THE MOST IMPORTANT THING I LEARNED IN BASIC

wasn't 43 ways to kill a man with a banana. We were tankers. We only had two months of basic infantry training, then we were off to Tank School. Two months, as any infantryman will tell you with a sneer, is hardly even time enough to master basic small arms combat, let alone krav maga and banana warfare.

We'd drill for a while with our M-16s and Galils, then inevitably someone in the squad would fuck up so miserably that we'd all have to get up and haul ass out to the courtyard.

"Do you know why you're out here, you miserable peons?" The sergeant would scream. And if we said yes, it was always the wrong answer, and if we said no he would call us some names, and either way it would end with him bellowing, "see that bunker out there? Thirty seconds, there and back! GO!"

And we were off, swearing at the fucker as we ran, knowing that it couldn't be done. No one could run around that bunker and back in thirty seconds. It was impossible.

And we'd get back and stand in threes and wait for him to notice us, and the bastard would look over casually and say, "did any one of you idiots call the time?" And we realised we'd been set up, because we couldn't possibly have known one of us was supposed to be checking our time. And he'd make us do it again while one of us stood with him counting seconds off his watch.

And it was impossible. We could never do it. No one could have done it. And our spokesman would have to explain to the sergeant that we couldn't do it, because it wasn't enough time, the ground was muddy, or Uri had an ingrown toenail or whatever. And the sergeant would tell us "there's no such thing as can't. 'I can't' really means 'I don't want to', and that is UNACCEPTABLE!" and give us something else to do, maybe a lap around the base in an equally impossible time while Uri stood in the courtyard holding his Galil overhead with one hand. And either somebody came in over the allotted time, or Uri dropped his weapon, every single time, and we could never, ever do it.

Fighting a war with only a knife and two meters of twine? Out of the question. Tankers aren't the "no equipment" kind of soldier. They are the "lots and lots of equipment" kind. And we learned to hate every single piece of equipment the first time one of us wasn't ready for inspection on time.

Twenty minutes later, every single one of us was to be ready for inspection on the nearest hilltop. We lugged every piece of our personal gear out of the rooms and up the hill, and when I say every piece of equipment that includes bunks. Heavy, massive steel bunkbeds. Up the hill.

"Let's go, let's go, come on, why doesn't somebody help Uri, aren't you guys ready yet?" our spokesman for the week rushed around saying. "We can't do it in twenty," someone told him. "Go ask the sergeant for more time."

"Can't do it?" the sergeant repeated, calmly smoking an American cigarette. "Need more time? Sure, you can have more time. Five more minutes, and don't bother going up the hill. Inspection in the courtyard instead."

Of course, we already had most of the bunks up on the hill. So, with eight minutes left on the clock, it was back to the courtyard with all the bunks and everything else. And does that sound possible to you? Yeah, fucking right.

Every damn day, general orders said we got six hours of sleep, which really meant maybe five. Most of the other eighteen hours, we spent running around trying to accomplish crazy tasks that our commanders, those sadistic sons of bitches, knew perfectly well were impossible.

That didn't leave a lot of time for learning to kill a guy with only a butt plug and a litre of raspberry coulis, you know?

******

The most important thing I learned in Basic wasn't that the army was my family and my squadmates were my brothers and I would give my life, my Hustlers and my last pack of cigarettes for Mother IDF. Every last one of us hated the fucking army with a white hot passion by the end of the second week.

Guys who had spent their entire childhood dreaming about being tank commanders, waiting since their bar mitzvahs to wear our brigade's famous shoulder tag, cried in their bunks at night and told themselves they couldn't make it. They would never get through the next march. They would never pass basic weapon proficiency testing. They couldn't stand another night running around that damn signal tower.

They were going AWOL next Friday, heading who cares where, anywhere but here because there wasn't any way they could survive Basic. Almost every one of us thought this at some point.

And then one day we woke up and realised that we HAD survived it, because in another two weeks Basic would be over. And those were the worst two weeks yet. But we already knew we were going to make it, because we could survive anything by then. We had spent six weeks doing impossible things, and learned that even if a thing was impossible, we would endure, and we would do it or die in the attempt.

Because there is no such thing as can't. If you want to accomplish something, you can. Almost every challenge in life can be surmounted, and the ones that can't can be endured.

And that was the most important thing I learned in Basic.

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