This year's course, reserved for the most combative of the IDF's soldiers, is even harder than its predecessors; with trainees in the dark regarding their next tasks. Several of the soldiers are expected to drop out during the intense training, but one of those still standing is Or Katzav, one of the few female soldiers undergoing training to be an IDF platoon commander.
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Katzav, 21, is from the Har Adar region near Jerusalem. She helps her (male) friends make it through the Black Swan Workshop – an exercise in the Golan in which the trainees must take over an Israeli outpost taken from the Syrians some 40 years ago during the Yom Kippur War – in the dead of night. As such, she has earned the title of the IDF's most combative female soldier.
'I knew giving up was not an option', Katzav (Photo: Yoav Zitun)
"When people see me with the (special training course's) tags they are genuinely surprised and wish me luck," Or says. "Needless to say my family wasn't surprised at all, both my older sisters are also officers."
According to the "proper integration" directives of gender equality in the IDF, female soldiers also have the right to participate alongside their male counterparts in this type of elite course if there is more than one female soldier interested in participating.
Grueling training (Photo: IDF Spokesperson Unit)
The move to integrate female soldiers into the very demanding officers' course began three years ago and has already resulted in one female platoon commander. Nonetheless, female participants this year are few.
"Or and the other cadet have registered significant achievements, thus they have proved that they are no less skilled than the other (male) cadets," the company commander Cpt. Sahar Fogel said.
Katzav had little apprehension regarding spending months shoulder to shoulder with the roughest of male fighters in the IDF. The cadets come from various brigades, including some very secretive and elite ones, and will return to their home units as commanders once the course ends.
"From the outset, even before my pre-army volunteer year, I knew that I wanted to be a combat soldier," she told Ynet. "The course sounds impossible for men but also for women, specifically in light of the daunting physical tasks, for example carrying 30kg (roughly 66 pounds) of equipment. But once I got into it, I didn't notice how quickly time flew by. There were tough times, but I knew giving up was not an option."
For her the hardest moment of her training took place in the midst of a navigation exercise: "I ran into a large bush while climbing on a high mountain by myself. I knew I had three options: To keep going, to call for a rescue evacuation, or to climb back down. Obviously, I opted for the first option."
'At first the other cadets thought it was weird' (Photo: Yoav Zitun)
During a particularly grueling part of the course, known as 'field week,' in which soldiers spend an entire week in the brush, Or and the second female cadet received a small corner of the area in which the soldiers were sleeping for themselves.
"We have our ways to maintain hygienic standards... and privacy. At first the other cadets thought it was weird that there are women at their level, but after a while it became a minor issue. I helped them and they helped me, it became natural. I have learned a lot from the elite soldiers – they taught me techniques that I will pass on to my future soldiers."
Soon, her commanders will decide whether she is to return to her unit guarding the border with Egypt or whether she will open and lead a new course of both female and male soldiers. She prefers the latter.
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