They spent the next three weeks working with the Golani Brigade and a pilot came to speak with them, to talk about the limitations and advantages of air power. He was a major and like a poster boy for recruitment. He set some of the ladies all of a flutter.
He started off outlining the capabilities of the Air Force and the types of munitions carried. He explained reaction times, range and length that an F16 could stay on station, as providing an overview on combat air support, such as paratroop drops and air-to-air refuelling.
He elucidated that Israel had only fought one war without air supremacy, the first part of the Yom Kippur war. The Israelis had lost a very large number of the Skyhawks to Egyptian and Syrian surface to air missiles. This had curtailed the Israeli army’s courses of action and many tanks were lost to Sagger guided missiles.
“We continued to lose aircraft attempting to destroy the launchers, we tried toss bombing but it was not a success and then we switched tactics to destroy the antennae of the tracking radar with artillery fire. This allowed the aircraft to finish off the missile sites with conventional bombs. The Army, specifically the tanks could then advance to a new baseline. After the war, it became a priority to develop and anti-radiation missile to destroy enemy tracking and guidance radar. The lesson for you is that with the best will in the world, we can’t provide air cover in a hostile air environment.”
After the presentation he took questions and Staff Sergeant Hoffman invited him to stay for a coffee, where he chatted to them. Firstly, he addressed them all:
“I’m immensely impressed and humbled by your level of commitment. You will be doing and extremely dangerous job to serve Israel, and it is our duty to ensure you are well prepared for it,” and then he mingled. He spoke with Zelig and Aisha first, their being air force. Next he spoke with Dan, Gad and Efrayim, asking them why they had decided to become Mista’arvim. For both of them it was pretty much to see action because the Golani Brigade was in reserve at the moment and opportunities to make live paradrops was non-existent.
Then he spoke with Batya and Heyfa. Batya seemed absolutely bowled over by this handsome pilot and giggled nervously. Afarin raised her eyes. He asked a lot questions to Freida about tank tactics and what she thought of the latest variant of the Merkava, then moved on to Heyfa with a winning smile.
“You are a Maronite Christian I believe, from the Lebanon.”
“Yes, sir, I am.”
“You have served in the IDF and are now going straight into this job. May I ask why?”
“Because Israel is the only chance, we have to kick the Hezbollah bastards out of our country. Oh, I’m so sorry, sir.”
“They are starting to fire rockets again. We try to hit their launchers, but it’s not easy to spot them without eyes on the ground. That makes you very important people.”
Finally, he turned to Afarin, “And you must be the English lady. I believe that you’ve undertaken covert operations already.”
“Yes, sir. Afghanistan and Iraq. I was attached to the SAS in Afghanistan.”
“You are a member of the Special Reconnaissance Regiment? Why on earth are you here?”
He seemed well briefed and he was particularly good looking, “MI6 sent me here for training. I think there are political concerns that are above my pay grade.”
“MI6, is that Britain’s Secret Intelligence Service.”
“Well, English lady. I wish you every success, both during this course and in the future.”
His questions were intelligent, not patronising and he seemed genuinely interested in their backgrounds. He smiled a lot and when he talked to them, they felt like the only people in the room.
When he had gone the girls compared notes.
“I was completely tongue-tied. I wonder if they’re all like that?”
Then they looked at Zelig, “Perhaps not.”
He smiled good naturedly, “I couldn’t bear the responsibility of giving you all my babies. I bet one or two of you held a candle for him and wouldn’t mind.”
“Well that’s Heyfa and Afarin out of the running. We’ll just have to fight between ourselves.” Aisha said.
“Wait a dammed minute. Back home I’m the scourge of the Gentiles.”
“That’s true,” Heyfa told them, “Afarin is fucking James Bond.”
“Relax. He’s a spook, but nice and kind with it.”
“Does he have a licence to kill you softly.”
Afarin smiled shyly, “Eventually.”
On the other side of the room, Dan spoke to Efrayim, “They’re like they’re on heat.”
Gad was watching Afarin closely and as she looked round, he smiled shyly. She thought about what Heyfa had said to her.
He is a virgin. Would you consider it your civic duty?
In the afternoon it was back to the ranges, to make sure they hadn’t forgotten anything over Pentecost. She fumbled rectifying a gas stoppage on the Tavor and the range conducting officer kicked her arse.
“Concentrate Ms Khan,” but her groupings were good and the magazine changes slick due to the tracer rounds.
It was firing the Glock which really surprised her, standing, kneeling or sitting she regularly managed tight, two-inch groups. They had been trained to take head shots rather than fire at the centre of mass. The range officer looked at her results and patted her on the shoulder.
“You have got so much better, no stray rounds. Now we will concentrate on shooting fast, because she who shoots second is dead.”
Afarin spent the next hour practicing drawing her Glock, taking off the slide lock and rapid fire on a selection of targets. Some were of women and children and she was told not to fire at them. Predictably, her groupings were less tight with some stray rounds.
