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Barack Mandela
Lawyer, Military Veteran, and Philosopher

Rambo 2: African American in the Israeli Army

Barack Mandela in the Golani Brigade on the “Bezeq” IDF base in October 2000. (From Barack Mandela’s Personal Collection)

This is part two of the series titled “Rambo” about my service in the Israel Defense Forces. I served in three IDF units: Sayeret Golani, the Legal Unit (Praklitut), and the 7th Brigade of the Armored Division as a driver of the “Merkava” battle tank. This real life series is inspired by the “Rambo” films starring Sylvester Stallone.

Our housing on the Mikve Allon base is located in barracks. About a dozen dozen soldiers share a large room with bunk beds. All of the buildings seem to be shaped like flat square boxes.

I am scheduled to undergo entry-level basic training while improving my Hebrew. The most elementary level of combat training in the IDF is called “02” training.

As I sit on my bed looking around at the other soldiers, I hear a language I don’t recognize immediately. It’s Russian. About 80 percent of the soldiers taking this course are immigrants from either Russia or Ukraine. There are a few Frenchmen and one soldier from Cuba.

To me, the Russian language sounds like the light buzz of a hummingbird. At first, I feel a bit uneasy, because I don’t understand Russian. But after a while I get used to hearing it.

Soon I learn a few Russian words. Saldat is a soldier. Aftamat is a rifle. Bog is God. And Ivriey means Jewish. Although I am here to learn basic Hebrew, I pick up a few Russian words along the way.

Our first lesson is about the M-16 assault rifle. We form a long line in the courtyard. One by one we are issued an M-16 by a young lieutenant. Along with the weapon there is a small manual. When I look in the booklet, I see the words “for use against human personnel”. Those words demonstrate the seriousness of the situation.

Although the IDF produces its own assault rifle known as the Galil, the M-16 is still the standard weapon for most units. Later, we are also given introductory lessons on the M-4 assault rifle. In the IDF, it is referred to as Mekutsar or “shortened” because it is a smaller version of the M-16.

The instructors drill us in exercises such as disassembling the rifle and then reassembling it as quickly as possible. We also clean the rifle regularly and our weapons are inspected for cleanliness. If a weapon is not up to standard, then the soldier must clean it again.

I notice that 70 percent of the instructors on base are female. It’s great to see smart and capable young women demonstrating their leadership qualities.

As our training continues, we are introduced to basic IDF tactics. One thing we learn is called “Azar”. Azar means oyev zorek rimon or “the enemy throws a grenade”. If this should occur, we learn how to protect ourselves. Our instructors test our readiness by spontaneously yelling “Azar” during our training exercises.

As I begin combat training while learning Hebrew, I am being transformed from “American civilian” into an “Israeli soldier”. I am following in the footsteps of the thousands of Israeli soldiers who served before me such as Yitzhak Rabin, Ehud Barak, Yonatan Netanyahu, and Benjamin Netanyahu.

I am becoming an “Israeli Rambo”.

About the Author
Licensed Attorney. I earned a Doctor of Law at the University of California, College of the Law, San Francisco (Hastings) . I earned a Bachelor of Arts from the University of California, Riverside. I was an international student at the University of Costa Rica Faculty of Law and the Hebrew University of Jerusalem Faculty of Law. I am a military veteran of the United States Air Force and United States Army. I am a laureate of the National Defense Service Medal from the Pentagon. I am a financial donor to following: Harvard Law, Yale Law, Stanford Law, Berkeley Law, UC Hastings College of the Law, UC Davis Law, Columbine High School, Choate Rosemary Hall, Phillips Exeter Academy, Sidwell Friends School, Viewpoint School, Beverly Hills High School, Eton College in the United Kingdom, Special Olympics, Children's Defense Fund, Obama Foundation, Clinton Foundation, Barbra Streisand Foundation, Princeton University, Florida A&M, Howard University, Spelman College, Morehouse College, and the British Red Cross. I am former special assistant and staff attorney to Governor Pete Wilson of California. I was public affairs assistant to US Senator Barbara Boxer. I am a member of the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum.
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