What happens if a soldier is in the midst of battle and his truck’s tire blows? What if sophisticated computer equipment breaks down? What if someone is badly injured and a bandage won’t stop the bleeding? All the responsibility falls on the soldier in the field, and the outcome can mean the difference between life and death.

These were the considerations behind last week’s Competition Day, which pitted different battalions from the Northern Command against each other in a series of races and competitions. These were not your average potato sack races, though. Here, the soldiers raced each other to dress serious wounds, change tires on an armored vehicle, fix M-16 assault rifles and more–all while under a time limit and being judged for quality.

Soldier vs. Soldier in Combat Zone Competition

Soldiers race to see which battalion is the fastest while carrying a fellow soldier on a stretcher.

As the festive Israeli Middle Eastern music infused the air, the races began with the blare of a siren. Four soldiers charged across the dirt field, carrying another soldier on a stretcher. Each team could be identified by colorful t-shirts designating their units, covered with the unit’s symbols and slogans. In this case, the team was an engineering battalion in bright orange t-shirts. This was a race to see which battalion was could safely carry transport an injured soldier the fastest. From the sidelines, their teammates cheered them on. For these soldiers, this is the closest thing they’ll get to a summer vacation this year.

The next race was for the medics. At a variety of stations, medics, sometimes alone and sometimes with the help of other soldiers, had to treat people imagined to have a serious head injuries and other types of heavy bleeding around the body, using a variety of tourniquets and bandages that in a real situation would lessen or cut off the flow of blood.

The next competition is a race to change an armored vehicle’s tires, similar to what is seen in professional car races, except the task had to be done with only simple tools and a couple of soldiers. This competition had to be completed in only five minutes. The next competition focused on tanks, where soldiers had to race to fix 10 problems in under 20 minutes.

Soldier vs. Soldier in Combat Zone Competition

Following this was a test to fix common problems that prevent an M-16 assault rifles from firing properly. This could range from a missing part, down to a piece of flannel getting stuck in the tiny delicate internal parts. The soldiers have to figure it out on their own.

In the communication competition, soldiers had to fix problems with devices like walkie talkies and field laptops. To finish, they had to perform a test broadcast to finish.

The most highly-anticipated competition of the day was the cooking competition, performed by each battalions’ head chef and their team of soldiers. Though this is not something that would be applied out in the battlefield, it is definitely something that can increase the quality of living at combat bases on a day-to-day basis. What made this different from other cooking competitions? All the food was made using only the simple ingredients supplied at IDF (Zahal) bases. The dishes, which ranged from stuffed chicken and tuna to salads and desserts, were good enough to be served in a fine restaurant.

Soldier vs. Soldier in Combat Zone Competition

One of the chefs placing his creation, lamb meatballs dipped in crushed almonds, on the presentation plate

Lieutenant Colonel Shiri Lavie was the mastermind behind the whole event. As a logistics officer in the Northern Command, she wanted to give soldiers a way to practice their most important skills in a fun way.

Soldier vs. Soldier in Combat Zone Competition

Lt. Col. Lavie, the organizer of Competition Day, inspiring the soldiers before presenting the winners

Lt. Col. Lavie had several important goals for event. “One is to improve the Command’s ability as a whole to take care of and withstand difficult real-life situations. Another is to strengthen the soldiers’ sense of unit pride and reinforce their identity as combat support soldiers.”

Were these goals accomplished? “Yes,” said Lt. Col. Lavie, as she awarded the first prize to an overjoyed engineering battalion.

Soldier vs. Soldier in Combat Zone Competition