Post 18: Becoming a Soldier

Yesterday I officially became a soldier in the Israeli Defense Forces. For Israeli’s on this day, they say goodbye to their families, go through the bakoom (the army’s processing center), and are bussed in uniform to their base. For lone soldiers on Garin Tzabar, we still have a couple of weeks before we will report to our bases. Many of us, myself included, still have a number of tryouts and interviews to undergo before we find out where we will ultimately end up.

As some of you may know I have been battling the army recently; they want me to go to an army Ulpan and I want to go to Yom Sayerot, or special forces tryouts. Thus I have a new goal these days when I’m on army bases: Before I leave, I try to make sure the highest ranking officers that we encounter remember my name. You’d be surprised how many people you have to annoy to achieve this.

I adopted this strategy when we visited the bakoom about 3 weeks ago to learn about what we would be doing yesterday.  A number of people addressed us there, including a Colonel (who is the brigade commander of Nahal, in charge of over 5,000 soldiers) and a lieutenant Colonel who chooses who attends Yom Sayerot. I chased down both of them during the course of the day. The Colonel told me to fax him a letter explaining my situation and he’d see what he could do, and the Lieutenant Colonel told me to speak to her commanders. Her commanders, situated outside the lecture hall where we heard the day’s speeches, quite simply did not know what to do with me. Their job was to instruct people what units they could end up in via Yom Sayerot, not how to get into Yom Sayerot if the army wants you to take a language course.  I spent the day with them. After every speech I was back at their table with questions, pushing for the chance to speak to their commanding officer, the Lieutenant Colonel. I even ate my lunch with them to drive home the point that I wasn’t going anywhere. Finally, at 3 PM after the last speech, I had worn down their resolve. They called the lieutenant colonel and put me on the phone with her. I explained to her in Hebrew that my grasp of Hebrew was very good, that I had understood everything that was said to us that day, and that there was no reason one soldier’s opinion of my language skills on my initial Hebrew interview should prevent me from pursuing my dream. She agreed that my Hebrew was good enough and told me that she would try to push my name through the system. I still wanted to clear it with the Colonel, though, just to make sure things went through as they were supposed to. Nearly every day of the next week I faxed the Colonel a letter explaining my situation and begging for the chance to attend Yom Sayerot. I will never know which letter or which request succeeded in getting me what I wanted, but about a week later I learned that my name was on the list for Yom Sayerot.

As a note to those of you that are coming here to join the army, as Alec Baldwin once stated in a movie, “It takes brass balls…” When people tell you in regards to the army that something is impossible, that simply means you haven’t tried hard enough. And when they tell you that there is “no chance,” what they’re really saying is that they can’t help you, but somebody else can. Your job then becomes to find that someone else. Without having ever fired a weapon or even donned an IDF uniform, I have all ready learned an incredible lesson from the Israeli Army. If you want something, never, never, never give up on it. If you push hard enough, you will succeed. It’s only a matter of time.

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About four days ago, I was told that my name was off the list for Yom Sayerot. Welcome to the Israeli Army. That brings us to my day at the bakoom. Another day on an army base, another chance to get back on the list.

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We arrived at the processing center, known by Israeli’s as “the bakoom,” at around 9:30 in the morning and began checking in. First they lined us up and started yelling at us, mostly to drive home the point that we were now in the army. We were told to check our bags, sunglasses, jewelery, and phones and line up when we were finished. From there we were each given ten stickers with our names and army ID numbers for each of the ten stations: Army ID picture, finger prints, teeth photography station (how could you say that in a smoother way? Suggestions welcome), mouth X-rays, Army bank account, finger prick, shots, form asking where you want “all the money” you will get to go if something happens to you in the army, interview, and check-out.

Following the distribution of stickers, we began, as those of you that know the army might have guessed…waiting. And waiting. We waited from eleven until one thirty at which point we were taken to lunch and then back so we could wait some more.

