IDF (Zahal) soldiers endure long and intense training in order to prepare them for any scenario they may face on the battlefield. For those in a combat role, a long masa – journey in Hebrew – marks the end of their training and the beginning of their service as IDF (Zahal) fighters. The Nahal Brigade recently completed a 50km hike through the night towards Masada, where they received their desired green berets.
As snow covered regions of northern Israel, heavy rain poured down on the desert in the south. In the heart of the Negev underneath this downpour, soldiers from the Nahal Brigade stood waiting to begin their masa kumta (beret march in Hebrew), the final portion of their many months of training. After standing in the rain for two hours and anxiously waiting to begin, the soldiers were off on a 50km, 12-hour hike from their base to the ancient fortification Masada.
Rain drenches soldiers at the beginning of the hike.
IDF (Zahal) combat soldiers have a long period of training that can last from many months to over a year. These Nahal soldiers passed four months of basic training and three months of advanced training before they reached the point of the beret march. During their training they learned advanced weapons usage, urban warfare, navigation, and worked in conjunction with the IDF (Zahal)’s Armored Corps and Air Force in combined training with tanks and helicopters.
The soldiers departed from their base at 8:00PM and walked for several hours in the rain and through thick mud. Finally, around midnight, the rain stopped and the soldiers continued throughout the morning until the sun rose above the rocky hills of the Negev, rapidly heating the desert.
A variety of soldiers with many backgrounds participated in the beret march, including immigrant soldiers from across the globe. Twenty seven year-old Cpl. Randy Swartz from Atlanta, Georgia, was one of these many soldiers. “I can’t believe it but we made it all the way here, right now, to Masada,” said Cpl. Swartz as the soldiers made their way closer to Masada, their final destination. “When you came to visit Israel when you were a little kid you saw the soldiers. You wanted to be them and you wanted to emulate them and finally its happening.”
Another soldier who completed the march was Cpl. Jonathan, a 25 year-old from the suburbs of Paris. “I wanted to live here because I’m a Zionist,” he said. “The ideal is to serve in the IDF (Zahal).”
Finally, after marching 50km, throughout the night and through rain and oppressive heat, the soldiers climbed their way up the side of the mountain and to the top where they were greeted with amazing views of the Dead Sea.
“All of the hard work that you put in, and the sacrifices you make – being away from your family – it just gives it a bigger meaning,” summarized Cpl. Swartz at the end of the march. “You just appreciate Israel and you appreciate what you’re doing.”
For successfully completing the march, the Nahal soldiers are awarded their distinctive light green beret. Now they will go on to guard Israel’s borders and help make up the unique force that is the IDF (Zahal).