The women of the Karakal combat unit complete their final journey to become IDF fighters

Florit Shoihet: IDF (Zahal) Spokesperson

Date: 07/03/2011, 11:38 AM     Author: Rotem Eliav

The sun was disappearing into the endless sandy dunes of the Israeli Negev, deluging the sky with streaks of oranges and purples, and the soldiers stand prepared, perfectly positioned in two rows, ready for yet another march into the raw, frigid night.

Hair tightly pinned back in long ponytails, knee guards in place carrying Tavor guns, heavy shoes and even heavier vests, their delicate features, now masked with heavy green and black face paint, remain expressionless. Strapped to some are Israeli and Karakal Battalion flags, dancing in the wind, constantly reminding them of their headstrong purpose.

The Karakal Battalion was founded in the year 2000 conceding to public pressures for the creation of an intensive combat unit for girls. They are given the name of a desert feline whose gender is barely distinguishable, and the battalion number signifies the number of women soldiers who fell in the Palmach Era.

The girls volunteer to become combat soldiers, and must go through two days of mental examinations and physical challenges before joining, since the course is strenuous and identical to that of any other exclusively male battalion.

The battalion’s newest company recently went on a nine-kilometer march, adding stretchers during the last 500 meters. Preceding the official swearing-in ceremony, the march took place halfway through their basic training, and at the end each soldier received a warrior pin for their beret.

Before the march began the Company Commander, Captain Mickey Ohaion stresses, “This is your last step before swearing your unwavering allegiance to the State of Israel and the IDF (Zahal).”

Running, and walking, and running, sinking into the sand with every step, tripping over rocks concealed by the night – the soldiers remember Cpt. Ohaion’s order, “nobody will be left behind.” They help each other up, push forward when legs fail to continue, and shout out words of encouragement.

With a surge of energy and zeal as their destination approaches, every single soldier began to run, chanting songs of pride in their unit, and in each other.

“Pride, support, and values,” First Sgt. Nofar Ezer explains, are the main focuses of the Karakal Battalion. “This is the most combat intensive unit for girls, and the soldiers here really want to contribute everything they can.”

“Girls or boys, I command all my soldiers equally, and expect the same of everyone,” says a male Karakal commander, Sergeant Alon David. “Serving here taught me that girls are capable of a lot, maybe even more than boys. Anybody who doubts these women has to come and see what they do.”

As part of the Southern Command, Karakal men and women secure the Egyptian border for smugglers, infiltrators, and terrorists. “The border is becoming increasingly active, especially in the last two years,” explains First Sgt. Ezer. “We’re used to chases. Once I was approaching a smuggler, and when I said I was a Karakal female soldier, he immediately surrendered. He was so scared it was funny,” she chuckles.

First Sergeant Ezer continues: “There will always be those who doubt a female combat unit, but I don’t mind. I know what we’re worth and so do high ranking commanders. Fact is we bring results. We were even recognized by the Brigade Commander for our camouflage skills, and for some of the best thwarting operations in the region.”

“These women catch and deal with criminals on a daily basis,” adds the Karakal Regiment Commander, Lt. Col. Tzur Harpaz, “Even though they are stationed at a peaceful border, Karakal is becoming more and more relevant. Especially now with the recent developments in Egypt, their activity will be affected.”

Breathing heavy, the face paint diligently applied using a small mirror completely smeared, one of the soldiers says after the march, “I didn’t believe I could do it till the end. I can honestly say I’m proud, just like I’m proud to come home with my gun. That’s the reason I joined – to prove to everyone I can do this.”

One of the male soldiers shares his surprise when his female counterparts carried him on the stretcher when he could not walk during the march.

“After a week in the field and several marches you get used to everything,” says another female soldier Or Geisinger, “then going back to base feels like a hotel, and going back home is like leaving the country. I don’t see myself in any other position in the army,” she continues, “I always knew I’d be in a combat unit. I’m not scared, I grew up on this.”

“I have a boyfriend here,” Oren Admon says shyly, “The commanders knew we were together since before the army. It helps because we can be there and support each other, but it’s also difficult being together all the time. The army also has strict rules about gender interactions. I can just imagine us going on overnight operations together. He doesn’t mind that we’re both combat soldiers.”

“Being a combat soldier is fun! Doing exactly what the boys do,” explains Hannah Schwartz, an 18 year old lone soldier from France that voluntarily enlisted in the IDF (Zahal). Hannah has volunteered in Israel in the past for a variety of programs, making joining the IDF (Zahal) the obvious next step. Soon she will start a three-month medic course, and will rejoin her unit on the border.

Similarly to Hannah, the 21 year old Rebecca Greger is also lone soldier from the US. Partaking in several programs in Israel spurred her to serve in the Israeli military, and her love for being outdoors and in the field drove her to become a combat soldier.

With the march complete, the new Karakal Company swore into the IDF (Zahal), at an official ceremony that took place at David Ben-Gurion’s grave in Sde Boker. Friends and family attended the ceremony, and the soldiers swore on both a copy of the Old Testament and on their gun.

Every soldier in the IDF (Zahal) must swear his or her allegiance to the State of Israel, vowing to protect the liberty and safety of its citizens. Before the ceremony, each of the Karakal soldiers received a copy of the Spirit of the IDF (Zahal) (a set of ten ethical codes) to always keep as a reminder of the values instilled in them during basic training.

“We teach a lot about IDF (Zahal) values such as morality in war and respect for the person in front of you – including infiltrators we encounter on the border,” explains First Srgt. Nofar Ezer.