Visiting Israel, I found myself, one sunny day, driving by the Bakoom (the IDF – Israeli Defense Forces – processing center for new recruits.) The base’s sight triggered a forgotten memory from some 30 plus years prior. Post High-School, I was determined to become an Air-Force pilot. This was nothing new. Commanding the airways was a desire of mine since I can remember myself; building model airplanes, reading Air-Force magazine, eyes gazing up the skies — always searching for a random jet passing by. Thus, with only one thing on my mind, I joyfully entered the compulsory military recruitment process. [For readers unfamiliar with Israel, all 18 yo men and women are required to serve in the military.] I had no Plan B; I was to become an Air-Force pilot. Passing the earlier phases of the processing and testing, I flunked the medical. This was quite unexpected. Turns out that a minor defect in my vision — one that had no bearing on my day to day life, deemed me disqualified for becoming an Air-Force pilot. I was kicked out of candidacy. Dazed and confused I found myself wondering the pathways of the Bakoom. The base had a large area where each military arm had a booth, in it, representatives were trying to allure fresh recruits to sign up with them. [Those who sign with no one, end up being sent to positions according to the recruitment office’s decision. Thus, if one has a unit he or she wishes to join, they are better off volunteering, rather than wait the random decision of someone else]. I listened to the pitches each presenter gave for joining their wing: parachutes, armored division, and the likes, yet my shock-stricken mind heard nothing. All it played in a repeated loop was the rejection from the Air-Force pilot training program; my childhood dreams shattered.
A day of useless wondering around passed by, and then, out of chance, or because I already walked through all the other possible booths, I found myself wondering into the Navy’s presentation area. I should mention here that I never cared for the Navy. In fact, I clearly remember a visit I made just a couple of years prior to a Navy base; visiting a post of a friend of my older brother. It was on Israel’s Independence Day. Traditionally on that day, several military bases open their gates for visits by family members and friends of the soldiers who serve in those bases. One of my brother’s friends was positioned there, and since another one of his friends served in a not too far Air Force base, which we were also to visit, I joined him for the day. I recall walking along the docks and thinking to myself that it’s a curious exhibit as I am not likely to ever see this (Navy) base again. Me? Navy? Ha! Sighting a submarine docked along our way, I vividly remember reflecting that this green tube is likely the last vessel you will ever find me on. Who wants to be caged, trapped inside a freaking depth seeking pipe? Not me…
Fast forward back to the day after my Air-Force rejection. There I was, at the Bakoom, sitting at a screening room of the Navy’s presentation area, listening without really hearing a lecture by a young officer, who was marveling at the team-work and beautify of this underwater vessel. His talk was followed by a short film about life as a submariner. It illustrated the submarine moving in three dimensions beneath the water i.e. not just forward and back, right and left, but also up and down!
Somewhere, in the confused grey matter I occasionally refer to as brain, a connection was formed. Wait a minute! I told myself – a submarine is really just like an airplane! Only that it moves much slower, navigate underwater, and operated by a large team rather than a single pilot, but in all other respects it’s… you’ve got it – EXACTLY like an airplane…
The rest is history. I hurried to sign up as a volunteer. I should also mention that it wasn’t actually that instant. Turns out that despite having the highest possible military medical profile (97 I think it was,) I had a bunch of medically related sub-clauses, each for a specific condition. None were critical as a whole, but each could hamper a certain ability. One of those was that sight issue I mentioned earlier; another was a clause that disqualified me for submarine service… But this time I didn’t let it go. I went before a medical committee to plead my case –that the clause should be removed. As it happened, I was the only soldier facing that committee who came to remove a clause; all the other recruits in line, appealed to claim disqualification for one sort of service or another. I still remember the surprised expression on the face of the doctor that interviewed me. When I entered the room he didn’t bother with raising his head. He just said, his voice full of spite, “what do you want, a cheat.” [That wasn’t personal – I suspect it is how he addressed all who came before him.] I answered that I came to remove a sub-clause under my profile so that I may volunteer to the submarines. There was a short pause, and then he raised his head, confusion replacing his smeared disgust. “That is a first,” he muttered under his breath. The sub-clause was removed, clearing my way to volunteer.
Needless to say, though airplanes and submarines do indeed move in a three-dimensional space, that is where any similarity starts and… ends. Years later I have experienced the ability to even more freely navigate the third dimension. That happened long after my military service –already residing in New York, I took to scuba-diving; a hobby I still practice and love. I also had a chance to take up to the air, and though I enjoyed it, turns out I love being underwater much more than up there in the skies. Thus, ultimately, I am not disappointed for not becoming a pilot. When I came to learn more, through other channels, about what being a pilot entails, the romanticism I attached to it as a child, cleared its way to a reality that I may not have liked as much as I fantasized. Round and about, rarely do fantasies fulfill the expectations we set upon them. At any rate, underwater feels more natural to me, which is why I love to, geographically, reside by bodies of water.
Regarding my personal journey, I can only quote Douglas Adams who once said, “I may not have gone where I intended to go, but I think I have ended up where I needed to be.”
Learned from: Driving by the Bakoom in Israel.