Crawling, running, and digging - these are just some of the elements of the challenging tryouts
“Keep it together, this is your only chance!” Shouts sound through the crisp air at the basic training base “Dotan,” or more commonly known as “Camp 80”. On this cold Febuary morning, the base feels like a battlefield, stretchers are hoisted high, soldiers crawl through wet mud and dig deep, filling large bags with sand. This isn’t a new training session for elite commandos, but a tryout for female soldiers looking to become combatants. Women from all over the country came to wallow in the mud and run from point to point carrying stretchers in order to prepare for their recruitment as IDF fighters.
The IDF combat tryouts are fairly common and occur throughout the year. Alongside the tryouts for elite and commando units, there are also tryouts for female soldiers to which 12th grade girls at age 17 are invited from across the country. Some want to be combat soldiers in field intelligence, others dream of a three-year service in the Caracal Battalion near the Egyptian border, and some are eager to fill the ranks of the Artillery Corps operating sophisticated firing systems shoulder-to-shoulder with male soldiers. These trials focus mainly on the strength of mind, so even if one doesn’t possess exemplary combat skills, they may find themselves succeeding.
“We recruit from the entire population of Israel, which presents a challenging task. Sometimes we get people who come here and don’t believe they can finish basic training. This is our motto: all are capable,” said commander of “Dotan” base, Lt. Col. Oranit Miller. She added, “The tryout is a direct representation of the army’s attempt to open the door for women and realize their potential.” Maj. Ido Levy, deputy base commander, points out that “about 60 percent of women pass through the trial, out of hundreds that come to it each year. Two months afterwards, they will receive a placement letter in the mail.”
Last week, 70 prospective servicewomen arrived at the muddy grounds of “Camp 80”, and were separated into their respective squads. To distinguish between them, girls wore color-coordinated numbers that they wore over the next 24 hours. On the first day, after an opening discussion with Maj. Ido Levy, the girls underwent a physical anaerobic test designed to test their ability to be combat soldiers. “The girls do not have to be in top shape to pass the examination,” Maj. Levy said, “what we’re looking for is mental endurance - the ability to get up after you’ve been knocked down and continue as if nothing happened. We also look for leadership qualities, if you can get people to follow you even if you are not the fastest or strongest. This is very important.”
After the physical exam, the girls passed through psychological tests, which constitute a very important step in the process. These tests examine the girls’ mental capability and ability to cope with hardships. The interesting parts occur in the middle of the night and continue into the early morning. “Everyone in the trials knows about getting woken up. They all know we are going to jump them out of bed, they’ve heard it from companies who have previously been through the trial, but no one knows when - that’s how we keep the element of surprise and prepare them for the unexpected,” said the commander of the tryout.
“Headquarters woke us shouting at around 4 am,” said a resident from Binyamina in the trials. “I was very scared, but I knew it was going to happen. This is a part of the game. From 6 am the girls, dressed in IDF uniforms with numbers on their backs, began debilitating physical tasks. Throughout the base, stations were set up with various tasks including lugging stretchers, filling sacks with sand and building a wall, and crawling as a group - where everyone is dependent on the group, one doesn’t move unless they all move.
“Whoever doesn’t run like their life depends on it will not be a fighter!” shouted the commanders, many of them reservists, former fighters who have passed through the trial and know what it’s like. This is part of their reserve duty - to be a commander in the combat soldier tryouts. Rigid command, physical and mental hardships are not enough to stop the determined group of girls. Although it is stressed at all times that at any moment they can give up and go home, few do. The majority make it all the way through and receive an invitation to the “Fighting Forces”.