An up-close look at the special weapons training of the Nahal Reconnaissance Battalion
The new recruits to the elite Nahal Reconnaissance Battalion, who in July were still wearing jeans and t-shirts, recently began their intense, specialized training. They crawl in the mud, spend long weeks at the firing ranges, learn to travel in armored vehicles, study camouflage techniques, and train with the rifle in every possible way. They live in the field with painted faces, rising above the heat and cold, eating battle rations and sleeping in tents, returning home every two weeks. Throughout their intensive training, the fighters are expected to give of themselves above and beyond.
The wind kicked up a cloud of sand into the grey sky above and everything not anchored down to a grey army blanket was carried off in the wind. The fighters, however, didn't move. They stood completely still in the face of the cold and biting wind, weighed down by their six kilogram guns, their red boots covered in a layer of sand as they stood at the firing line.
"Open the launcher! Close it hard! Good. Get in position!" ordered the company vice-commander in basic training, Lt. Hananel Tovianu to the soldier standing in front of him. "Prone position!" he yelled and the recruit dropped down on to the rocks below him, settling into position as the commander ordered him to open fire. He set the weapon to semi-automatic and took aim at the target. A few seconds passed as the soldier aimed and then the sound of a loud, hollow 'tick'. A second passed, then another--moments of tension until an orange flash announced the direct hit before being confirmed by the sound of the target being hit. The smell of gunpowder filled the air. Another grenade entered the barrel. "Terrorist!" the officer shouted and more orange smoke smoldered in the distance. Another hit. The recruit's shoulders shook from the recoil. The launcher was unloaded with a metallic sound—click click click.
"The LAW is a lethal weapon. It is no ordinary gun," Yuval, a fighter in the reconnaissance battalion said excitedly. "We like the LAW because it's important and simple to operate," he added and Gadfao, another fighter standing next to him said, "We are going to pinpoint the head of the target." They get cut off mid-sentence by the vice-commander ordering them to the firing line.
"Fire in the hole!" warned the soldier a moment before the first round of fire. The soldier gripped the rocket launcher, his eyes narrowed in impressive concentration as he lay completely still. The sound of the shot ripped through the desert air, as the target was engulfed by an orange flash—a direct hit. They practiced in each of the stances—standing and crouching, at various distances—the priority being to make certain that they know how to utilize all the capabilities that the LAW offers.
The sun began to fade as the wind picked up. Grey rain clouds filled the sky. The special equipment was handed out and the few soldiers to fire the MATADOR put on their vests. The sand whipped around them but the unblinking soldiers did not even notice.
"We teach the soldiers that, before everything else, they need to know about weaponry: mechanisms, operation, structure, ammunition and the different firing positions. We really try to instill in them motivation about the weapon that they received and to teach them how important each weapon is," infantry instructors Sgt. Michal Koren and Cpl. Noi Spiegelman explained. "We showed them videos from which they understood the effect of this weapon. They are really excited," they said and the soldiers admit it themselves. There are arguments among them about what's better—the LAW, the MATADOR or the grenade launcher.
The heavy rocket rested on the ready shoulders of the fighter, his eyes glued to the target, his hands steady. The wind shrieked and then was silent as a bright flare wrapped the rocket in an orange glow, the soldier sending an orange fireball soaring towards the target. The spark of the metal target announced a successful shot.
The marksmen formed a large group of unmistakable recruits: they have keen eyes, a high level of discipline, supreme patience, and a steady, decisive finger on the trigger.
The soldiers waited for the call. "You need to be constantly prepared, because you never know when you'll have to shoot," yelled the platoon commander in a loud voice so that he could be heard clearly by the soldiers—each of whom wore earplugs.
The order was given to load the rifles and to the untrained ear it sounded as though one powerful rifle was being loaded—when in actual fact it was many being loaded in exact timing. The soldiers dropped to the ground simultaneously with impressive precision. The platoon commander stood behind, counting intermittently, "two…four…seven…." It was silent, and the tension was palpable. The wind alone could be heard. "Fire!" the order went out and a single giant boom shook the firing range. The desert shuddered, and hearts pounded.
Only the sharp shooters were steady after the shots. The smell of gunpowder filled the spaces between them but they were as still as statues. Their gazes did not waver even a millimeter from the target. It was the perfect coordination of a symphony of marksmen; the firing range is their concert hall.