it was difficult to focus on securing the objective (the flag). I can only imagine how magnified this problem becomes in real combat.
The day had been full. But it was not over. After supper it was back to the firing range to continue working with the Uzi. Body, gun, shoot. Body, gun, shoot. Change magazine, body, gun, shoot.
By 10:30 we were back at our porch where Shai debriefed us on our performance at the paintball field.
The day's work was now done.
May 20, Base
Shai woke us up this morning at 6:40 a.m. with a very gentle 'Boker tov'. Such gentleness from such a fierce warrior. Funny to say, it did not seem out of character. The man has a very gentle side to him-just not when he's fighting terrorists!
"There will be no communal exercise this morning," Shai advised. "Just have breakfast and be ready in full combat gear by 8 a.m."
What gives? We finished an hour earlier yesterday, get a later start today. No, I'm not complaining.
This morning we practised taking out 'michablim' (terrorists) hiding among bystanders. There were 3 life-size cardboard images of people-the terrorist, with a bystander on either side. The drill never changes. Body, gun (cock), shoot. Empty magazine. Down on one knee keeping the terrorist in sight, new magazine, cock, fire one shot. Then run up closer, empty the magazine, cock and shoot 3 times (for safety- sake) throw the Uzi over the left shoulder and in a split-second take out the CZ75 pistol from the eh-fod while changing stance.
At this point you might be asking: "Is all of this fun?" Good question. At the time I am not thinking 'Wow, this is fun!' in the conventional sense. What I would say is that every live fire exercise, particularly ones where we are on the move, as well as the war games, are accompanied by a huge adrenaline rush and a feeling of accomplishment when you get it right.
We went back to our cabin. We were about to break for Shabbat, but Shai told us to sit down at the table on the porch so he could talk to us for a few minutes. "I want to talk about safety. If any of you see anyone of us doing something unsafe that we are not aware of-and you say nothing-and something bad happens, your conduct is not negligent, it is criminal. Let me emphasize this-not preventing a tragedy when you can is criminal.
"Now you have a break in the program. Your mind and body can now relax. But when you get back here Saturday night, you will have to get your mind adjusted again. Things have been happening and by the time you get back, we will probably be sending you out on a special mission.
"Don't think you will have forgotten everything. You will only need 10 minutes of practice to get it back. Focus on what you will have to do and everything will be 'be seder'.
May 21, Jerusalem - Base
The program has pushed me to levels of endurance I never knew I could sustain. I had figured that I would be journaling my thoughts and feelings everyday. Fat chance! When you are on the go from early morning until late at night, you are left with little opportunity to do anything else.
By the time we got to Jerusalem yesterday, I was exhausted. I slept for the entire car ride from the base. On our arrival at the Lev Yerushalayim I slept for 3 more hours.
In the evening the 6 of us walked to the Kotel, where we were greeted with an incredible sight. Throngs of Chasids dancing and singing, their small children wandering around with no concern-either on the part of the children or the parents-of being lost.
Their enthusiasm was infectious. I started to feel energized just watching them.
We ended up doing a circle. We had arrived at the Kotel via the Shuk, then returned following a route through the Jewish Quarter, briefly through the Armenian Quarter, then climbing over 150 stairs until we emerged by the Police Station at the pre-1967 border with Jordan (still marked by bullets fired by the Jordanians).
Ten more hours of sleep last night and I was a new man today. After breakfast I went for a walk along the Ben Yehuda Mall-a vibrant mass of humanity during the week, but resembling a ghost town today on Shabbat.
It is good to be alone with my thoughts for a few moments. I think of our commander, Shai Ish-Shalom. His last name literally means 'Man of Peace'. At first the name might not seem to fit this warrior. But it is appropriate. Shai's face reveals a classic sabra-toughness, blended with warmth and humanity. "The key for being a good soldier," he says, "is to be aggressive. This doesn't mean, 'Be violent'. It means being proactive and focussed on the job at hand and confident about the future, not worrying about past problems and mistakes. Confidence comes from knowing things will turn out well. Knowing things will turn out well comes from being prepared."
A formula applicable to more in life than just the I.D.F.!
