“Save yourself” said the wounded
“I’m staying here with you” replied the medic
From the Ballad of the Medic
I have lived in Israel for exactly two thirds of my life. Almost. I have lived in four different areas of the country, had a dozen or so addresses and voted in way too many elections.
I have seen just about all there is to see.
But not everything, and last week, on the first day of Hanukkah, I had the opportunity to visit a place in Israel that I have never been to, and probably will never see again.
The Yigal Yadin Army Training Base – better known as Tzrifin – was originally built by the British Army in 1917 during World War 1. Some of the original buildings are still there. Located between Rishon L’Zion and Ramle, and situated on prime real estate, Tzrifin is the largest army base in the country. It is what is known as a ‘container base’ in that it is actually made up of, amongst other things, about a dozen or so training bases known as Bahadim [sing. Bahad] (בה”דים), which is army slang for, well, training base (בסיס הדרכה). There is a Bahad for Logistics, one for Extraction and Rescue, a third for Computers and Telecommunications, a fourth for Medical Professions, and so on (i.e., NOT basic combat training).
Each Bahad is an entity of its own, with its own hierarchy, chain of command, and all facilities. There are fast food places, banks, and even a small shopping area. The largest military jail in the country is also in Tzrifin. The place is, in essence, a small city. Thousands of soldiers serve there, and just about everybody who has served in the army has been there at one time or another. But I never served in the army, so I’ve never been.
Bahad 10, aka the School for Medical Professions, trains army medics. These medics undergo a four-month intensive course on frontline first aid and trauma care. They learn how to put on tourniquets, how to stop bleeding, various bandaging methods, CPR, and more.
In the olden days, in far-away lands, medical personnel were not armed, and were labeled as non-combatants. They wore a distinguishing emblem on their uniforms (usually a red cross) so as not to be targeted by the enemy. However, in recent times, warfare has been waged against an enemy who does not respect — to put it mildly — the rules of the Geneva Convention, and targets — with absolutely no hesitation — combatants and non-combatants, women, children and elderly alike.
Israeli medics are therefore armed and also fully trained as combat soldiers. Besides a small pin they wear on their dress uniforms, they wear no distinguishing marks. That would make them a clear target to our illustrious enemies.
At the end of the four-month course, Bahad 10 holds a graduation ceremony, swearing the newbies into their new duties. Last week, about 150 young men aged 18-20 were so sworn in. One of those young medics was my youngest son.
When A was chosen to do the Medic’s course, he was a bit anxious. He would leave his unit, one month into basic training, and be with people he had never met before. He know he would have to later catch up with their training. It would be difficult, but off he went.
For the four months of training, every weekend A was home, he spent a goodly amount of time tying tourniquets on every stuffed animal in the house, the legs of the tables, and for laughs, the necks of his sisters. Once, I caught him bandaging the perfectly healthy turtles that live in our back yard. He gave infusions to the teletubbies doll.
He would come home with blue gloves, infusion tubes, empty vials, and bruises on his arms where he had been practiced on for taking blood. He looked like a junky. I hate to think what the other guy looked like.
He would tell us funny stories, recite new words that he’d learn (hypothermia was one he especially liked, must be the Canadian in him), and demonstrate new skills. He did his homework meticulously and with an enthusiasm he never had in 12 years of school
On the day of his graduation, I packed a truckload full of food, as is the custom of mothers of IDF soldiers, and off we went.
We arrived, the soldier son met us and we had a picnic. We ate the hamper of food – or some of it at least – took pictures, kvelled with nachas, and walked him to the grounds where the ceremony was to take place.
We sat in the bleachers and watched 150 enormously handsome young soldiers from all the different brigades march in and form lines. A few short speeches, a little bit of marching, and then each soldier was given his medic’s pin while ‘The Ballad to the Medic’ was played.
It was the first day of Hanukkah and a time of miracles, and indeed, one occurred right there: I didn’t cry.
At least, not until the soldiers took their oath.
When Israeli soldiers join the IDF, they swear that they will give everything, including their lives, for the State and its people. The Medic’s Oath, much longer and more elaborate than the regular oath, states that they will treat everyone, ‘friend or foe’, in all conditions, and that, most importantly, they will never leave anyone in the field.
The morality of the oath struck me full force.
We teach our sons to heal, not to hate.
I later googled around online, looking for the medic’s oath of different armies. I found nothing. That’s not to say that they don’t exist, I just couldn’t find it. Yet, the Israeli oath was relatively easy to find, in both English and Hebrew.
Our enemies do not train medics. They do not treat enemy soldiers who have fallen. They leave their own in the field, knowing that we will care for them. Yet, the disapprovals and accusations and condemnations and hatred are reserved for the army who thoroughly trains soldiers to treat, not only their own soldiers and civilians, but also any enemy soldiers and civilians at the risk of their own lives.
We teach our sons to heal, not to hate.
We teach our sons to love life, not seek death.
We are in the middle of Hanukkah, the holiday of light. May the light of the Jewish nation spread ever outward, and chase the ever encroaching darkness away.
The IDF Medic’s Oath
I, a soldier in the Medical Corps of the IDF
This day, swear
to extend a helping hand to any who is injured or ill,
be he lowly or venerable, friend or foe – to any fellow man.
I swear to bring healing and balm to body and soul,
to maintain discretion, loyalty and honor,
and to consider our actions with intelligence, resourcefulness and love of humanity.
I will always be my brother’s keeper
Whether in battle, on a stretcher
Or at their bedside
I swear that my heart will be forever engraved
With the highest Commandment of sacrifice –
To never leave the wounded in the field.
I hereby swear!