Once a year, the Technological Units of the IDF & IAF enjoy three fun, creative and cooperative days. A sneak peek into the “Technocamp”: the Technological camp of the most secretive units, located at “Ramon” airbase, brings the phrase “thinking outside the box” to a whole new level
Lya Shanel |translation: Loren Mashiah
The chilly breeze of an autumn morning in the middle of the desert only enhanced the growing excitement for the first launching of the new “Iron Dome” system. A voice from the overhead pronouncement system called for all people present to gather around and after long anticipation of waiting behind the safety net, an ‘okay’ was received from the tower for the final act.
The beaming, deafening crowd could be heard from a mile away, counting down excitedly and when the final moment arrived, the missile didn’t let them down and followed the given instructions from its operators to take off. Moments later, the protagonist of the tale crashes into the ground accompanied by the cheering voices, clapping and laughter of the untamed crowd.
As you have probably understood, this was not the actual launching of the “Iron Dome” but a simulation of the whole event as a part of a “Technocamp” activity. There is a certain expectation concerning the participants of this three day seminar which is being held for the fourth year in the “Ramon” airbase; creating an innovative project which contains mechanic and electronic areas.
At the improvised launching site, the creators of the simulated “Iron Dome” missile hurry toward the shattered pieces trying to figure out what caused the problem: well, the missile is made out of especially light weighted Styrofoam which the wind could have knocked down to the ground before it could even be aimed toward the target.
The missile is a sort of model airplane operated by a remote control for which the target is a big balloon that floats around serenely ignoring the enthusiastic mass below.
The creators of the device head off to rescue their creation and guarantee that a touch of glue and a lot of goodwill can do the trick, they will surely be returning for a second run. The crowd is heading out, continuing its daily activities because no one is disappointed of the outcome, not even the inventors themselves.
The Leading principal of “Technocamp” is as follows: it doesn’t matter whether your experiment succeeds. The fact that you took a chance and gave it a shot is the significant one. Actually, the surprise appears usually when inventions top expectations, come to life and operate smoothly.
At the “Ramon” airbase, the various soccer and basketball courts have turned into a strange exposition containing peculiar platforms which’s purpose remained unknown until the explanations were given by the enthusiastic creators , even the pool got a little upgrade with a stretched out carton bridge above the water safely allowing people from one end to another.
Currently hundreds of people are walking around without their uniforms since this time it’s “brain sports”: special seminars covering many subjects are held by the visitors who lecture about their points of interest.
For example, in one course you can learn how to design different shapes out of balloons, in another how to solve a Rubik’s Cube or how to dream lucid dreams.
Lectures about photography, methods for memory improvement and how to break a lock were available for the visitors and others were improvised when needed. In between lectures, guest speakers were invited to talk about different subject and issues.
“Technocamp” is based mostly on a “UN-conference” American format where the visitors are in charge of the activities. Yossi Vardi, an entrepreneur, is the one responsible for bringing the format to Israel.
“In 2006 Yossi Vardi invited me to his conference at the Sea of Galilee so that I could try recruiting people that will join us”, says A’, a CTO at the General Security Services, entrepreneur and head of “Technocamp”.
“I was very excited so I told him that I was going try to do the same thing over at our airbase. He said that someone else talked to him about the same thing and that certain someone was Brigadier General Gabi Shahor who was then the Commander of ‘Palmachim’ airbase and wanted to do the same thing for the IAF”.
The encounter between A’ and Brigadier General Gabi Shahor gave birth to a new idea of creating a conference where the IAF, Intelligence and other Defense units could take part in. In 2008, the first “Technocamp” was held.
“That’s how it all began” reminisces A’.
Security holds a major card when gathering the masterminds of the defense forces though it seems as if the specific location is protecting not only the participants from the world but the world from the participants.
