I just finished my first 'Ranger pudding.' Sitting in the back of the
Bradley fighting vehicle, I followed the recipe instructions I received a
few days ago from one of the guys in the battalion: 'You take the cocoa
powder pouch in the MREs [combat rations], add a pouch of instant coffee,
fill the cocoa pouch with water, and stir.'
It was wonderful. I needed that coffee powder after spending the night
stretched out on the cold metal ramp of the Bradley, freezing in a borrowed
rain poncho. And this after sweating through 18 hours of continuous combat
in the back of the battalion commander's sweltering dusty Bradley.
A couple of hours ago, I saw my first dead body close up. I was eating my
breakfast when one of the guys pointed him out to me. I swallowed my cheese
and crackers and walked over to see. First Sgt. Benjamin Moore from Alpha
company shot him last night. It only later occurred to me to ask when
exactly he engaged him. As I was looking at the already stiff, bloody corpse
of the Republican Guard officer, it didn't register that he was only 20
meters from the Bradley had I slept outside of.
'I saw him crouching here next to the palm trees. I saw his blue clothes –
these sweat suits they wear under their uniforms and then when they see us
coming, they hide their uniforms so we will think they are civilians,' Moore
explained. 'I saw him move to get something so I shot him.'
Sounded good to me as I looked at the Republican Guard's Medina Division's
outpost hidden among the date palms and the mucky marshland. This was a
command post for the 14th Brigade. The 2-7 Mechanized Infantry Battalion I
am watching fight this war destroyed a bunker facility some 100 meters away
from here Wednesday afternoon.
I returned to my breakfast, which was still waiting for me on the ramp of
the vehicle – as was Sgt. Jason Trombley, the battalion commander's gunner,
who killed five Iraqi soldiers yesterday with a Bradley 25-mm. main gun.
'I'm just doing my job,' he said to me. I know what he meant. I myself
didn't think there was anything strange when I called in a report to
Israel's Channel 2 while we were being shot at by RPGs and artillery shells.
Jason's job is to kill the enemy. My job is to report on his progress.
The folks at the station seemed most interested in the weather. This seemed
normal to me because the remarkable thing about the battle from where I was
sitting was how hot and sticky and dusty I was.
War is a very strange thing. I know that I am being fired on. I know that my
life is in at least a modicum of danger as RPG rounds and artillery shells
bounce off the Bradley, but I don't think of these things. I just trust the
people around me. At the same time, even though I have never approached the
level of filth and exhaustion I have reached here, I have never felt more
alive or more myself.
I am the only woman in the battalion. Last night as I got ready to go to
sleep on the ramp of the Bradley, three guys came by wanting to make sure
that I was warm enough. Just as I was starting to fall asleep, someone
looking for something groped at my leg. I pushed him away and said, 'Go
away' in Hebrew. He recoiled with a gasp and disappeared into the darkness.
When I realized what had happened, I couldn't stop smiling. No one wants to
hurt me or take advantage of me because I am a woman. They want to protect
I finished my breakfast after I saw the dead Iraqi officer. Jason Trombley
and Benjamin Moore who killed yesterday teased me last night as I tried to
pound out my story of what they had just done, just as they always tease me
about being a woman, about being a writer, about being tiny and skinny, and
I laughed and told them to leave me alone so I could write about them.
There were several donkeys lining the road by Mussaib yesterday during the
battle. A white Arabian stallion raced after us for a while. This morning,
the battalion commander laughed, saying he would have liked to bring it back
home to Fort Stewart, Georgia.
I mentioned that the Palestinians have loaded bombs on donkey carts several
times over the years and that several Israelis have been murdered by this
tactic. He stopped laughing.
As the resident Israeli with the troops, I have taken on the role of
terrorism adviser. It comes with the territory, I suppose. These men have
deep respect for the IDF. When they discuss moving into built-up areas with
large civilian populations, they tell me, 'The Israelis are really good at
that. You've done some incredible work over the years.'
When they discuss fighting against an army of terrorists, they bring up
Israel's experience and express amazement at our army's successes and our
The officers and men could not hide their disgust and fury when they heard
the Palestinians named a public square after the Iraqi who killed four
soldiers from this battalion in last Saturday's car bombing. The general
response was summed up most succinctly by Specialist Jennings Roberts from
West Virginia: 'Well, maybe when we're done here, we'll just have to go home
by way of the West Bank. You Israelis should take care of that for us.'
Company commander Capt. Rob Smith, from Cleveland, Ohio, normally a study in
self-control, could barely contain his rage when he heard how his men's
killer was being honored. After pausing for a moment, he said, 'They can put
up all the monuments they like. We'll have the best monument soon enough –
Living with this battalion, I feel a pride in America that I have never felt
before, even though America often makes me proud. But this is different.
These men are all willing to fight and risk death to protect their freedom.
In this and in the fact that these men from such different backgrounds,
races, and religions come together as one to serve a common purpose, they
are living proof that America is upholding the promise of its founding.
And yet, remarkably, being here with them, I have never felt more Israeli or
more attached to the land of Israel. Perhaps this attachment has always
existed, but it is only now that I have come to realize it. I never
understood what it means to miss Zion until I came to Babylon. I carry the
land of Israel with me wherever I go. I see an Iraqi date palm along the
Euphrates and I think of Tel Aviv and the Yarkon. I see a shrub in the
desert and try to remember if I saw the same type in the Negev. I walk
through the marshlands and imagine the shade of eucalyptus trees in the Hula
Valley. I smell the earth and I miss the Galilee.
But what is most striking is the light. The sunlight on the sand causes an
almost physical longing for Jerusalem. I look at the light and think about
how the Jerusalem stones change colors throughout the day as the Earth and
the city revolve around the sun. The sand, the light, and the sky all remind
me of Jerusalem.
I do not know what made me decide to come here. When the opportunity arose,
I said yes without a second thought. But I do know what I am getting out of
this experience. I have found my America. And I have discovered that I can
never leave Israel. It sits inside of me, strengthens me, and comforts me to
the center of my soul.
Originally published in The Jerusalem Post.