By Milana Badalov
You go to school every day. You work your butt off to be the best. You succeed. You are the best in your class.
You grow up; it’s time to go to the army. You get a strangely long shortcut and go to university first, but you are always holding in your mind the six years you’ll have to give back to the army. In university, you work so hard that you eventually faint from weakness, which the doctor called “over-exhaustion caused by lack of sleep.” Despite it all, you finish your first year with a smile. Your GPA is close to the one you had in high school.
A month or two before your second year in college you get this innocent white piece of paper in your mail box: “Back-to-Service Order.” You start preparing yourself for the boot camp you knew you’d have to go through. You get ready for it. You buy all the stuff you think you need. You know that’ll last only a month.
On the morning of your quasi-recruitment, you put your uniform on, hoping that you look authoritative. The time is 5:37 a.m. and you’re waiting for your friends at the railway station. You slept for two hours and feel like you’re heading towards the unknown. The thing that everyone else usually does by the age of eighteen, you’ll go through in your twenties.
Passengers pass you by, look at you, and admire you. You feel so proud – now you’re a soldier in the Israeli Defense Force. Your friends arrive, you get on the train, and you take a seat and wait. They talk, they laugh, and they have no worries. You sit there like a stranger, hoping that everything will be alright.
You get to the stated time and place. You go through some bureaucratic paper work and then finally you get on the bus to the camp. The commander sets some rules, don’t do this, do that, blah, blah, blah…. You sit there and wait. You’re doing what you’re told to do, you function. No room for judgment. For two weeks you don’t think, you just function. Suddenly they take you to this place full of ammunition. You are terrified. You think to yourself, “I am a future army English teacher, why the hell do I need to hold a gun?!” You try to stay optimistic, you don’t think about what you’ll soon have to do with this gun. After a long day of running around, you’re dismissed to bed. But don’t you ever forget your gun!
4 a.m. You should hurry up; you have to be downstairs at the roll call in twenty minutes. You manage to get there on time. After that you’re served the junk they call breakfast. You’re heading towards the firing range. Oh my G-d, you’re actually going to activate this heavy piece of metal.
Time passes. It’s already 16:05, and you’re still waiting for your turn. They call your number, so you enter. You put the little pointy bullets into the cartridge, as you were instructed. Now, after about two weeks of hibernation, your brain has started to work again. The first thought you have is that you hold a killing machine in your arms. You can literally hurt someone. These thoughts reinforce your fear, especially when you are so clumsy.
“First five are test shots, ready? On my call, fire!” yells the platoon commander. “Fire!” Everyone expects you to pull the trigger. You hear the sound of the first discharge. Your shoulder hurts as if it was kicked. Your hands sweat. You wonder what the hell just happened and then you realize that you fired your first shot. You pull the trigger another four times. You’re shaking. You feel too much adrenaline in your veins. Your uniform is wet. You are breathless. You don’t like it at all. You continue following the orders of your supervisors. You finish the first round. You go outside and pick a corner to sit in. It’s dark. You remove your bullet proof vest, your M16. You crash on the floor. You start crying.
You think to yourself that no one should feel this terror. You realize that naïve and helpless children must do this right after their school years are over. But you also realize that your country has no choice. If our finest boys and girls wouldn’t protect us, we wouldn’t exist. You sit there all by yourself and think whether it is worse being the shooter or the target. Your only consolation is that in two weeks your life will continue…