A quick recap of my progress through the stations goes as follows: I was placed in front of a white wall, and a girl who was furiously texting decided at some abstract point without any warning to take the picture that will be on my army ID for 3 years or so. I look like a serial killer. Which is actually pretty bad ass. At the teeth photographing station the soldier clearly had not drank her coffee as she was quite agitated at my inability to understand her higher level Hebrew in the dental domain (who the hell knows how to say “gums” in a foreign language?). From there I was fingerprinted by an attractive blonde soldier with deep blue eyes and a soft smile…Where was I? Oh right. After that my mouth was X-rayed by a soldier who still had braces, yet another sign that I am too old for this army. Then I waited in line to set up my army bank account. When my name was called, I sat down and was immediately asked by the female soldier across from me for my credit card. A bit taken back, I remarked that although the country had changed the girls were clearly the same. She spoke English well enough to understand this, and laughing, sent me to the finger-pricking station.

Now these people had way too much fun with us. They prick your finger and then swipe your finger on a circle until it’s full of blood. Pleasant,  I know.  The girl next to me was very freaked out about this. Her “pricker” as we shall call him delighted in first drawing a smiley face with her blood and then showing it to her, adding the words of encouragement “Don’t worry. Be happy.” This did not go over well. I was too busy laughing at the sight of this to notice the nurse carrying out my procedure so mine went by quite smoothly.

Next came the shots. The process is rather informal. You sit down. They check your name and your file, swab your arm, and prick you. “Next.” I had no problem with any of this until the big guy in front of me started screaming when he got his shot. This was not helpful in assuring me that this would be a pleasant process.  In the end my shot went fine, and my arm has been sore ever since. I forgot how much I missed tetanus shots.

After the shots, we were filed next to a window where we picked up our military IDs and dog tags. Looking at my dog tags for the first time, seeing my name printed on the metal and my military ID number, it really sunk in that I was finally a soldier.  I’ve worn my grandfather’s dog tags for a few years now, and I always looked forward to the day when I would have my own.  I felt very close to him in that moment, and I have now added my own dog tag to his chain.

Following this, we were told to wait in a hallway outside of a large room where a hundred or so people were sitting and waiting to be interviewed. At this point most of you are sitting at your computers in America picturing what this situation might look like in America, what with people waiting patiently being filed into this room. Picture instead the busiest night club you have ever seen. Everybody wants to get inside, everybody has a reason that they need to be inside first, and what your left with is the sheer and utter mayhem that I encountered. Welcome to Israel. I shouted to the officer blocking the doorway that I had a table reservation and that I wanted to speak to the VIP relations guy, which he did not find amusing. What? I don’t go anywhere without a reservation. In the end, I snuck in behind an important looking individual in uniform who was cutting the line and told the door guard in intentionally broken Hebrew that somebody with bars on their arm had told me to come in (he had only stripes, which meant the unidentified individual I was referring to outranked him.), thus he had no choice but to let me through.  My tactic succeeded, and I was then forced to wait in another 45 minute line to check in. After waiting for about an hour and a half, I was called and told that I didn’t need an interview.

This did not fly with me.  Basically what happens in those interviews is that an officer asks you what you want to do in the Army and can potentially help you get to where you want to be. What I want to do is go to a unit that I can only get to by a tryout that I’m not supposed to be able to go to because I am supposed to go to a language course, which is precisely why I am not supposed to get the interview. Catch 22. I explained my predicament to the soldier that told me I didn’t need an interview and he told me he’d do what he could for me. After standing outside the door to the room with the officer in it for an hour while other people walked in, got their interview, and walked out, the officer finally emerged and addressed me. Our exchange was quite brief. He handed me my file, and said, “Have a good day. Good luck!” Shocked that that’s what I had waited an hour for I asked him if there was anything that he could do to help. “Right now? No.” I’ve learned quickly that the only way to achieve anything in the IDF is to be brazen and borderline impudent. However, as of that moment, I was officially a soldier, and as such I had to be careful how I spoke to high-ranking officers as the consequences for insubordination can be quite severe, including but not limited to court-martial and army jail.   I politely thanked the officer, spun on my heels, and approached the Major (the highest ranking officer we had seen that day) and hoped she was in a good mood. “I have a problem,” I said. “Can I talk to you?”

