What is hidden behind the mask of invulnerability of an IDF soldier?

Where does man find the courage to fight for his country, his loved ones, his brothers in arms and his survival? What makes a real soldier? Max Levin’s account, Under the gurney, sheds light on the experiences of IDF soldiers during Operation Protective Edge 2014, exposing humanity behind the distant and stoic mask of a soldier’s strength and invulnerability. Levin gives a face and a name to the heroes who without hesitation carried the weight of war on their shoulders, revealing the multifaceted character of determined, brave and proud men, but also scared, broken and alone.
Levin begins his war story by recalling his amazement as a child when he saw IDF soldiers protecting his country. Born into a Zionist Jewish-American family, Levin vowed to join them one day. Keeping his word, at age 18, Levin moved to Israel, underwent grueling tests, and proudly joined the Parachute Brigade as a lone soldier.

The training Levin endured brought his body and mind to the breaking point, navigating and marching through the rugged terrain of Israel, carrying heavy supplies on his back and a stretcher on his shoulders, climbing mountain after mountain for days at a time without a moment of rest. .

Levin describes the loneliness and defeat he felt during a particular sailing on New Year’s Eve: “I was wondering what my friends and family were doing at the time. They were probably in town or maybe at home lounging, having a barbecue or watching the fireworks. Although not me. I would stumble in the dead of night, climb the slopes of the mountains and try not to get lost in the desert. “

In war, circumstances demanded that a soldier continue despite hunger, thirst, pain, and exhaustion, and Levin’s commanders forced his team to exceed their physical and mental capabilities, teaching them to fight with every ounce of their power. be to survive. Failure, Levin learned, was not an option; Giving up could mean his dismissal from the unit now, but later, it was a matter of life and death.

“The goal was to be metachat ha’alunkah, or under the stretcher, for as long as possible,” Levin recalled. “The only thing that mattered, once under the gurney, was bringing your friend and teammate home alive.”

Although his training was serious and arduous, Levin admits that he and his team still found ways to lighten the mood and have fun like teenagers always do.

“One of our favorite songs to play was Mulan’s, I’ll Make a Man Out of You,” he shared. “From the balconies, the soldiers jumped up singing: ‘Let’s get down to business …'”. Just 24 hours after Levin and his team completed the training, they were thrown into the jaws of war in a ground operation that sent them into Gaza to destroy a network of Hamas terror tunnels.

Levin summons to the page the doubt and terror that gripped him as the bullets rushed past and the explosions echoed loudly; it conveys the weariness that threatened to overwhelm him as he walked through the unknown, leading dying men across the battlefield and leading us, readers, to savor fear on our lips and tighten our grip on the pages.

“I had carried stretchers through sand dunes and mountains countless times … But this was the first time I had carried a wounded soldier on a stretcher … This man, my brother in arms, could be dying,” he wrote .

Under the Stretcher by Max Levin (credit: Red Penguin Books)

Levin witnessed despair along with bravery as he and his team were caught in a fatal blast that killed those closest to the eruption and struck him on the head. Levin recalls that “one of the officers … had tears in his eyes when he saw me … He went into the other room, closing the door behind him.

I could hear him sobbing in anguish. “

Each soldier had a way of coping with pain and persevering, Levin learned.

In the wake of the war, Levin felt as if a stretcher of pain, honor, and responsibility rested on his shoulders, urging him to carry on under its weight. “Those people with whom I trained and went to war, whom I call my brothers, would pick me up on their stretcher and carry me … Who will lift the stretcher and carry them?” Levin went on to complete his service and handle trials for his unit, closing the loop from the boy who decided to fight for his values ​​to the soldier who will decide who will take his shoes next.

Under the Stretcher is Levin’s fascinating tribute to the true and brave soldiers of the IDF, who were also boys and men who fought, loved, joked, feared and never gave up. In its final pages, he dedicates the book to the fallen soldiers, in a stark reminder that his tale is a true story and his heroic characters were real people.

His story offers a glimpse into the secret lives of IDF soldiers, making them accessible to English readers, advising and inspiring everyone to fight for what they believe most. Under the Stretcher recalls each soldier’s journey through the unknown and fearsome, leaping across lonely fields in the dead of night, carrying what they value most on their shoulders, up the steep and menacing mountain towards the first lights of the night. dawn.


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