The new combatants will join the unit, after traversing the exhausting 24 month long training. Just before they join the Shaldag family, the unit’s veterans reminisce and give them some tips for the future
Tal Giladi & Zohar Boneh | Translation: Ohad Zeltzer Zubida
The first mission that Col. (Res.) Muki Betser the first Shaldag (Hebrew for Kingfisher) unit Commander, faced was choosing a name for the brand new IAF commando unit.
For the sake of the mission, he assembled all of the IAF’s headquarter members – and they began brainstorming. “In the beginning, they suggested tree names and names from the bible”, recalls Col. (Res.) Betser, “I suggested we focus on bird names, given that the unit is a part of the Air Force and when the name Shaldag came up, I said ‘Stop! That’s the name’”.
“The White-throated kingfisher likes to hover at a great height in order to identify its prey and then, in a sharp movement dives towards it. Its beak is so sharp large and extremely intimidating, that its poor prey has no chance of survival”, describes Dr. Haim Moyal, an Ornithologist.
This unique form of hunting is what tipped the scales towards the unit’s current name for Col. (Res.) Betser. “The fish, naively swims around in the water, oblivious to the fact that it’s being watched and out of nowhere the Kingfisher spears it with its beak”, he says. “This is how the Kingfisher embodies the most important principle of a commando unit – the element of surprise”.
This week, new combatants will join the Shaldag unit following 24 months of vigorous training. Just a moment before they become full-fledged combatants in the SOF (Special Operation Force) unit, the unit’s veterans give a few tips to the new commando soldiers.
Following Your Mind and Heart
“You have been through a long and exhausting training process”, opens Sergent Major (Res.) I. “It’s no secret that when faced with dilemmas, a combatant has to be able to exercise judgment”. What happens when the moment to decide arrives and as the minutes pass your body inches closer to freezing? “Your instincts and personal abilities to withstand and react are as important as combat procedure and technical skills”.
Although, when the question “Do you have to be emotionally detached in order to traverse complex operational missions?” arises, the answer is not unanimous. First Sergeant Major (Res.) A, believes that in situations as mentioned above, it’s best to set feelings aside. “The ability to make a decision quickly is, in many situations, what makes the decision a good one and sometimes, being on ‘Autopilot’ can help”. Sergent Major (Res.) I, on the other hand is determined that combat soldiers must “Listen to their mind and heart”.
Every combatant knows who creates experiences while the countdown clock to the end of service ticks – his friends. People are everything, declare the reservists of the unit. “The sweat, the uniforms and the weapons are the lot of every combat unit, but what characterizes Shaldag, is the people”, emphasizes First Sergeant Major (Res.) A, as he recalls a story from his training class. “In the first part of training, we had to pass a ‘warrior test’ that affirms that we meet the fitness standards. In the beginning of the week the whole crew passed the test, except for one soldier that didn’t succeed the run. On Friday, instead of going home, the whole crew stayed and ran with him and made sure he passed”.
First Sergeant (Res.) Yehoshua remembers a similar story, as he backtracks to one of the final tests in training. “We navigated outdoors for five days, on one of the days I sustained an injury in my foot, but insisted to keep going”, he recalls, “On the last night I felt like I couldn’t take it anymore, especially since I knew I was last and that everyone was waiting for me atop the hill. That’s when my friends entered the picture, took my backpack and told me I could do it. Without them I couldn’t have done it”. The message is clear: Be there for one-another and lean on your friends for help when challenges arise.
It’s all a Matter of Perspective
What are the differences between training and routine? “Training is a sequence of uncertainties”, shares Sergeant Major (Res.) Y, “However, when you begin routine service everything becomes clear and the operational activity keeps you sharp and ready. You know that you can deal with anything thrown at you and like everything else in life, experience is key”.
For many of the unit’s soldiers, the traditional ceremony on Masada fortress after sundown in front of the burning inscription, as the IAF Commander speaks in front of the excited families, is the most memorable moment of their service. “Today I appreciate the level of influence my service in Shaldag has had on my character and how different it is to anything one might experience in any other special unit. The deep bond between us that is formulated during the intense training course and throughout the strenuous operational activity, escorts me to this day” admits First Sergeant Major (Res.) Yehoshua.
“You have reached incredible heights and lengths. Maintain your humility and modesty and be proud of who you are”, the unit’s veterans congratulate its brand new members that stand before them awaiting their long awaited combat pins.