Thankfully she agreed to hear me out, and I explained my situation to her, after which a number of other lower ranking officers gathered around to get in on the action, as I was the last soldier there who had not completed my processing, thus they had nothing else to do. The Major won round one.

“Is your body in great shape?” She asked.

“I’m in excellent shape,” I said, walking right into her trap. “I’m ready to try out tomorrow.”

“Good,” she said. “You need to go to Mikveh Alon so your Hebrew is in good shape too.”

1-0 Major. Fortunately, I had heard this argument before. I told her that while I knew I needed to learn more Hebrew, my Hebrew at this point was good enough to succeed in the army and learn as I went, and that furthermore, I had yet to meet anyone with a background in Hebrew (which I have) who truly improved their Hebrew at Mikveh Alon. At this point, one of the officers started telling me that I should “want” to go to Mikveh Alon because it’s a beautiful base, it has the best food out of any base in Israel, and it’s the easiest part of your army service and that people want to return there. Well that pushed me over the edge.

“Listen,” I said perhaps a little too briskly.

“I’m not here to have a good time and to eat good food. I’m twenty-two years old. I have a college degree. I could get a job in New York and get drunk every weekend and eat great food. That’s not why I’m here. The fact is that I want the special forces and I want them now. I don’t want to wait 4 months to send in a tryout request, and add more time on to my service. I want to do the tryout now.  I will never be in better shape than I am now and the reason I was even on the list for these tryouts in the first place is because your commanding officer [looking right at the major] told me that my Hebrew was good enough and that I could have a pass to attend Yom Sayerot. The only reason I need help now is because I was on the list and for whatever reason was then taken off.”

At this point, they realized they were not going to change my mind. They told me that someone had all ready sent an email on my behalf as we were talking and that they would look into the situation and see what they could do to help me.  One of the officers picked up his phone to make a call on my behalf, and asked me for my name. At that point, a Captain entered the room and said “Corey Feldman?”

“Correct,” I replied, assuming he was part of this process.

“Come with me. You are the last soldier here. Everyone else is on the buses.” Having no choice in the matter, and having succeeded in my primary goal (both the captain and the major now knew my name) I thanked the officers for their help, left the bakoom, and boarded the bus bound for my kibbutz, now officially a soldier in the IDF.

As of today, 10/4, I am back on the list for Yom Sayerot. I am rightfully measured in my excitement, as each day brings a new challenge and a new issue, but at least for tonight I will sleep easy with the knowledge that my name is on that list.

October 4th, 2010

17 Responses to “Post 18: Becoming a Soldier”

  1. Andrew Giles Says:

    I’ve really been keeping up with all of your blog posts and find myself being more inspired every time a new post appears. Your determination and persistence are remarkable and enviable; your motives for everything you do are crystal clear. I keep trying to apply everything you say to my own life as I can tell from your stories, it seems to be paying off for you. Keep up the good work and best of luck at Yom Sayerot!

  2. Aunt Sharon Says:

    Thanks for giving me a few more reasons why I never want to be on your bad side 🙂 Good Luck!
    Love, Aunt Sharon

  3. Aunt Rho & Uncle Vic Says:

    You are certainly the “Soldier of Soldiers”…and we know that Yom Sayerot will be very proud to have you. No other 20 year man could ever achieve what you have done. You make us all so very proud to follow your actions. Stay with your determination but be careful and stay safe. We send you our love always.

  4. Michael Kleinman Says:

    Great storytelling, great moral.

