Pressure at home

They are no strangers to the “color red” alarms and every pull of a trigger has a double meaning. IDF (Zahal) soldiers who both live and serve in southern Israel describe the thin line separating their homes and military posts

Date: 25/04/2011, 8:15 PM     Author: Mor Sofer, Yarden Elazar, Dan Tamir, Yarden Tzur, Reut Farkash, “Bamahane” magazine

The recurring rocket warning sirens a few weeks ago frightened some of the soldiers serving in southern Israel, though there were also those were already well accustomed to running to the protected spaces. Many of the soldiers defending Israel’s southern towns are also residents of the region.

“When an alarm goes off, you wait to find out where the rocket hit. Sometimes I call my family, just to find out what happened back home and make sure everything is alright,” says Sergeant Eran Bar-Shalom, a resident of Shafir, located near Kiryat Malachi, and a soldier in an Armored Corps battalion operating in the region.

Sergeant Lior Etzlan, who also serves in the battalion and lives in Sderot, adds that “the first thing you do when there’s a launch is run to the tanks, and once everything is calm again I call my mom. We have a set routine that where she sends me a text message saying everyone is ok,” he says. “I’ve been feeling like I’m defending my home. A person who doesn’t live in the region and defend his home does not understand this.”

First Lieutenant, Noy Yechezkel, the deputy commander of an Iron Dome battery, understands the meaning of his activities in the field. “I live in Moshav Noga, which is part of the region that the battery defends,” he explains. “Mostly I feel satisfaction when I go home, hear the ‘color red’ alert and then call the battery and hear that a rocket has been intercepted. It’s nice to know that the system I am part of is protecting my home.”

Among soldiers serving in the south, there are many who can see their homes during critical moments. Private Shir Schwartz is a driver at a base in the Gaza border region. He lives in Kibbutz Nir-Am and the school bus hit by the Kornet anti-tank missile belongs to the school that he went to. “I was in shock when that happened. After all, shooting an anti-tank missile at a bus isn’t something you see every day,” he says.

Schwartz adds that his experience with rocket alarms makes him a calming influence amongst the soldiers of his battalion.

“I’m used to the alarms, but guys not from the area get frightened,” he says. “I’ve been going through this for this for years and at this point I don’t find anything to get excited about.”

Private Schwartz’s commander, Lt. Col. Israel Shomer, is also familiar with the alarms of the south.

“I live in Kfar Aza, and have been guarding here for the past week,” he says. “Everybody understands the situation and knows how important it is to protect the residents of the south.”

The IAF carries out operations in the Gaza Strip in response to mortar and rocket fire. First Lieutenant Yair, a helicopter pilot and a resident of Be’er Sheba, says that while airborne IAF pilots have one goal.

“The bottom line is that our goal is to return quiet to southern towns, and this goal remains the same whether it’s your family, residents of Be’er Sheba or residents of the communities near the Gaza border,” says First Lt. Yair.

“My family back home is a daily dilemma, and I find myself thinking about it all the time, minute by minute,” shares a member of an unmanned aerial drone squadron who lives in Gan Yavne. “I know that the most important thing is to remain focused on the mission and execute it in the best possible way, because that is what’s best for my family. During a “color red” alarm, I was at the squadron and it was tough deciding whether I should call and check up on my kids back home or make sure the squadron was continuing to function. These dilemmas must be solved within a fraction of a second. So I called the squadron to confirm everything was in order.”

Col. Effi from the Eshkol Regional Council visited throughout the southern region frequently recently as part of his role as the head of the population department of the Home Front Command.

“Because I come from a place where the threat is tangible, I know what the people here feel when they’re being attacked,” says the colonel. “I identify with the population and that helps me on the job. From my personal experience, I know that dealing with life in the area around Gaza is not simple.”