“We’ll work on it. It will get better because you have an aptitude for the pistol. Some never get it. OK, collect the brass and go to wherever you have to go next. See you next time.”
Afarin decided to miss dinner with the team and went back to her apartment. She switched on the kettle and poured it in a tub of chicken noodles. While it was soaking in, she dumped her kit and sat on the sofa to eat it. It was tasteless pap, but warm and nourishing. She finished with some dates, cleaned her Glock then looked at her watch. Two hours difference. She picked up her mobile phone.
It rang some time before he answered the call. His voice made her sigh with homesickness.
“Jean-Claude, it’s me.”
“Afarin, let me go out to the breakout room. Don’t hang up.”
She waited until he came back on again, “How are you?”
“I really miss you, Jean-Claude. I never thought I would say that about anyone. Do you miss me?” she asked plaintively.
“Of course I do. I miss your cooking and I have a supply of olive oil ready for you. But firstly, important things. The contracts will be exchanged next week. Do you remember the survey mentioned the shrubs at the front of the house, well they’ve gone?””
“Who did you get to do that?”
“I did at the weekends.”
“Oh, thank you.”
“What do you want to do about furniture? There’s nothing in the house for when you move in. Do you want me to buy some essentials?”
“Bed, sofa, sideboard, some cooking stuff, such as a cooker, pans and plates. God Afarin, you’re hopeless at this.”
“I’ve never done it before. I need someone to look after me.”
“As soon as I get the keys, I’ll have a look round, see what the carpets are like and what will fit in where. What size of bed do you want?”
“Big enough to share with you, Jean-Claude.”
He smiled at the sincerity of her voice over the phone, “Leave it with me. You’ll just have to trust my tastes, but I’ll only spend the basics. It won’t be cheap crap, but good value for money. Now while I remember, Alan sends his best wishes and wonders how you’re getting on.”
“Well, mostly they’re nice, but one of them, a paratrooper was horrible to me. I had to fight him.”
“Oh God, did you?”
“Yes. We kicked the shit out of each other, but now we’ve come to an agreement.”
“Oh bloody hell,” he said over the phone.
“But I really want to come home and see you, Mr Spook.”
“You’ll have a house, with a big bed,” he assured her.
“Thank you. Jean-Claude…”
“Nothing. It doesn’t matter,” but it mattered a great deal to her. She just lacked the courage.
“Keep yourself safe, Afarin and remember St Michael.”
“He has pride of place between my boobies. Goodbye, Jean-Claude.”
She stared at the wall, suddenly feeling very lonely. It was an early night and she thought of his voice while she fell asleep.
The next morning, Afarin had an early breakfast because she wanted to speak with Efrayim and get a few pointers for operating with aircraft. She was sitting alone in the mess. When she became aware of three figures standing over her.
“Good morning, sisters.”
They weren’t little sisters any more. They were soldiers.
“Sit down and tell me what you’ve been up to. It’s good to see you’re still friends.”
“We pass out and go onto phase two training next week,” One of the girls said to her.
They looked her over taking everything in, from her beret and gloves to the length of rope coiled and clipped with carabiners to the top and shoulders of her body armour. Her fatigues were now faded and darned and the Kevlar knee pads were shabby. They wanted to be her.
“Why do you have rope on your kit, Miss?”
“Because it’s handy for pulling me or my kit out of trouble. There’s three metres of rope, which you can join to someone else’s rope.”
“What’s that green and black thing round your neck, Miss?”
“It’s my keffiyeh.”
“Like ours when we were at school, only a different colour. Where did you get it from?”
“It was given to me by a Special Air Service NCO, a long time ago when I was in Afghanistan.”
“It sounds like an air delivery service, like DHL,” one of them said, wrinkling her pretty nose.”
“Google it. You may be surprised. I’d better be going. Allah Yeḥfaẓakunna. Enjoy your lives, look after each other and be kind to everyone. Promise me?”
They nodded faithfully and watched her go, “I wonder if she has a boyfriend?”
“Or girlfriend?” they giggled.
When Afarin arrived at the classrooms, Efrayim was waiting for her.
“Hello, Afarin. As you’ll probably leading a section today, I have some top tips for you. You’ll be leading up to thirty men from the Golani Brigade and they won’t take prisoners. Be firm, accurate and brief, because the worst thing you can do, is do nothing.
“Forget for now the air aspect and don’t get sucked in. Your job is to lead the platoon effectively. Remember, always keep one foot on the ground, the fire support while the other section moves. Your section should be a reserve, and in a position where you can observe and act on what happens. I would suggest putting Dan as IC one section and Zelig in charge of the other. You of course are in overall charge, so make your briefing at the beginning more about what you want to achieve. Don’t micro manage, just tell the section commanders what you want and let them get on with it. It’s called mission command.”
“Why are you not leading the third section?” she asked.
“Because I will be your radio operator, which means I stick to you like glue. I can help and advise you, which I can’t do leading a section. Zelig is a sound and safe pair of hands. If you want to speak with someone, call “radio” or click your fingers, but just for the purposes of today’s exercise.”
