Scenes from the Life of a Lonely Soldier
Written by: Mark Hafter
Mark Hafter is 19 years old. Formerly an American high school student, now an Israeli soldier writing about life in the army, the differences between Israeli and American culture and what it means to be a “lonely soldier.”
In the Nachal infantry brigade of the Israel Defense Forces, we have a little joke regarding free time. For the sanity of all soldiers, the army mandates an hour each night to do, well, whatever we want. This is referred to by an acronym that translates to: “The hour required by the conditions of service,” or “Sha’at Tash.” But in Nachal, there is no “Sha’at Tash,” just a “Sapash.” It is an endearing term describing more realistically that same period of time. During what should be free time, we are really having “sidurim po ve’sham:” “getting things in order here and there.”
In a sense this *is* free time such that every little task isn’t metered. The commander doesn’t shout: “You have five minutes to shower, three to polish your boots, three more to brush your teeth…” He gives us one hour. I set my stopper and go. I have one hour to shower, brush my teeth, fix up my sleeping bag, ensure that my gear is in order, and on and on. Just getting things in order here and there.
If I am lucky, there is no line to shower. After a shower and shave the first half hour is trickling down the drain. It takes five minutes to change into some warm cloths for bed, and another five to arrange towels around my sleeping bag to keep from freezing to death in the frigid desert. A snack is necessary, of course. What does that leave? About fifteen minutes.
I take out my phone and dial the codes for my calling card. It’s funny how every second counts even in something like this. All the useless announcements on the automated menu system seem like wastes of time. I know what keys to press and when – I’d just rather make my call and get it over with. Destination number invalid? Another minute wasted just because the reception was too poor to register my perhaps too rapid entry of digits. I re-type my dad’s number with just a little bit more care.
Now it’s ringing.
“Hey Mark! I know you’re short on time, but I gotta call you
back. I’m in the middle of a meeting!”
“OK, I have about ten minutes.” I hang up. Might as well check
my e-mail by way of the phone, and make a few more adjustments to my bags.
The more work I do now, the less scrambling I will do tomorrow to find stuff
when we’re on a tighter clock.
My phone rings and I answer it.
“Hey Mark, how’s the army going?”
“I’d love to tell you, but I’ve got two minutes.”