I must be experiencing déjà vu. Here I am, once again at the Lone Soldier Center’s Thanksgiving Dinner, hearing more languages than I can count, seeing “Tzairim” in boots hardly yet scuffed, green berets improperly folded, uniforms without unit distinguishing tags or battalion pins. My best friends and I stood in the exact spot three years ago. We had shown up to the event in our Alef uniforms—fresh from our first day in the IDF and not yet knowing what awaited us. We were inundated with advice from the veteran combat soldiers and friends that we had made from our pre-army training group, Tsevet Lohamim.

Now, less than two weeks after officially completing my service in Sayeret Tzanchanim, it was my turn to give advice to those who just enlisted in the IDF and those who would be enlisting in a mere ten days. I repeated the words that had guided me through my challenging but rewarding army experience: enjoy those glorious few hours of freedom during Shabbat, adding hot sauce to army food can make it partially edible, maintain a positive attitude in the face of adversity, and above all, remember why you left family, friends, and a home country behind- to enlist into the IDF and serve the Jewish people. This commitment to Am Yisrael and clarity of mission is what will sustain you and propel forward even when your legs seem to no longer function and your eyes can barely stay open during those never-ending training exercises.

Finishing a 16 month long Maslul, effecting patrols on multiple borders, and participating in Operation Protective Edge—I often reflect on how much Israel and myself have been through in just three years. Upon completing my university education at UC Santa Barbara, I left behind my life and everyone I love back in California to make Aliyah and become a lone soldier at the age of 22. I did this because of my conviction that just because I was not born in Israel did not mean that I did not bear the same responsibility for her survival and defense.

While it is hard living in Israel away from one’s family, thankfully there are many organizations that now exist to help Lone Soldiers. In fact, following the completion of their service, many former Lone Soldiers contribute their time and resources to help those that will follow in their footsteps. Accordingly, I chose to volunteer at Tsevet Lohamim following my release because the organization helped me immensely prior to my enlistment. Their trainers come from every special-forces unit in the army and provide high intensity military training to help prepare you for some of the hardest tryouts the IDF has to offer. It also builds a network of like-minded and highly motivated friends, friends that become your family. Some of my closest relationships here in Israel are not from my army unit but from 10 months of pre-military training where we prepared our minds and bodies for the danger and the challenges that inevitably awaited us. We have built an unbreakable connection that continues to bond us today as we live, work, and study together.

As Olim Chadashim and IDF combat soldiers, we pledge to protect Israel during troubling times and hope to help her become the light unto other nations that this Jewish State can and should be. This work does not end after we hang up our uniform; it is a lifelong service.