    Very inspiring and fun to read. I know you are having fun living your story. Keep it up my friend. I am proud of your courage.

    -Michael

  5. Steve Oster (Sander Hillel) Says:

    Achi,
    You are clearly going to succeed at anything you attempt to do! Somehow I think you were raised by an excellent family!
    What you’ve learned so far will serve you in good stead in the IDF or at Goldman Sachs. Please remember that no matter what happens, your investment in the IDF and in Ha’eretz has taught you well that in life there is no “room service;” you’ve got to MAKE it happen. The tough part is that one must make it happen without bringing down anger and retribution from the entire general officer staff. You can accomplish your goal, but you may have to be prepared to accomplish a goal which is not your choice.
    Ha’shem may close one door, but emunah ve’bitachon are always in play, so you can bet your last shekel that He will always open another door. It may not be your door, but it will be the best for you and for Am Yisrael! Just remember my promise …hi’neni.
    Be safe Cory; we all love you. Sander Hillel

  6. Jonah P Says:

    you’re just the man. stop being so much better at life than the rest of us, its not fair.

  7. Shari Beckman Says:

    Hi Corey,
    You are an incredible storyteller – and quite the warrior, even before setting foot on the battlefield. We are all inspired by your determination and motivation. Your enthusiasm is contagious!
    Love and miss you……..
    Shari & Joel

  8. Aunt Amy Says:

    Corey,
    Congratulations! Loved reading every word! You continue to inspire me with your perseverance and drive. Wondering which Major I will be playing in the movie…
    love you

  9. Josh Says:

    Continuing to follow all your blogs. Good stuff man.

  10. Aunt Robin Says:

    Just loving you so much, for the child that you were and the man that you are!

  11. Jared Says:

    Meeve,

    While I never doubted your determination and ability to succeed as I have seen the true “you” through our various endeavors over the years, I would be remiss if I did not mention the overwhelming amount of emotion I feel every time I read one of your posts. You’ve pursued your dream and are exceeding all the expectations which you, and your friends and family, have set.

    We miss you, be safe and, when you have a moment, do something silly.

  12. Russell Says:

    Brother,

    You are an inspiration to all. Never stop being you (unless of course it is to be me). I miss you dearly and look forward to seeing you soon, whenever that might be.

    Now I have but one simple question for you:
    When I come to visit will the “attractive blonde soldier with deep blue eyes and a soft smile” be joining us for drinks?

    Stay Safe. Stay Hungry.

    Always Yours,
    Your Brother

  13. Marv Horwitz Says:

    Corey, you sound really determined. I hope it all goes your way. Janie sent me the link. Love

  14. Coach Price Says:

    Corey,

    I have been following your posts, and I just want to say I am glad you never played for me. Because you would have been a pain in the ass if you didn’t get your way. I am proud of you and hope you get what you want and become great at it. Just stay safe for all of us and return to us safe, sane, and as funny as you are great. Looking forward to reading more and seeing you down the line. I love you , dude.

  15. Matt Sandler Says:

    Corey,
    as a college freshman, i’ve sampled many different styles of writing over my high-school career. From Shakespeare to The Odessey to Cormac McCarthy, everyone has there favorite genre. Despite all of these, your blog has to be one of the most eloquently written pieces i’ve ever read. Great to hear that you are following your passions and staying true who you are. Don’t let anyone ever take that away

    as always, much love from all of us in the Sandler clan

    best,
    -Matt

  16. Eric D Says:

    Sand Lake. two words, yet an enormous amount of self-determination and drive gleaned. I think you and I both know that the dunes in Oregon made us realize we are capable of more than what’s expected from us…or maybe I was the only one who did. In any case “you’re welcome” 🙂 peace and love

  17. i jobs Says:

    Hey there! I’m at work surfing around your blog from my new iphone
    4! Just wanted to say I love reading through your blog and look forward to all
    your posts! Carry on the excellent work!

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