During the summer of 2006 I was the director of a summer camp in Israel. I remember it being a scorching hot day and we were all counting down the minutes till pool time. I stopped by the soccer field and kicked around the ball with some campers and then stopped by the baseball field where I took a couple of swings. The sun was shining and the kids were having a blast and then everything changed.
My phone began ringing and thinking it was a parent of a camper who wanted to know how their kid was doing, I answered in English with a happy “Hello?” On the other side of the line was a woman who was speaking in very fast Hebrew and her orders were clear and concise.
IDF OFFICER: Ari Fuld?
IDF OFFICER: This is Orit from your unit’s central command.
IDF OFFICER: Your unit has been drafted! You need to be up on the Northern border in the next 5 hours – get your gear together and catch the next bus!
ME: ……. understood
Israel was in the middle of the Second Lebanon War and I knew it was only a matter of time till I would be getting the call. Although I was expecting to be drafted, when I actually got the call a wave of fear mixed with a huge feeling of pride overcame me. I ran to find the owner of the camp to quickly relay the news and then ran frantically to find my three kids who were playing joyfully with their bunk.
Do I take them home or let them finish their day here in camp? Should I tell them where I am going? Should I say goodbye? A thousand thoughts were going through my mind but I had no time to waste on these questions. I found my two daughters and my son and told them we had to go home. All three reacted with a long nooooooooooooooo!!!
Each of them were in the middle of a great game and they wanted to continue having fun. But daddy had to go…
As they climbed into the car with very long faces, I began to explain to them that I received a call from the army. They were too young to understand the consequences but I do think they felt proud more than scared that their Abba (daddy) was going to fight to protect Israel. As I drove up to the house I ran inside and started throwing gear into my duffel bag. My wife, who was much calmer than me, said, “Relax! Where do you think you’re going? Lebanon?” I turned, smiled and said, “that is exactly where I am going.” She was still calmer than me and told me to relax and that everything would be okay.
My bags were packed, my uniform was on, my boots were tied and within 2 hours I went from fun Camp Director to IDF combat soldier who was about to face Hizbullah terrorists. I said my goodbyes, gave my kids and my wife a huge hug then took each of my children and gave them the traditional blessing a father gives his children on Friday night.
After arriving at my unit’s pick-up point, I had several hours to think as the taxi that was sent to take me and several others raced to the Northern border. I cannot put down on paper the thoughts that were going through my mind, they are just too frightening for me to write. If I ever meet you in person I will relay exactly what was going through my mind and in the deepest part of my soul.
The trip seemed to take forever but once I arrived at my base, time jumped into warp speed. I received my weapon, met my unit and before I knew it we were running, shooting and going through exercises that were designed to get us ready for what we might face. After a day of training we were given our orders and told that within several hours we would be entering Lebanon.
Some guys took the time to rest while others checked their gear. I called home to let everyone know I was okay and sent an SMS that read, “Don’t worry, Am Yisrael Chai” (the nation of Israel is alive). I then decided to go to the Shul (synagogue) on the base and talk to God. The words that came out of my mouth were emotional and somewhat scary. Again, I cannot put on paper the content of my discussion with God, but the words came from very deep within my soul and if I ever meet you I will be happy to describe them to you.
We were off! All geared up and in formation, we began our trek of 30 KM into Lebanon. Whether it was the missiles that hit the area (where we were sitting just moments before the explosion) or the fact that my vest and knapsack were completely destroyed from shrapnel, I lost count of how many times we had a close call. Several of my platoon mates were injured and one was killed and the evacuation of injured friends was probably one of the hardest things I have ever done.
At one point, one of my platoon mates told me I was hit. I reached back to feel liquid dripping out of my vest and my mind was racing with the worst thoughts one can possibly imagine.
If I was hit by shrapnel or a bullet and was in shock, it meant I had only a couple of minutes to get it removed so I was frantically reaching back, feeling for an entry hole. Out of the back of my vest I felt a sharp piece of steel and as I ripped it out, I found myself holding a huge piece of shrapnel that must have blown through my vest and stopped before completely cutting me in half.
After a week of fighting, we started our long walk home completely exhausted, both physically and emotionally.
We had a 30 KM all-night trek and we were at the end of our strength. When we finally made it over the border, I bent down to kiss the ground. I am not sure if it was a sign of how much I love Israel or to thank God I made it out, but it doesn’t really matter. I was back and we had to re-energize and get ready for our next mission. Even after we crossed over the border, we had to walk another 2 KM into Israel due to the fact that buses would not drive up in fear of missile fire.
There was one truck however that did meet us at the border.
The Standing Together jeep with the attached trailer opened up its doors and started giving out food, drinks, new clothing and gear. We were shocked and ecstatic but nothing prepared us for what happened next. David Landau, founder of Standing Together, pulled out a sack filled with hundreds of letters from people around the world who sent their moral support and encouragement. There is no doubt in my mind that the food, drinks, gear and especially those letters gave us the strength to go back in for our final tour of duty in Lebanon.
PAY IT FORWARD
I have been both on the receiving end as well as had the honor to work with Standing Together to ‘Pay It Forward’ to other soldiers. I am still an active sergeant in an elite IDF unit and whenever I meet people who want to support and sponsor projects for Standing Together, they always tell me how much they appreciate what we in the IDF do, but I want to turn the tables and say THANK YOU! It is your support that helps us keep our heads high and we know there are many people from around the world who have our backs.
Now It’s YOUR Turn!
Over the past month I have met with several IDF officers from elite units and together we designed a special operational winter gear pack for soldiers who will be serving during the cold winter months. Besides the fleece jacket, hat, thermal underwear and neckwarmers, we have designed combat gloves that have a split in the trigger finger so that soldiers can wear them and still stay fully operational. Our goal is to supply at least 3,000 IDF soldiers with these packs and we need your help!
I will be visiting the US from November 23rd – December 8th to help raise the funds needed to supply our soldiers with winter packs. I will be traveling from the East Coast to the West Coast, as well as visiting several communities in the South to share my IDF experiences and raise funds for our IDF winter campaign. If you would like to set up a meeting in your area or know people who want to support the IDF in the most effective way possible, I can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
If you would like to sponsor winter packs and help keep our soldiers warm and operational click on the DONATE button below!