Same Time Next Year

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Clack, clack goes the ancient M16 against my hip as we hump it down the airstrip. My colossal green pack tries to grind me into the asphalt like a boot on a cigarette butt. I readjust the straps – one shoulder, now the other – with two deep shrugs and a wince. Hundreds of other Special Forces operatives form a channel in my wake. We’re like clones, marching one by one from some Orwellian Xerox machine. Hold on. Wasn’t I just at my favorite café in Brooklyn?

isreali soldiers

Just a blink or three earlier, I am reaching the counter. Only one thought on my mind. “Soy iced latte,” the barista shouts over her shoulder, beating me to the punch. “Thanks,” I offer, taking a seat at “the office,” my customary table. Five bucks worth of caffeine pays a day’s rent in this fantastic hipster establishment. Brooklyn is home 90 percent of the year.

A string of IAF Blackhawks idles to my right – a row of absurdly long propellers as far as the eye can see. “ISIS be damned,” I mumble; even with 20/15 vision, I can’t see an end to this fleet. “Totally damned, they be.”

Our squad reaches its checkpoint – the first of many in this weeklong exercise. Eighteen warriors form a semi-circle now facing the lead chopper.

“Remember,” the bubbly blonde teacher is saying, her back to the whiteboard. “They love to use the word ‘escheat’ on the State test. Here’s a hint:  It’s always the wrong answer!” She repeats this little nugget twice each class, never finding it old. I’ve sat through 75 hours of this hullabaloo, constantly fighting the urge to scroll through Facebook. I’m this close to getting my New York State broker’s license—this is the final push.

“If the bird goes down over water,” explains the copilot. “I’ll release the doors well before we hit. You should have plenty of time to jump. You just might survive, too.” How comforting. Only half of my compatriots even pretend to listen, as though the pilot’s just another annoying flight attendant. How we – along with all our gear – are supposed to fit inside this beast’s gutted interior, is beyond me. The co-pilot isn’t done: “Now, don’t forget to wait for the chopper to go belly up before you swim back to grab hold.” His words lack even a trace of humor or irony. No one seems to find this troublesome.

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