Thursday, October 25, 2012

Paratroopers-What it Takes Part 2

Competition for acceptance into the paratroopers is fierce. Normally there are 5 times more
applicants than can be accepted and the weeding out process is most stringent. The reason so
many 18 year olds want to join is because of the rigorous training, precisely the reason that 80%
will not make the grade and will be referred to other IDF units.

The training regimen is very tough and it reflects the versatile role these soldiers will play when
they are called into battle. The boys who very quickly mature in to manhood are exposed to
enormous doses of physical exercise and strenuous workouts. They acquire mastery of a broad
range of firearms, learn topography, and are trained to excel at mobile, airborne, heliborne and
amphibious operations. Their training prepares them to integrate with armor and artillery, day
and night combat against an array of objectives, and includes the IDF’s famous Jump School.
The qualities necessary to become a paratrooper include: innate leadership, the ability to adjust
to and improvise solutions when faced with unanticipated situations, the ability to make on
the spot difficult decisions quickly and accurately, professionally combat ability and extreme

While most instructors are men who have distinguished themselves in combat operations, there
is an increasing number of female instructors in areas such as marksmanship, anti-tank missiles,
and in other educational, administrative and technical roles. Women also serve as parachute
riggers and inspectors, and are required to undergo the jump course to increase their empathy
with the men whose lives are literally in their hands.

More than many other IDF units, paratroopers consider themselves members of one very large,
extended family whose members are linked by shared experiences and blood, shed in battle.
It is normal for paratroopers to continue serving with their units long after they are forced to
retire due to age. And this is true for career soldiers and officers as well as those who served
only in the reserves.

The qualities outlined above serve to explain in part the great and headline grabbing successes
that the paratroopers have been credited with. Just to name a few:

The convincingly effective and daring reprisal raids against a constant barrage of Fedayeen (Arab
terrorist group) raids into Israel in the 1950’s, which had resulted in untold accounts of murder,
pillage and sabotage.

The Mitla Pass jump of the 1956 Sinai Campaign in which a battalion of 495 paratroopers were
dropped into the heart of the Sinai at the beginning of the war to prevent the Egyptian army
from getting to the vital Mitla pass. Despite its success, this was the last time an entire battalion
actually jumped into combat.

The unification of Jerusalem in 1967

The airlifting of an entire Soviet radar station out of Egypt in 1969

Commando raid against terrorist headquarters in the center of Beirut, Lebanon;

The courageous decision to lay a bridgehead across the Suez Canal onto Egyptian territory
in the heat of the Yom Kippur that paved the way for the Israeli victory over the Egyptians
in a war that threatened to be Israel’s first major military disaster. 

And the legendary rescue of the passengers and crew of the Air France
plane that had been hijacked to Entebbe, Ethiopia, named in memory of
Yonatan Netanyahu. 

In his book, Ariel Sharon Warrior, Israel’s most famous soldier states, ”starting in 1957, the
paratroopers carried out almost every single operation undertaken by the Israeli army”. If not
literally the case, there is certainly a good deal of truth in those words.

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

IDF Paratroopers-What it Takes

IDF Paratroopers – What it Takes
Part 1 of a 3-part series

The IDF Paratrooper’s red berets set them apart from many other fighting units in Israel’s armed forces. But if you know a little about these tough young fighters and the elite brigade they belong to, you begin to appreciate how dominant a part they have played in making Israel the secure country it is today. And that has been no small accomplishment.

Instead of dwelling on the demanding conditions that accompany them through the gruesome eight months of their training, let’s start at the challenging exercise that caps their training, their 90 km. (51.1 mile)”Masa Kumta” (beret march) which they are required to complete. This is an all-night march in full gear in whatever weather conditions prevail which marks the end of their training and admission into the coveted paratroopers brigade. The march ends with a ceremony at which they receive the coveted red berets that they will wear with great pride for the rest of their military service.

The march starts in the evening with great enthusiasm, camaraderie, and a touch of excitement.  Within a couple of hours they start feeling the strains of fatigue and for many, exhaustion.  By daybreak, still hours from their destination, they feel the aches and pains in every bone and muscle. And they push on, one step after the other.  As they make their way along the final stretch along the ascent to Jerusalem, those that are starting to wonder if they will make it are helped by their friends who, in hallowed IDF tradition, won’t leave any man behind.
Within sight of their final destination, the soldiers stop as their commanders call for an exercise break – as if all they needed now was a set of 100 pushups in full battle gear – to use up any reserve energy that might have survived the march.

But their moment of glory is about to arrive.  Standing in formation, after eight exhausting months of training and a night spent marching and running, they have finally earned the right to wear their red berets!
However the red beret is merely a symbol as it distinguishes these soldiers from other combat units.  The IDF paratroopers are recognized and respected for the discipline, courage, initiative, dedication, traits that have kept them at the forefront of Israel’s infantry.

Much of their training is devoted to overcoming minefields and obstacles, to engage in combat either alone or integrated with forces from other combat units.  They move into battle either by helicopter, dropped behind enemy lines, or landing from the sea. They fight from jeeps and other vehicles.

Image courtesy of the IDF

Monday, October 15, 2012

Heroines in the IDF

In Israel, military conscription is virtually a national consensus. Not that every 18 year old enlists, because there are broad exemptions to the compulsory military draft law. But there is a consensus within the broadest reaches of Israeli society that serving in the army is a badge of honor – a responsibility and a privilege.

Periodically the issue of the draft of the ultra orthodox attracts headlines and even now there is talk and serious differences of opinion regarding that contentious issue. But an even more interesting and provocative issue is the role played by religious women in the army, particularly in combat units. This subject gained national prominence several weeks ago when a 19 year old female combat soldier of the Caracal Battalion killed two terrorists who had shot Cpl. Natanel Yahalomi one of her male colleagues as they advanced into Israeli territory. It was her decisive response that saved her fellow soldiers during this Egyptian border clash.

A Hebrew website is helping influence religious high school students by encouraging them to consider military and even combat service instead of opting for National Service – Sherut Leumi - which was the service option most religious women chose. Sherut Leumi girls work in hospitals, schools, nursing homes and a broad range of important social service organizations, and their contribution makes a valuable impact on the lives of tens of thousands of needy Israelis, but it’s not the same as being inducted into the army. Given the work they are doing, some believe that their contribution to Israeli society exceeds that of most soldiers. Indeed, Sherut Leumi volunteers work with their hands, brains and hearts, but they don’t carry rifles!

The motivation of many of these young women was captured in a blog post written by E., a religious woman who is about to complete her final year of training to become a pilot, who wrote: “Being religious should not prevent you from making an important contribution. Army service for us looks difficult, even impossible. But when you get to that bridge you find a way to cross it. And many positive things come to you on the way, good friends and help from above. Believe in yourself and don’t fear the big challenges.”

E. is not the only one heeding her own advice. Currently, 1500 religious women enlist annually. Over two years of service there are 3,000 religious women soldiers, plus another 1,000 officers, a total of 4,000 religious women in uniform. They work in education and training, intelligence, the ground forces, in combat, computers, the Medical Corps, as military welfare counselors. But military service isn’t the best choice for every religious woman, and those who have done it are the first to make that point. According to Michal, who served as a combat reconnaissance instructor, “if you can’t stand up in front of a classroom of male reservists who haven’t seen a woman for a long time, or if you need to be in a religious environment, the army isn’t for you”.
Photo courtesy of the IDF - Headlines