December 8, 2014
We were only seconds away from arriving at what would be a harsh and straining three days. On the bus everyone was yelling and laughing, fantasizing about what Gadna would be like. As we drove through the army base’s gate, the girls on the bus went silent. No more singing, no more laughing. We reluctantly peered out of the window, as we were faced with our home for the next few days. Several groups of teenagers dressed in army uniform were running around the base. I’m not sure if it was the groups of people running, the khaki uniforms, or the intimidating commanders, but something triggered almost the entire bus to start screaming. Although it was almost humorous to watch the group of traumatized girls scream, I admittedly was pretty nervous too.
The commanders didn’t waste a second. The torture (or army service, depending on who you spoke to) had begun. We lined up as we were strictly given instructions in Hebrew. As we struggled to follow along with the commanders sternly yelling Hebrew at us, we realised it was not going to be easy. After a quick initiation into the Gadna process we learned the routines of making ‘chet’ shapes and running to places in different amounts of time. Several hours of training passed and an hour of free time, and then the shock of a lifetime came to the group of pampered Sydney-siders. Yes, I’m talking about our tents. Twenty beds were lined up on a concrete platform with a single light bulb dangling in the middle of the tent. Our night would entail battles of staying warm, sleeping through the noisy planes passing by and not being able to go to the bathroom once curfew was struck. This army service, whilst it may not have been real, was certainly no joke!
The next day involved running around in the deserted fields and having our every movement fine-tuned to match our commander’s demands. We learnt of many techniques used by the IDF, such as various crawls and walks. I think when our commander threw a rock on the ground and screeched for us to run from the ‘bomb,’ was the first time our group laughed all day. Then, the tipping point came when our field lunch arrived. When met with two loaves of bread, a little bit of hummus and a few avocadoes, we couldn’t help but feel sorry for ourselves. The only thing that stopped us from bursting out crying was the support from our friends, making us laugh whenever we were about to tip. We were then sent off to multiple weapons training classes, as we were taught the ins and outs of the gun that we would shoot at the end of the course. As the entire group came together for the first time of the week, we realised the different approaches each commander had on their groups, and that each group responded differently to each commander.
Wake up came at the crack of dawn as we were commanded to prepare ourselves for the day’s journey in ten minutes. Our year group scrambled into two lines and ran behind the head commander that lead us out of the base. Our first activity was to crawl together through coarse rocky terrain, assisting our friends as they struggled along the way. The commanders stressed that if one was going to help a friend, one couldn’t merely clap them along, but rather had to get down and do the hard work with them. Whilst at the time, the activity seemed tough and grim, I think it was a huge realization of both teamwork and self-potential, as each individual and in turn the entire group, came into their own and began channeling our inner-Israeli strength. Once we hiked our way to the peak of the mountain a sense of pride swept the group. We felt a sense of accomplishment for the first time since we’d arrived at Gadna.
Then, the largely anticipated shooting day arrived. Although a few groups were woken up at 5am to set up the range, everyone was in a cheerful mood. Maybe it was because we were shooting, but it was more likely because it was our last day. We scurried in, eight at a time to take our first shots on an intimidatingly large gun. I honestly was terrified to shoot, however I knew I would regret it if I didn’t put the past days worth of learning into practice. Everyone that did shoot agreed it wasn’t worth being nervous for, and that it rather gave us a sense of accomplishment and taught us the grave responsibility of having a weapon in our hands.
After the closing ceremony and being reunited with our teachers, we were able to reflect on the painful experience we had just endured, and yet somehow couldn’t help but smile about it all. I’m not going to tell you that everyone loved every minute of Gadna, because that would be a colossal lie. However, I think the vast majority of us can agree that we learned a lot from the experience on a number of levels. We acquired a huge appreciation for all IDF soldiers and for the extent of training that all of Israel goes through to be the army they are today. The thought that for us, our army stint was fleeting, fun and short-lived is far from reality for our Israeli counterparts, who at our age start training, practicing and thinking about years worth of army service. We also learned a lot about teamwork, and how far a smile from a friend can go when you’re about to crack. An emotional three days meant wanting to cry just as often as you wanted to burst out laughing and the struggle of staying positive when it was so easy to give up. Gadna was not only an experience in discipline and learning, but it was also one that would hold a strong place in our memory of the IST journey, and one that remains a growing and friendship building time of our lives.