August 31, 2011
This post originally appeared at OneLoneSoldier.blogspot.com on Jan. 29
I’ve always hated guns and violence. I’m in favor of tightening domestic gun control laws in the US, and I’ve always preferred to abstain from movies and video games that depict realistic violence, on account of both my ideology and my weak stomach (I remember vomiting during the stabbing scene in Saving Private Ryan). I’d never even held a gun, much less fired one, until joining the army a few months ago. So it came as a bit of a surprise, and perhaps the richest irony of my army experience so far, to discover at the outset that I’m something of a natural with a rifle in my hands. I received lights-out shooting marks on our first day at the range, and in the weeks since I’ve been recognized among the top few shooters in my company (of 150 soldiers).
Each squad is structured such that several of its soldiers have special roles (and special equipment and training to accompany those roles); the first several weeks of basic training are spent evaluating soldiers in their potential capacities for these various roles, and at around the halfway point the roles are assigned. Among all the roles (including medic, machine gunner, grenade launcher, radio operator and a couple others), sharpshooter is perhaps the most sought-after, and has special importance and prestige attached to it. This is why it was a great honor, and an unforgettable moment in my army experience so far, to be told last week that I’d been selected as a sharpshooter. Perhaps most notable about the position - and probably the reason everyone wants it so much - is the awesome (and ridiculously expensive) set of equipment issued to it.
In short, if I happened to like guns I’d be absolutely giddy. In any case, I’m still overjoyed, but less because of my shiny new equipment and more because of the honor and implicit trust my commander has placed in me with the assignment.
This past week was spent training with the other new sharpshooters in the company. Most of the latter part of the week was spent shooting all day and all night, but the first part of the week was in a classroom setting, with thorough explanations of the concepts most important to our new position. One of the most important general themes was the adjustment of shots (particularly long-distance ones) in order to account for factors such as the arc of the bullet’s flight, a target’s movement, or even wind. It struck me midway through the lectures how similar the content was to my high school physics classes. At this point I found myself drifting away, lost in my own thoughts, somewhat captivated by the realization of the great similarity of the information yet the shocking difference in its application, somewhat frightened at the extreme power I suddenly found in my hands, somewhat overwhelmed at the acceptance of the notion that in this moment I was, to the fullest and most literal extent, a student of war. In high school, I sat in class every day, took notes, and studied to learn how to pass the AP exam. Now, too, I sat in class taking notes and studying intently, but instead I was learning how to take someone’s head off from three football fields away in the dead of night.
I’ve found that the notion that I may be called upon to attack and extinguish human life is easy to recognize on its face, but very difficult to fully grasp, internalize, accept. This moment, this reverie in the classroom, constituted the most vivid mental connection I’ve experienced so far between martial theory and martial practice, the most concrete bridge I’ve drawn between my preparation for war in the abstract, textbook sense, and my deeply personal, human process of preparation for the potential necessity to put to use everything I’ve learned when there’s flesh rather than cardboard at the end of the crosshairs.
I’m beginning to bleed into something I’d like to dedicate another entire blog entry (or two) to, so I’ll wrap up, but hopefully I’ve conveyed that this moment in the classroom was among the most profound I’ve had in the army so far, and adds another defining point to the twists and turns of my army experience. There’s always a lot to do and even more to think about, and in this sense I’m finding everyday life more stimulating and invigorating than it’s ever been before. Back to the desert tomorrow for more training, and I hope I’ll have more to share about the life of a sharpshooter-in-training when I return to the comforts of home in a couple more weeks.
Ben Bastomski is a Santa Barbara native who is currently serving in the Nachal Brigade of the Israel Defense Forces as a Lone Soldier. A Lone Soldier is a non-Israeli citizen who has committed to serving in the IDF and often does not have any family or support system in Israel. Ben has been blogging about his experiences in Israel since he began his tour of duty; he will be completing his service in December 2011. To read all of his posts, click here.