"To the People at the Wings Program, I cannot express my gratitude for your financial assistance. I was released from the army nearly a year ago, and as I walked out of the base for the last time, I felt I would be coming back the following week. It takes a while for one to adjust to the notion that he is no longer a conscripted soldier, and is now completely free to do what he pleases. With this grant, I can now say with infinitely more conviction that I will be successful in continuing to serve Israel, once as a soldier, and now, more importantly, as a citizen.
Life in the military is not easy: there’s little to no freedom, one’s life is almost entirely dictated by others, and family seems worlds away (sometimes accurately so). In some ways, however, civilian life can be just as, if not more challenging. As a civilian, and particularly as a student, one must learn a whole new routine, and to answer to a new authority: oneself.
The word “lone soldier”, to me, represents a paradox. On the one hand, my family from Baltimore was thousands of miles away and I saw them only a handful of times during my service. On the other, I built a new family here in Israel that although relatively new, will last a lifetime.
Part of the family I made was my team in Sayeret Tzanchanim (Paratroopers). For about a year, our service was not exceptionally eventful. There were missions, patrols and so forth. In June of 2014, however, the IDF began the search of three kidnapped teenagers in the West Bank. Sayeret Tzanchanim was at the forefront of the search. We thought we had just done the “big thing” of our service. Then came Operation “Protective Edge”. In the days leading up to the ground invasion, there is endless preparation at the border. We had been through this already with “Pillar of Defense”, and although we didn’t go in then, we were used to the pressure. This time, we would be going in, quite literally, first.
For sixteen days, we fought with the ultimate purpose of quelling the rocket attacks on Israel civilians. It was the most trying experience of my life, and I lost four friends during it. Though we knew what we were doing was right and necessary, after sixteen days, we wanted to finish the job so we could get home to our families. When we crossed the border back into Israel, we were grinning from ear to ear.
I was released from active service a couple months afterwards. It was bittersweet. My team and I got together for beers and barbecue, and we laughed and reminisced over the last three years. We still do this, by the way. We drove together to base to cut our Army ID cards, and the day after, I flew back to the states to be with my parents. I flew back to the states because I needed a break. I needed to process everything I had just been through. After enough time, I accepted that there was a void in my life that could only be filled by being and living here in Israel. So here I am, back in Israel, this time as a student. My family is still back home, but like before, I have another family that has my back. Programs like the Jewish Agency's Wings program reinforce that sense of support. For this, I thank you."