This post (like most of my posts at this point) is long overdue. Several months ago, the Nahal Brigade sent its lone soldiers from the November ’10 enlistment to a three-week Hebrew course. None of us really understood why they decided to teach us Hebrew in a formal environment after having served eight months in the army. We simply accepted our three-week vacation with a smile.
During this “time off,” I was in touch with Joel Chasnoff. Joel, now making a living as a stand-up comedian, was a lone soldier in the IDF’s Armored Corp in the 1990’s. His book, The 188th Crybaby Brigade, was written about his time in the army; the fun, the hardships and the overall bullshit of life in the army. During our training, this book was passed from soldier to soldier. During each step, we reflected on Joel’s experiences and stories as compared to our own. The 188th Crybaby Brigade slowly became like a bible to some of us.
During his stay in Israel, Joel expressed interest in meeting lone soldiers currently serving. I took it upon myself to try to bring him to base to speak with us as a group. After having to jump through some hoops (damn bureaucracy), Joel came to visit us on base in mid-July. We spent about two hours with Joel listening, talking and comparing stories. We asked him to expand on his experiences and he asked to hear some of ours.
It’s been more than a decade since Joel was discharged from the army. Immediately, one thing became clear to us. It doesn’t matter what unit you’re in – infantry, tanks, artillery – nothing’s changed. During meals in the field, we passed around cans of tuna, corn, olives and chocolate spread, always with a loaf of bread. While American soldiers eat hot MRE’s, we had to earn the right to cook tuna with squares of toilet paper. While on base, we fell asleep during classes, we got yelled at for joking in formation and we come up with things to do in order to pass guard duty.
The truth is that we were screw ups in training. We never stood in formation on time. Never. One day my entire platoon spent an hour and a half doing punishment sprints while carrying kit bags. We could never stop laughing or goofing off or making fun of each other. I can’t count the number of times we were told to shut up during classes, marches or bus rides. The things our platoon sergeant shouted at us just made us laugh harder. No matter what we were doing – punishment sprints, carrying heavy equipment for no reason whatsoever or any generic mission in an unreasonably short amount of time – we always managed to have a good time together. It doesn’t matter what the rough times are, we always helped one another through.
If you’re looking to join the IDF, reading The 188th Crybaby Brigade is a must. Does every story match up to one that you’ll have? Of course not. You’ll have your own unique experiences, just like my friends and I do. But it will help to give you an understanding of life in the army. When you’re thrown into a random group, you bond with the guys. You don’t have a choice, it just happens. You very quickly learn to rely on one another. Sure you get made fun of and laughed at but it’s from the guys who would do anything for you. Yes, they bitch and they moan and they argue over guard duty times but I wouldn’t trade it for anything. Joel has been out of the army for over ten years and he’s still in touch with the guys from his unit. I can tell you that I plan on doing the same. If you want a preview of some things that you’ll face, buy The 188th Crybaby Brigade.