“Now, calling in an air strike. An F16 is travelling at about 800 Kilometres per hour when it begins its attack run. The approach and escape should be clear from obstacles. The pilot has a matter of seconds to identify his target and worry about triple-A or Manpads. Your target identification must be absolutely spot-on, because air support is only as good as the target identification. Don’t pick small features such as the grove of trees or line of vegetation. Go for large, obvious features such as a single house, bridge or even smoke. If all else fails, go on a map reference. But a word of warning, don’t get fixated by the map. You need to see what’s happening around you and besides, the bad guys tend to shoot the person with the map.
“The beaten zone is around three hundred by one hundred metres, so when that plane is barrelling in, make sure everyone is in cover. Finally, don’t blame them if they fuck it up. Blame yourself.”
He patted her arm, “Just enjoy it. You’ll do well and you’re brave.”
“Brave? Me? I don’t feel very brave.”
“I wouldn’t want to fight Dan, but you did and gave him a beating he’ll never forget.”
“I got a beating as well.”
“But he was shocked at how angry you were and so was I. There was a look in your eyes that was dangerous. Dan suddenly realised he’d pushed you too far. You’ll do OK, shefela.”
The rest of them started to arrive and they went outside for the morning inspection. As well as the usual range officer, Staff Sergeant Hoffman was obviously going with them, because he was wearing full combat fighting order.
“Don’t mind me. I will slip into the command section to be directed along with everybody else.”
“The range officer scrutinised his clip board and looked up at the expectant troops, “SAC Khan, you will take the role of platoon commander this morning. Inspect your troops before we move out to the range, where the Golani Brigade troops will be waiting for you.”
She looked at Efrayim who gave an imperceptible nod to her.
Oh well, in for a penny… “Section line up. You too Staff Hoffman, seeing as how you will slip into the command section to be directed along with everybody else. Do you have any objection to my calling you “Hoffman,” for this morning’s exercise?”
“No,” he said through gritted teeth.
One or two of the section were laughing silently, yet hoping she didn’t push it too far. Afarin inspected the section and checked the ammunition for the Negev light machine gun, then she checked all of their weapons had a blank firing attachment and they were on tight and their rounds also. She reported to the range officer.
“All present and correct.”
“Very good. Lead your section to the long range, where you’ll join the other sections. You will be briefed once you’re there.
They set off through the woods as a squad, jogging lightly, until the land opened out into a broad valley and they could see the soldiers of the Golani Brigade relaxing behind the cover of a wall. There were more range officers and as soon as the third section arrived, they called her over.
“Platoon commander, on me!”
She ran over, notebook and pencil ready. They gave her a map.
“Right, your objective this morning is the hamlet, marked on the map as Tamir Glazer. You can’t see the objective for the olive groves. Your mission is to capture the hamlet of Tamir Glazer and hold it until reinforcements arrive. Your call sign is Neve Daniel. Should you need to call in air assets, their callsign is Olive Mount. They will be releasing live ordinance, so remember your safety distances.
“If there are any real casualties, we will call in the medevac chopper. If we see any potentially dangerous practice, we will abort the air mission. You will assemble on the start line and move out at 09:30. Any questions?”
“All right, go and brief your troops and good luck.”
As she walked towards the other section commanders, she was surprised that Staff Sergeant Hoffman was following her.
“Err, shouldn’t you be waiting with the rest of my section, Hoffman?”
“Well, because you’re so important, I’m your close protection. Just one point, why didn’t you brief your section first?”
Damn, she thought to herself. Trust him to fucking notice that, “Because if any of the other sections come out with observations and suggestions, I can amend the plan accordingly.”
“Oh, that’s very good but can you smell anything?” he asked, sniffing the air.
“No, I don’t think so.”
“Well, I can. It’s bullshit.”
She gave the other sections a good, clear brief, ground, situation, mission, timings, execution, call signs and service support. Actions on and friendly and likely enemy forces. She showed them the objective on their maps.
“Dan, you will be Alpha Section, Zelig, Bravo Section. I will be Charlie section. One section will lead with Two Section providing fire support. The changeover will be at your discretion. We are covering a front of five-hundred metres. My section will provide support. Any questions?”
“Resupply?” Dan asked.
“Through me to the directing staff. Same with Medevac.”
As they walked back to brief her team, Hoffman said very quietly: “Good briefing, Ms Khan, but this should be second nature to you.”
“Staff Hoffman. I am a watcher, not an infanteer. I carry out surveillance missions.”
“First time for everything then. Nice and calm. They will look to you for leadership. Give it to them. Remember, when everything is going wrong and you’re spattered with blood and surrounded by your dead, leadership is an act. You’re probably more scared than they are. I believe there’s an English poem that I always remember: But the voice of a schoolboy rallies the ranks, play up, play up and play the game.”
Shefela (literally sheep) is used as a term of endearment.
© Blown Periphery 2022