Last month, after six months of advanced training, soldiers of the Nahal Infantry Brigade marched with pride to complete their 57 kilometer beret march. The march challenged their endurance and skills – and most importantly, their sense of brotherhood.
9:00 a.m. is fast approaching. The sun has risen over Masada, the temperature is rising after a cool night, and five hundred faces are painted in camouflage colors. Fifteen hours earlier, with 20 kilograms on their backs, and 57 kilometers ahead of them, the newest soldiers of the Nahal Brigade began a journey together that would test their strength, their endurance, and perhaps most importantly, their ability to work together.
The masa kumta (beret march) is the final test which marks the completion of six months of training to become an infantry soldier. The 57 km trek tests all of the material – battle knowledge, preparation for combat and survival techniques – that the soldiers have learned in the past six months. The hike also includes a five km section where soldiers carry one another on stretchers to safety. The soldiers’ main job is not simply to finish the beret march successfully, but to support the other soldiers to the finish line as well, cheering them on and encouraging them. Pvt. Adam Hartwick, a lone soldier from Canada, explained how he got his fellow Nahal Brigade soldiers through the grueling beret march: “I told jokes, made them laugh and counted down the kilometers we had left,” he said.
Around midnight, with blistered feet, aching muscles and an overwhelming feeling of fatigue, the soldiers have completed just 20 kilometers. They stop at a rest point where they are given something to eat. They are allowed to rest for only 25 minutes and are then given the command to continue. Slowly, the soldiers grab their gear and fall into step, leaving the rest site and disappearing once again into the night. It’s now pitch black, and the soldiers’ true test is quickly approaching. They must now rely on one another’s instincts to march through the darkness.
Cpl. Tom Solomon, a combat soldier in the Nahal Brigade, told us how he kept his mind on the finish line: “When you feel you are about to give up, you start being a man and just keep on marching,” he said. “You do not give up on yourself and you tell yourself that you are not going to stay behind. The commanders would always tell us that there is always someone who has it harder than you, and you need to be there for them. You always think about your friends and not about yourself.”
Pvt. Oree Stockelman, who led the pack in the front, explained the sense of responsibility he felt leading the rest of his soldiers. “It was hard. I had to watch my step – everyone was behind me. If I fell, they might have fallen too. It would have been like a chain reaction.” There were times when the flat road turned into a narrow snake path, with little traction and a heavy decline, and the soldiers were forced to hold on to one another and make sure that no one fell or lost their balance. That is the true test of teamwork – looking out for one another.
Brotherhood is the heart of the beret march. Although the march is physical and tests a soldier’s endurance, the true test of survival is to push each other that extra step in order to get through it together.
As the soldiers completed the last few steps of the march up the slopes of Masada, they came to realize that this was not their own personal battle but one they fought together. “We helped each other out and everyone had to finish because [failure] was not an option,” said Pvt. Hartwick. They had to succeed as a unit, as the Nahal Infantry Brigade, and as IDF soldiers. And succeed they did.