Mud, sweat and no tears: Training the future soldiers of Israel’s army

With a mandatory three-year military service looming after graduation, teenage Israeli boys, and increasingly girls, too, gear up for the draft by getting into shape and trying to improve their chances of acceptance into elite combat units.

Military service has long been a national rite of passage in Israel, with most high school students competing to get into the most prestigious combat units. (Ultra-Orthodox Jews and Arabs are largely exempt.) Some students train solo, others in groups, in order to be ready for the pre-draft workouts the military holds for those who want to become air force pilots, naval officers or commandos. Many serve in reserve units well into their 40s.

Among many youths, it is customary to spend afternoons and weekends in military-style training preparations. One such group of about 400 seniors from around the country has been doing strength and endurance training with a military veteran to prepare for the rigors of the army, including running through an obstacle course.

“The mandatory military service is one of the experiences that most shapes the lives of Israelis,” said Nir Cohen, 31, a former paratrooper who runs the “Excellent Training” program. “We try to prepare them both physically and mentally.”

Text by Associated Press Photo

Photos by AP photographer Oded Balilty