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A well-written, insightful account of an American's path to becoming an Israeli paratrooper
on June 28, 2006
As a veteran of the IDF, I had been looking forward to Adam Harmon's "Lonely Soldier" for a few months. I am happy to say that I thoroughly enjoyed it.
Even though my service took place 12 years before Adam's, most of the training methods were exactly as I recalled them. The first few hours and days at the Bakum (induction center), the sudden immersion into military life, the all-important interview about where you'd like to serve and the rigors of Tironut (boot camp).
Adam, who grew up in the United States, visited Israel in 1984 after his sophomore year in high school. He very quickly realized that he loved the country and wanted to live there, knowing that he would have to serve in the Israeli Defense Forces. After earning his bachelor's degree, he left his family behind and immigrated to Israel, joining the IDF during the Intifada. The 22-year-old volunteered to join the Tsanchanim (paratroopers) and, more importantly, an elite unit within the paratroopers. Even when things didn't always go his way and despite speaking very little Hebrew, Adam was intent on proving himself worthy of the coveted red beret and underwent the long and grueling training to become a full-fledged Tsanchan.
Adam vividly describes the classic IDF training doctrines and the less-than-formal interaction between commanders and soldiers, even in basic training. There is an emphasis on respect for the person, not the rank, and an egalitarian philosophy permeates the military service. Adam's first few months in the army were particularly challenging not only because of the rigorous drills and forced marches, but because he was still learning the language.
During his training, Adam took part in patrols in the West Bank during the Intifada and experienced Iraq's Scud missile attacks on Israel in 1991. He emerged as a dependable, enthusiastic paratrooper, always willing to volunteer for dangerous missions and always welcoming the challenges of hard training. One of the most important rites of passage for an Israeli paratrooper is the 90-kilometer forced march from Tel-Aviv to Jerusalem, the "Massah koomtah" (march for beret), at the end of which the feldgling paratroopers are given the red berets. Adam's description of this ordeal is vivid and inspiring.
My recommendation for this book comes with a caveat: I could identify with much of what Adam writes about because I underwent similar training. The book struck a responsive chord, basically. For those without this background, the book may not meet the same expectations. Adam does not purport to have engaged in any vital military campaigns or left an indelible mark on the IDF. He was a "cog" in the military machine and his account is that of a soldier who took orders and executed them well -- nothing more, nothing less. The book is a grunt's-eye- view account of an idealistic immigrant.
NOTE: Nitpicking, perhaps, but for the sake of accuracy, I want to point out that the book contains two misspellings that are repeated too many times to be ignored. The special forces unit Duvdevan (which literally means "cherry") is spelled Duvedan. And Sayeret (recon unit) is spelled Sayerit.