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  • Dana Evan Kaplan

Ofir Serving in the IDF

Ofir served in the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) for two years, from 2008 to 2010 as a squad commander in the intelligence forces. Her role was to instruct soldiers in their basic training (boot camp).

“All of these soldiers had recently graduated from high school, so I was essentially in charge of transforming them from high school kids into disciplined soldiers and teaching them things like shooting an M-16, first aid, NBC, the values and ethics of the IDF, and more. Now, if you think about that, I was training these kids who were not much younger than me.

So, even though I felt compassion for them, I knew I had to be serious and make them work hard, just as I had done in my basic training. I realized that my job dealt a lot with finding the balance between pushing my soldiers to work hard, but at the same time to support them, be sensitive to their needs, and help them adjust to this huge change in their lives.”

Ofir recognizes that joining the IDF is not always an easy transition, emotionally, for everyone: “You don’t get a lot of sleep, you share a room with people you’ve never met before, the food isn’t always good, you work long hours, you don’t get to see your family and friends every weekend, you have a lot of responsibility doing your job, and you face new challenging tasks."

"You have to carry a heavy gun around all day long, without ever forgetting it anywhere. If you’re five seconds late, you would probably have to do twenty pushups as punishment--on a hot summer day in the Israeli desert heat, which makes you sweat even more than usual!”

Ofir continues, describing the challenges and rewards of serving in the IDF: “For me, training those soldiers to be good soldiers who believe in what they’re doing and at the same time support them emotionally was very important and meaningful. I was highly motivated to join the IDF after hearing stories from my dad about military operations, his military experience, and knowing how necessary it is to contribute to Israel and to protect it."

"In the beginning, I had to get used to the life on the base and everything else I’ve already mentioned. This took me a while to adjust, but once I did, it became kind of fun. The people from my base and unit became my close friends and we shared some “once-in-a-lifetime” moments. You grow together and change together. Your perspective on life becomes more mature and you learn to appreciate the little things you have in your life.”

“It’s kind of funny to think about, but sometimes you join the IDF and then six months later one or more of your friends from high school, for example, join the same unit you are serving in. You have to keep doing your job and stay “distant” from your friends--especially if you’re a commander and your friend is a new recruit. It’s a strange situation, honestly. Since Israel is such a small country and everyone serves in the army, it is definitely likely to happen! It happened to me twice.”

“Another challenge I had while serving was the fact that, as a commander, I wasn’t allowed to smile around my soldiers. I had to be tough and serious. Now, those who have met me should try to imagine me as a drill sergeant. I couldn’t really imagine myself as one either at first. I love smiling so much that it really was a challenge for me. Yet, I believed it was necessary for completing my role. I’ll tell you a secret...every now and then I would crack a smile. I mean, we’re human, and only eighteen or nineteen years old. The soldiers always want to make their commanders laugh or smile. They just love when it happens. Of course, we did that too when we were in basic training, and whenever we succeeded, it was really exciting and made our day.”

“Serving in the IDF also affords you the opportunity to meet new people from all around the country who come from different backgrounds--the Israeli melting pot in the making, you could say. In my opinion, it is one of the biggest benefits you get from your military service. You make new friends and you are exposed to different areas of the country. The friends and bonds made in the IDF are powerful, especially because of the stressful situations people experience together and the need to support each other. This is especially true in combat units, where the soldiers literally save each other’s lives and face dangerous threats 24/7.”

“Serving in the IDF was a privilege for me. I got a lot of satisfaction from my job and from training the soldiers. You work so hard, each day is so long and tiring, and you constantly face different dilemmas. When the soldiers finish their training and move on to the next part of their military service, they often come and thank you, appreciate your work and sleepless nights. Those moments are so heartwarming and precious. They suddenly realize they’ve changed in a way, and in such a short period of time. You realize you got to be a part of such a meaningful stage in their lives. I am still in touch with a couple of my soldiers and I was so proud seeing them after a while--shining, thriving, and doing their jobs with love, passion, and responsibility. I felt like a proud mom--seriously. This experience will always stay in my heart.”

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