Shai has experienced a lot in his 50 years-Entebbe, Tunisia, Lebanon. He finished his military career as a Lieutenant Colonel in the Special Forces. He then went into Intelligence Operations-something he still won't, or is not allowed, to talk about.
His military career has left its scars-both physical and emotional. He was wounded 4 times in the line of duty. And to this day Shai cannot sit in a restaurant unless his back is to the wall and he has first checked the alternative accesses. In hotels he never rides the elevator.
The one thing that all my fellow-participants and I agree upon-we are lucky to have Shai Ish-Shalom as our commander and teacher. Sergeant Ben Goldstein told us that he has learned all kinds of things from Shai that he had not been taught in 8 years with the I.D.F. If we were ever to go into battle, we would want Shai leading us. He inspires trust. The man has integrity. He will not demand more from you then he demands from himself. He will endeavour to fulfil the mission-and bring all his men home alive.
It was with these thoughts that I returned from my walk to join the guys for lunch. Just what the doctor ordered. The 6 of us kicked back, shared a lot of stories and laughs. It was a key moment for us in bonding as a unit. Then with Shabbat drawing to a close, David R and I went for a walk. The city was showing signs of emerging from its day of rest. When we got back to the hotel, we all had supper together, packed up and boarded the van for the 1½-hour ride back to the base.
We got there at 11:30 p.m. Shai was waiting. His greeting was terse: "You have 20 minutes to be ready in full combat gear and camouflage for a mission."
Twenty minutes later we were given our orders. We were to rescue an Israeli agent being held in an enemy camp. Anybody who was wounded and could not be evacuated readily was to be left behind. Israel would disavow any knowledge of our existence, but our families would be well looked after.
We were issued loaded paintball guns. We set out. The route to the enemy camp involved a circuitous march through bush, hills and sand dunes in order to launch our attack from a less defended flank. We cocked our guns and entered the camp with as much stealth as possible. We listened, looked, the hair on the back of my neck was standing. Something wasn't right.
I got my answer. We came under attack almost immediately. Had something-or someone-given away our position?
Immediately we had to improvise. The plan had called for 2 lines of advance-one to the right and one to the left. However, as the attack came from the left, the left line (which I was a part of) had to move for cover to join the guys on the right. We were now advancing in a single column, leap-frogging from building to building, giving covering fire for each other.
In the end we rescued the agent and escaped with one wounded, whom 2 of us carried out.
We got back to our porch, where Shai debriefed us, and we discussed with each other what went right and what did not. Over a late evening snack Shai told us to be ready for a much more difficult mission the following night.
We got to bed at 3:15.
May 22, Base
I hardly slept. The adrenaline wouldn't stop pumping. My mind kept spinning from the action of the wee morning hours.
Our wake-up camp before 7:30 a.m. After breakfast David Goldstein gave us an introduction to basic first aid. Then it was down to the range to learn the tactics for rescuing hostages on a bus. Yes, the base is equipped with an old bus for this purpose.
This is a highly difficult task, fraught with myriad risks and complications-in Shai's lexicon, a "higher form of fighting". Over and over we practised the fundamentals of storming the bus, 4 of us at a time. Jump aboard, 2 head to the front of the bus, 2 head to the back. Each twosome advances back-to-back, using the pole in each row of the bus to swing around with the gun extended outward to shield our bodies while enabling us to shoot any terrorist hiding behind one of the seats. On to the next row, grab the pole, swing around, until the entire bus has been cleared.
Then, with live ammo we practised in groups of 3 responding to a terrorist attack on a bus that we are riding in. One guy takes the rear window and starts shooting at the terrorists, giving covering fire for the other 2 guys who get out of the bus to press the counter-attack. Body, gun, shoot several rounds, go closer, fire until the magazine is empty, down on one knee, remove the magazine, finger-check, cock, pull the trigger to make sure it is empty.
A key point in Israel military doctrine has become apparent. When you are put on the defensive, your response is designed to immediately put the attackers on the defensive. As Shai says: "At all times be aggressive."
