Gadna; the day had finally arrived. After an early 7am wake up, we all headed to breakfast where a sense of dread hung in the air. People said their last goodbyes to their parents, finished their last substantial meals, and contemplated hiding in their suitcases. However, (un)fortunately we all managed to head to the busses. The rain was splattering against the pavement (an accurate depiction of the current mood) but then a sudden realisation hit me. I realised it was all in the outlook. If I went to Gadna with a positive attitude and a cheery disposition, no matter what I'd have a great time. After that beautiful epiphany, I boarded the bus with a smile on my face.
As soon as we arrived we were welcomed warmly by our Mefakdim (commanders) shouting in our faces, telling us to put on our hats and spit out our gum. After that pleasant experience we were separated boys from girls and taught how we should stand. After a random selection, we were put into groups where we would train together, sleep together, grab food together. We were introduced to our Mefakedet who took down our names and details. To be honest, I was kind of hoping for a Chanukah miracle, where 3 days of Gadna turned a sloppy group of private school kids into a crack commando unit who can run across the harbour bridge in a matter of minutes, carry overweight luggage through Ben Gurion airport effortlessly, and strike fear into the heart of their enemies with just a look. Maybe it was but a hope, but if you will it it's no dream. Or at least that's how I think it goes.
After that we were taught how to march properly. After hopping into a military standardised (chet) formation, we did some more marching. After that, even more marching to really drive home the fact that we were now at Gadna and marching would be making up a good 80% of what we were doing during waking hours. All the groups then joined up in a large chet, where we were promptly yelled at by the Samelet (head of discipline).
There were two Samelets at the camp, and their position was one higher up from the commanders. After many push-ups for moving, talking, coughing, walking, even breathing in the Samelet's precious chet, we went to grab dinner. Dinner was grey mush (possibly hummus), orange mush (either pumpkin or heavily seasoned potatoes) and brown mush (Beef? Lamb? Horse? Not even the chef knows!). We enjoyed our scrumptiously delicious meals and then headed out for a bit of free time before bed.
The next morning after a disgustingly early wake up (5:40am), we all proceeded to the basketball courts where we did some exercise and stretching to warm up. After that we were treated to a breakfast of champions, and got the special privilege of being able to play "Guess what's in the pastry!" (Actually, come to think of it they were actually quite nice). We then went into lesson mode and learned about guns. All the different parts, how to fire them, where to buy them on the dodgy black market (Side note for parents: I'm joking). This was quite eye opening as my previous knowledge of guns was limited to the fact that there were two ends, and one of them you're not supposed to point at people. Although come to think of it I don't think I could quite remember which was which. We were told it was important to learn as we would be firing guns the next day at the range.
After more marching, more lessons, and more standing in chets, we got dinner and went to bed, excited for the shooting the next day. The next morning our wake up was no longer able to be described as disgusting; it was despicable. 5am wake up to get ready early and get to the shooting range. We packed the busses and headed out towards it just before 6am. Once we arrived, we were given breakfast (a few arguably stale bread rolls and a pitiful capsicum) and the groups were numbered in the order they would shoot. We shot second, and as a whole our group did really well. As we were heading back, we were informed that we were on lunch duty. This meant us and another group had to serve the food, take in the plates for the hundreds of people that went through. It sounded fun, we got to miss out on a few boring activities. How wrong we were...
It started at 11:30am. We had finished our own lunch and we were getting ready to serve the masses. Everyone had their own jobs, their own role to play in the running of the kitchen. I was in charge of running the clean cutlery from the kitchen out to the front with everything else. Given it was a muddy day, many people had fallen and hurt themselves doing their jobs, myself included.
When you say you've injured yourself at an army training camp, it's usually expected to be something "heroic". Saying you were shot in the thigh during a shooting exercise is a bit more exciting than explaining that the reason you're limping is because you tripped down a ramp while carrying soup spoons. Nevertheless, we got on with our jobs. After much mopping, cleaning, complaining, a little more cleaning and mopping, quite a bit more complaining, we realised it had been taking us a little over 3 hours and we weren't nearly done. We had been mopping the floors, yet there was still a good 2cm of water staying there. Morale was still somewhat high until a bag of carrot soup split in the middle of the floor. Of course, us being bored out of our brains and wanting a little fun decide to play hockey with the carrot, using our mops as hockey sticks. This was fun while it lasted. A commander yelled at us to stop and keep cleaning (or at least that's what we thought she said). Our Hebrew wasn't great and neither was her English so she could have been cheering us on for all we know.
5 hours into kitchen cleanup and morale had started to dip heavily. 4 of our 22 man cleaning crew had left, 3 had thrown up and 7 had cried. We were broken. After finally accepting that we just needed to get it over and done with, we stepped up our game. We mopped with pride. We cleaned dishes with vigor. We held our heads high. Of course then the head chef said that he didn't like the dishes and that they all needed to be done again. After a few choice words to the head of the kitchen (I almost felt like Moses with the "let my people go" shtick), a smashed plate (apparently you can shatter plastic) and countless shrieks of panic, I realised we had reached the lowest of lows. But we realised complaining would get us nowhere. So we picked ourselves up, dusted ourselves off, and finished our job, 7 hours after we started. We bonded in that kitchen, and the remaining 18 of us will share the trauma of an Israeli chef with a somewhat patchy beard screaming at us in broken English for the rest of our days. However we got through it together. So because of all that, our spirits were raised for the final day of Gadna.
On the final day we had the closing ceremony where certificates were awarded to members of the group for achievement. The ceremony was nice, and just after we got out of our uniforms to board the busses we were allowed to have a quick chat to our commander for the week. We thanked her for dealing with us, and for helping us out. But most of all we thanked her for helping us realise that even when you're down, when things aren't going your way, when you're probably going to have recurring nightmares about Israeli chefs with inconsistent facial hair, that we shouldn't give up. We should get up. Those words have stuck with me and will for some time. Overall we had a tough time but we got through it. And above all, I'm incredibly thankful I got the chance to go.