The most popular activities around “Technocamp” revolve around flying, launching, exploding and setting things on fire. The control tower of “Ramon” learns how to deal with rocket launchings and odd objects flying around the aerial area of the base, while the force’s airplanes continue to take off and land with no disruptions.
Thinking Out of the Box
The immediate purpose of “Technocamp” is that all participants enjoy their time without thinking of the consequences which could occur to the Israel’s Defense system, encourages creativity.
“The IAF and the IDF are hierarchic organizations where creative people might lose themselves”, says Major Ofir. “We have an opportunity to show people that even if we are a part of a military structure, we can think outside the box”.
“Arriving here is like building a startup in the middle of your airbase. And for people like us who come from technical worlds, it definitely gives you some room for a fresh, creative breeze”, says Major Ofir. “Beyond that, it’s just interesting and entertaining. People enjoy spending time here; people are walking around with smiles on their faces it’s very hard to believe that it’s all happening in a military structure. People get here with sparks in their eyes”.
Close, but not Exactly
A lot of effort was put into the “Technocamp’s” highlight which was created by the technical intelligence unit. After a day’s work of assembling and adjusting, a very strange device which looks like the “Google Chrome Browser” is operating, with a three meter diameter and shown to be simulating a waterslide.
The previous attraction of “Technocamp” was brought back for another round following the demands of the crowd, who were mostly in bathing suits and ready to give it a try.”It’s crazy, you feel as if you are on a really fast waterslide”, says a shivering experimenter while wrapping himself with a towel.
The idea is pretty simple: a large wheel turning on a pole which allows it to divert in many directions. The bottom is filled with water, a person sits inside and starts spinning, but instead of continuing along the route, the route is circling you. That gives the affect of swirling on the slide and the whole thing surprisingly works.
“We are a very creative unit, our daily work is so uncompromising and exact and ‘Technocamp’ is the exact opposite”, says Lieutenant Colonel Uri, CTO of the Intelligence unit. “We are used to creating intelligent and useful things; here everything we do is very smart but definitely not useful. The meaning is what counts. A part of preparing for ‘Technocamp’ is making people feel like the project doesn’t have to be perfect. It could be just under perfect and only partially successfully. It’s hard to make that switch”.
Creativity, similarly to cooperation, has a deeper meaning than to allow the different unit geniuses to feel like the “Nutty Professor” for a few days.
“Today, technology is turning into an accessible cheap product which could be turned into weapons by any of our enemies”, explains A’.
“We are working in an official and bureaucratic way and can’t always get things done in the best possible way or quickly”.
“Technocamp” give you the ability to improvise and allows people to increase quick thinking which could ease the development of complicated projects.
“It’s the only reason that unit Commanders consider it important”, says A’.
“For me, hosting the ‘Technocamp’ is like a mission to the IAF because the IAF is all about this”, says Major Ofir. “When the IAF was established, it used to assemble airplanes from thin air. These are the elements we were raised by and along the way, once we evolved, we became more established. We need people who can think creatively and can make important breakthroughs”.
There is another way
Most activities at ‘Technocamp’ are improvised, but some have been repeated themselves every year and after four years have already become a tradition: “Nighttime Cooking” which splits into dairy night and meat night, for example, during which the participants cook in all sorts of creative and strange ways. Starting with a three diameter pizza and continuing with piercing meat through a pole maneuvered by a bicycle. None the less there is also an extravagant talent show and the “Technocamp’s” band.
“From my perspective, the event will continue on for years”, promises Brigadier General (Res.) Gabi Shahor, former Commander of “Palmachim” airbase. “I believe that ‘Technocamp’ will keep going on because it contributes in the personal sense as well as organizationally. It uplifts people’s motivations and the cooperation between the units”.
“Why doesn’t anyone here wear his uniform? Because at ‘Technocamp’ your rank doesn’t count. What counts is your creativity, your ambition and your originality”, emphasizes Brigadier General (res.) Shahor. “This is an informal event and we would like to keep it that way”.