The IDF (Zahal) prides itself on being an institution of nation and social cohesion. In 2004, the IDF (Zahal) continued in its tradition of innovation and established a unique mixed-gender infantry unit: the Caracal Battalion. Soldiers from both sexes train and serve together in this unit on the Israel-Egypt border. The IDF (Zahal) Blog followed the battalion’s newest recruits during their last week of training and took an exclusive look at what makes this unit extraordinary.
The Caracal Battalion’s training base is located in the Negev Desert, in southern Israel. After seven months and three weeks of training, the Caracal recruits face another 7 days and 21 kilometers of a final march before they can call themselves combat soldiers.
“We have gone through a lot together,” explains Pvt. Shalev. “We all came here with different backgrounds. Since the beginning of the training one goal has connected us: we all chose to serve in this unit because of the symbol it represents.”
Pvt. Shalev – like every other female soldier in the battalion – volunteered to join Caracal even though she was required to sign for an extra year of military service. “Two or three years: it is not such a big difference,” she explains. “Being a combat soldier is a once-in-a-lifetime experience.”
When asked about the dynamic between male and female soldiers in her company, Pvt. A. says: “Here we do not make any distinction between the sexes. We both wear the same uniform, carry the same weapons. If a male soldier is injured, he knows I will carry him to safety – same goes the other way around.”
Pvt. Shalev poses with two male soldiers from the battalion.
This feeling of gender-equality is shared by one of the soldier’s female commanders, Staff Sgt. Stela. “I’ve never felt the difference between male and female soldiers,” she says. “I think that this unit has a lot of potential. We female soldiers are able to do a lot more than people realize.”
Staff Sgt. Stela immigrated to Israel from Brazil at age 18. “Caracal was always on my mind. I came here to serve my people and my country,” she recounts. “I was born into a very religious family in Rio de Janeiro. I am observant and very feminine, but defending your country is not a question of gender. Being a combat soldier is about self-sacrifice and motivation.”
“I discovered myself here. I became stronger,” Stela concludes. “I can now accomplish physical tasks that I would have never considered doing before, and I know my soldiers – both male and female – also discovered their true capabilities during their training.”
The IDF (Zahal) is proud to see that more women are volunteering to join the ranks of mixed gender combat units, and that the idea of brothers and sisters in arms that started as a revolutionary idea 11 years ago has now become a well-accepted fact.