After lunch Shai gave us a talk about personal security and the use of our instincts. Shai wanted to illustrate that a soldier's survival depends on developing his senses-and a sixth sense. "Listen, smell, look and feel." To illustrate the point, Shai played an interesting game with us. One of us would leave, Shai would hand a pistol to one of the remaining 5, all of whom would then place their hands behind their back. The one who had left would now come back and use his senses-looking at the faces and body language of the other 5-to determine who was holding the pistol behind his back. Amazingly, every one of us was able to identify the right guy-after less than a week of training.
Lesson learned. Let your senses and 'gut' guide you. They don't often lead you astray.
After lunch we are taken down to the shooting range to be put through a timed test involving much of what we learned this past week. First we each fill 2 Uzi magazines with 10 rounds each and one CZ75 pistol magazine with 5 rounds each.
The test begins with a one hundred-metre sprint followed by 20 push-ups. Then go down a line of 5 Uzis, pulling each one apart and putting it back together. Then load a magazine into the Uzi closest to you. Body, gun, fire at the target until empty. Down on one knee keeping a constant eye on the target, replace the empty magazine with a full one, fire at the target until empty, throw the Uzi over your shoulder, take out the pistol, load the magazine, get into pistol stance, cock, fire until empty, pull out the magazine, finger-check, cock, pull the trigger 3 times, done.
We then practised clay pigeon shooting-for practice hitting moving targets that is more often than not what one must do in real battle. This was very difficult. Three of us hit one pigeon, one got 2, and 2 others hit 6 each.
We got back to the cabin at 6 p.m. Glory be, we are being given 1½ hours to rest before supper-and the main mission that is coming up afterwards. I went straight to bed…and thought only 5 minutes had gone by when I was woken up 1½ hours later.
And what a mission that final night held in store for us! We had to capture a CD in an enemy compound containing the names of members of a terrorist organization. Unlike yesterday's mission, nobody was to be left behind. Wounded were to be evacuated at all costs. The planning started at 9:00 p.m. We set out at 9:45.
A car dropped us off on a sandy road about a kilometre from the objective. Shai led the way, his hand ready to draw his pistol at any moment. We had learned that the quietest way to walk was heel down first to minimize the noise of crunching gravel underfoot. Shai would signal to us when to take cover.
When we approached road junctions I was sent ahead to check for enemy forces. I remember moving slowly forward on these occasions with sweat rolling down my face-not from heat but from nerves. The adrenaline was pumping overtime. Rarely had I felt so alone as when I moved forward at these moments. Every ounce of me was on the alert, checking left and right, trying to rely on the sixth sense for anything that might be amiss. I'd get to the road junction, look around, and make doubly sure. Only then did I signal to the guys that all was clear and they could join me.
We had to scale a cliff, take out an enemy guard at the top, then each of us had to run in turn across an open field, where we were then to take turns rappelling down the other side of the cliff to approach the objective. Yes, a couple of us were nervous about the rappelling. However, as it was part of the mission and everybody else in the unit was doing it, we were more afraid of not doing it and letting our comrades down. (In the end, the rappelling was a lot of fun-I would like to do it again sometime!)
Once we had rappelled to the bottom, we were within 150 yards of the objective. My job was to run quickly to the corner of the building where intelligence had said the CD is located and take a position outside to watch the road for enemy movement while 2 of the other guys went into the building and took the disc. This part of the operation went smoothly. But now we had to get out. This is where we ran into trouble.
We were about 50 yards from getting away cleanly when we saw the night sky being lit up by the approach of an oncoming vehicle coming from around the bend. There were no natural hiding spots on the road. We were deep in a valley with no bush or boulders to jump behind. We had just passed an abandoned shed. "Quick," Shai commanded in a loud whisper. "In here! Hurry up!"
David Goldstein, who was ahead of me, wasn't moving quickly enough for Shai. Shai grabbed him and hurled him inside. I was right behind David. Shai grabbed me quickly and hurled me against the far wall of the shed to make room for the remaining 4 of us, who all made their entrance into the shed in the same unceremonious fashion.
The oncoming vehicle had now come around the bend. With Shai's able assistance, the last of us had made it into the shed just in time. The vehicle approached our position slowly, warily, and came to a stop about 20 yards away. We heard the door open and close. The vehicle's motor was still running.
"Mahmud! Mahmud!" The driver of the vehicle called. And again, with more urgency, "Mahmud! Mahmud!"
