Shalom Life | July 01, 2014

A Long-Awaited Reunion

19-Year-Old IDF Soldier From Montreal ”Wants to Be Like Dad”

By: Adam May

Published: December 27th, 2012 in News » World

A Long-Awaited Reunion
There is one simple question each lone soldier who volunteers from abroad will face: Why? Why leave one’s home to serve in the IDF? For Leor Bialy, a 19-year old immigrant from Montreal, Canada, the answer is just as simple. “Everyone wants to be like their dad.”

This is the thought Leor carried with him as he prepared to embark on the last leg of what has been a grueling year-long journey. That night, Leor and his brothers-in-arms would take one last hike into the Golan Heights, adding 40 more kilometers to what has been a seemingly endless march. For the past three weeks the squad has been in simulated wartime, living out in the field and marching across the northern mountain ranges. This final march marked Leor’s last hurdle to completing his training and following in his father’s footsteps.

Leor’s father served in one of the Armored Corps reconnaissance companies, an elite infantry force that moves ahead of the tanks. Leor came to Israel with the intention of joining the 7th Armored Brigade’s recon company, or as it is more commonly known, Palsar 7.

Palsar 7 is one of the IDF’s most decorated units and admission into the esteemed force is no easy task. Leor and his squad mates have established camaraderie forged through the crucible of a tough year of training. The soldiers fight to be there, refusing to sit out a single second of the training, afraid they will miss part of the experience that has bound them together.

As the squad set out into the crisp night, unsure of what was in store, Leor was not nervous. “I’m with the best guys I’ve ever met in my life; whatever they can do to me they’ve done to us in the past year, there’s nothing to be nervous about.”

Stars and tiny flashlights lit the way, the path extending far into the dark hills dotted with the orange lights of sleepy villages. A small line of red-tipped towers vaguely marked the mountains they were soon to climb. As the night wore on, each tower crept into view, grew tall and was left behind.

The squad’s high spirits belied the accumulated exhaustion of three weeks of constant marching. The soldiers were still clad in their “war week” gear, carrying with them all the equipment they need to carry out their missions. On their backs rested a bevy of weaponry, camouflage and observation equipment- adding up to 50% of their body weight. Though at their limit, the squad pushed up their first hill.

A chorus of pants and heavy breathing rose up as the squad crested a hill. The momentary respite of the downhill instantly faded once the realization set in that all the pounding that the muscles were absorbing had shifted to the joints.

The soon exhausted soldiers took turns “pushing the wheel”. Any soldier who began to lag behind was promptly grabbed by his friends, and physically pushed up the column. No matter how tired anyone was, no one was allowed to slow the pace, even if they had to be dragged forward, hand-in-hand.

The soldiers were drawn by what awaited them at the end of their march–entrance into the Palsar. More importantly, they marched towards their parents and loved ones, who awaited them at the finish line. For Leor, who hadn’t seen his father in over a year, he had just one thing pushing him onward. “Tomorrow is my dad, that’s all I care about.”

“The best views are the ones you see with your vest on,” Leor said. “It’s the places no one goes to–the sunrise on a tiny mountain or a hidden view of the Kineret.” In the tiny country of Israel, every inch is full of history. Every mountain and every view has a story. To march through the Golan Heights is to relive the history of Israel.

This march, like all marches the squad has conquered, was filled with its highs, both physical and metaphorical. One such high came when the soldiers climbed the Hermonit, Mount Hermon’s smaller sibling, and site to one of the unit’s darkest chapters. During the Yom Kippur War, Palsar 7 fought a devastating battle over the Hermonit, losing 24 soldiers including the unit’s commander. Today, the site is marked with a memorial.

As the soldiers climbed the infamous hillside, flash-bang grenades illuminated the mount. This time however, it was not an enemy ambush but the current warriors of Palsar 7 rushing forward to meet their new brothers and push them up the hill. The current soldiers welcomed the new recruits into the unit with open arms.

Warriors old and new stood shoulder to shoulder as the united Palsar embarked on the last leg of the journey. The sun began to rise over the hills as the squad reminisced about the countless sunrises they’d seen over the course of their training.

Daylight broke as the squad approached Mount Bental, the site of one of the greatest armored battles of the modern age. 100 Israeli tanks from the 7th Armored Brigade held off an entire Syrian invasion, destroying more than 600 tanks in the process. But to the squad, the mountain meant the end.

Palsar 7’s commander led his unit on a headlong charge, bursting through a wall of smoke to see their families waiting for them at the foot of the mountain. Leor found his father and embraced him. For a moment, the march stopped as father and son were reunited. Leor’s father then grabbed his son by the pack, and the two charged together up Mount Bental.

Maj. Omer Levine, Commander of Palsar 7, spoke at a ceremony officially welcoming Leor and his squad into the unit. He warmly thanked his new soldiers’ parents, relaying an important message. “We give them the skills to succeed, but it is up to you to give them the how and why they serve,” said Maj. Levine. “You are the reason. You are both the how and why we serve.”

Exhausted squad mates celebrated together with their families at the summit. The entire path through the Golan Heights was visible, and in the distance, the march’s starting point came into view. They sat naming the mountains in the distance, remembering the trials faced climbing each one.
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