Members of the Paratrooper class of 1982 retrace their Beret March in honor of those who fell in the First Lebanon War
The Beret March, where Paratroopers finally earn the right to wear the red beret on their shoulders, is a momentous occasion in the service of a paratrooper. For the soldiers of Battalion 202 in February of 1982, it meant war. They were called upon to fight in the First Lebanon War a mere four months after their enlistment date. 30 years later the former soldiers reunite with their former commander- now Maj. Gen. Gadi Shamni- to relive the journey from start to finish.
The march began as it always does at the paratrooper jump school. Memories flooded back as veterans walked through the facility where they earned their wings. The company, under the guidance of former soldier Yoav Hess, was lead in jeeps and on foot towards Tsir'a Forest through the Sorek River, mirroring their footsteps along the same 85 km path they followed 30 years ago.
"The idea for the trip sat in my head after the company's 25th anniversary," said reserve battalion commander Lt. Col. (res.) Roy, a former soldier in the company. "The original idea was to revisit the Beret March, but it was dropped. However, after our comrade Yammam (Israeli Swat) Commander Pascal Avrahami was killed in the terrorist attack on route 12, we decided it wasn't something we could just give up on," explained Lt. Col. (res.) Roy, who immediately began planning the event with fellow company members Eyal Gelfand, Moshe Aharoni, and Danny Buzaglo.
Thirty years after the march, the soldiers seem unchanged. They come from an exceptional company, half of whom entered officers training, with one third remaining a commander within the reserves. The company has lost seven members over the years, which has only strengthened their camaraderie and sense of unity.
"Our company remains very solid, even after all these years. It's like we were mobilized yesterday," said former commander Maj. Gen. Gadi Shamni, who spent his previous tour acting as Israel's military attaché to the United States in Washington. "What made us bond together so strongly were the hardships we faced together in battle. They entered the war as young soldiers and served their entire service in Lebanon," recalled Maj. Gen. Shamni. The battle Maj. Gen. Shamni speaks of took place on the first days of the war. It was a fierce battle that erupted nearly as soon as the unit entered Lebanon. They encountered a group who opened fire from all sides in a residential neighborhood. An officer fell in battle and a squad commander was wounded and later died of his wounds."I can go without talking to a member of the company for years but the minute he calls I will drop everything and meet him," said Jacob, a former soldier. "These events that we were thrust into at such a young age, formed bonds that you just cannot explain."
The first day of the trip concluded with the veterans holding a discussion on their most difficult battle, led by retired company veteran, Lt. Col. (res.) Avi Rosalie. The veterans also commemorated those who could not attend. The following day, the veterans, alongside family members of those who fell, entered the forest and made their way up ammunition hill to the climax of the march. "This company is a part of our lives; we cannot let it go so easily," said Maj. Gen. Shamni. "We are still in constant contact, and meet at least once a year either at someone's house, at events like these or other memorial events."
"The 202 Battalion's company of February 1982, we are a unique company," said Maj. Gen. Shamni. "The fighting skills, the strength of spirit, and the camaraderie within the company have helped us complete complex missions both in training and in combat and sometimes under unbearable conditions. For me personally this was one of the best times of my life. The loss was certainly sad to me as a commander, and was one of the most formative events in my life as well."