He was calling to the guard that we had taken out at the top of the cliff. No answer. He would be calling for reinforcements any moment!
"Quick, guys!" Shai commanded. "Attack him! Get out there! Attack!"
We bolted out of the shed. Body, gun, fire! Run closer. Body, gun, fire! We got up to the vehicle. The 'enemy' lay 'dead' beside it. We sustained one wounded, whom one other guy and I evacuated to safety. *
It was about 1:45 a.m. We went back to our porch. Shai debriefed us. Overall, he thought the mission had gone very well. By 2:30 we were in bed. Not even the adrenaline could keep me awake this night.
* Obviously live ammunition was not used
May 23, Base
Last day. Can't believe it's only been a week. All the guys agreed that with all we have done, it seems that at least a month's worth of activity has been crammed into this program.
Shai got us up at 7:30. After breakfast we went down to the firing range one last time to get our first and only taste of firing weapons on full automatic. We took turns firing Mini-Uzis, M16's and Kalishnikovs. One quickly must adapt to the fact that a gun on automatic has a tendency to pull up high. At first I was overcompensating by firing too low.
The Mini-Uzi, in particular, fires very quickly. Holding the trigger in for one second will release about 12 bullets. Miss with the first bullet with a Mini-Uzi on full automatic, you will also miss with the following 10. By the time you hit the target, over half of the 25 bullets in the magazine will be spent. A real life lesson in the advantage of firing on semi-automatic!
At lunch we were presented with an I.D.F. combat knife engraved with "I.C.E. Army 2005" and 2 certificates of achievement in Tactical Combat and Counter-Terrorism Training-one from the Israel Challenge Experience and the other from the Israeli Center for Security Instruction at the base. Then we all went back to the cabin, packed up, took each other's addresses and phone numbers and readied ourselves to go our separate ways.
It was over.
May 23, Epilogue
I was heading for Netanya at the end of the program. Shai, who lives near Netanya, was kind enough to offer to drive me there.
The trip to Netanya was memorable. Shai Ish-Shalom represents the very essence of what Israel and in particular, the 'sabra', is about-toughness and sense of duty tempered by warmth and kindness, brutal honesty without the brutality, reverence for life, but knowing when he must kill. The point is, if all men were Shai Ish-Shaloms, there would be no need for killing.
I learned a lot about him during the trip to Netanya. Above all, Shai is humble. He finished his 4 years of military service with the rank of Lieutenant and then went into the civilian sector. As he kept coming back for reserve duty, his superiors recognized his abilities and kept pushing him forward until he finally retired from the I.D.F. as a Brigade Commander with the rank of Lieutenant-Colonel. He then went into intelligence operations.
I have no doubt that if the military had been Shai's only interest, he would have ascended into the ranks of the General Staff. But this was not the case. After completing his 4 years of military service, he went to university and obtained a degree in Agriculture. After working in agriculture for a few years, Shai went back to university and obtained a Master's degree in Social Work. He then worked as a therapist.
"I have a strong faith in human potential, " Shai says. "Most people can achieve whatever they want. If they cannot do something, or believe they can only do something poorly, it's because something happened early in their lives to make them believe that about themselves. People can overcome that and push themselves to greater and greater achievement."
It will take time for all of my thoughts, feelings and memories from this unique experience to settle into full coherence. In fact, the process might never be complete. Some tangible memories will always be there. In addition to the certificates and the combat knife, one gets to keep the I.D.F. uniform, the dog tag and the Israel Challenge Experience T-shirt that are issued on the first day. Participants will also receive a DVD filmed throughout the program that will allow them to relive their adventures.
I am proud to have been a participant in the inaugural Israel Challenge Experience program. It was indeed challenging, pushing me beyond what I thought were my limits. But the satisfaction and bragging rights at the end made it worth every cent of the US$3,600 fee. **
And in the future, when I am having trouble with something, I will see Shai Ish-Shalom standing there saying, "C'mon, Ed, it's just an Uzi!" I will smile-and the task at hand will become easier.
** For further information on the Israel Challenge Experience and upcoming programs, visit the website at www.icearmycamp.com. Or call 1-877-247-4999