My Buddy the Israeli Paratrooper
There was this guy, Ron, at my university who was one of those quiet older guys who worked campus patrol and spent a lot of time getting drunk in the campus bar. He was a pudgy, lackadaisical fellow with glasses, stubble, a beer belly, flip flops, and flappy loose pants--basically your run-of-the-mill schlub. So when everyone said he was an ex-Israeli paratrooper who kicked in doors and shot at people, I thought it was horseshit. Sure, he seemed a bit miffed whenever he caught me drinking or smoking in the hallway, but for the most part he was a pretty chill guy. In fact he had a weird, unsettling optimism about everything that, now that I think about it, was probably more of an "I survived a war, so the rest of life is a giant delicious piece of cake with whipped cream and Skittles on top" deal than your standard schlubby bliss. Anyway, I recently decided to ask him about it his time in the army.
Vice: So I hear you were a paratrooper, how’d that happen?
Ron: When you turn 16 you get a summons to a military recruiting station. There you undergo series of tests both mental and physical. At the end you have an interview and from there they place you according to where you want to go (they ask during the interview), of course also taking into account the needs of the army.
Did you tell them you wanted to be a paratrooper?
Yep. I also attended a program where reps from the paratroopers check you out your endurance and write down your name if they like you.
Did you see a lot of action?
Yep. I was in the second Intifada.
Can you tell me about the first time?
It was an ambush in the street, somewhere in Gaza. It was me and seven other guys, we were on foot, going through back alleys. All the windows were closed, then suddenly one swung open and one of my guys yelled to close the window. The response that came from the window was pretty much Arabic for "fuck you". Then we saw a gun in the window. We yell at the guy to drop it, and three other windows swing open. So at this point we finally realize this is a set up. Shots start coming from the windows, we find cover and start taking shots back at the windows. The whole thing lasted no more than 5 to 8 minutes. Eventually they swung a white fabric out the window, and we went into the house and arrested all the men. There were no fatalities on our side. No one was hurt on their end. The only thing that happened was one of the bullets from the windows grazed one of my guys in the shoulder.
How about the parachuting part? Do any of your jumps stand out?
I know it's cliche, but you never forget your first. The guy in front of me refused to jump so the instructor grabbed him by the collar and threw him out. The instructor looked at me and asked if i was going to be trouble. I said no.
Your service stays with you. I ended up seeing a shrink. Because you do reserve duty until you're 40-ish the common experience of going to the army in Israel does help people to cope better. Also, the army is very attentive to a soldier’s psychological needs. Everyone has been through it, everyone can relate.
So me and the doctor talk about the service. Some married guys over there see it as a vacation of sorts from the old ball and chain. While everyone laughs about it, we all also take it seriously.
My only military touchstone for the Middle East is Three Kings. How similar/dissimilar was your service to that?
Well, one guy we searched had a roll of US dollars tucked in his pants around the penis area... we only found out because of he put it in a tin can and attached it to his upper thigh. The metal detectors went ape shit. We also searched a house once and found a guy's porn stash. His wife was not happy. Apparently he claimed he was addicted and was wasting A LOT of money on it.