It was 4:30 pm. The sun was beginning the first stage of setting. The entire battalion sat in an auditorium listening attentively to the final speech delivered by the colonel. Suddenly his speech was interrupted. The entire building rocked and the windows shook violently from a massive explosion. There was a moment of silence but the colonel merely smiled and looked at his watch.

"That's our air force," he explained. "And they are starting exactly on time, just as they promised."

The tension broke.

And that was when I realized, more than ever, that the war was real. The war was here.

I realized, more than ever, that the war was real. The war was here.After the briefing we made a final check on our equipment and painted our faces with camouflage paint. I then placed a purple bandana on my head pirate-style. This bandana was a source of teasing for the entire war. Basically the bandana was a gift from one my good friends that was married and religious. She gave it to me, and my friends all wrote nice messages on it. I soon discovered, however, that the bandana itself was extremely comfortable underneath my helmet. It provided warmth in cold weather and absorbed sweat in hot weather. But so, with my face painted and a purple bandana on my head, I proceeded to put on my helmet, body armor, combat vest, and a backpack designed to carry two SPIKE missiles. I later weighed the missile pack and found that it came in at over 45 kg (100 lbs.).

I am in Platoon 6. Our task was to enter Gaza from the very north, relatively close to the beach. We were to proceed 2-3 kilometers by foot to a hill on the outskirts of Elei Sinai. Elei Sinai was a dismantled Jewish settlement that once existed in the Gaza Strip similar to Gush Katif. Now it was just chunks of concrete and abandoned roads.

We left the base. Ironically as we left the base we had to wait in line and sign in.

"Hey, Axel," I called to my best friend, a Canadian Lone Soldier that had received his nickname due to a strikingly similar disposition to the lead singer of Guns 'N Roses. "Are we going to a war or a wedding?"

Finally we started moving. And then the bombardment began. Platoon 7 is a state-of-the-art mortar crew. Their custom-made Israeli technology is so advanced, in fact, that we are currently making deals with the US Marines and sending prototypes to the American armed forces.

I had seen bombardment before, but nothing ever like this. This time they brought out the big guns. The mortars themselves made huge mushrooms of fire and the following boom resonated throughout the entire landscape.

The moment the bombardment began all nervousness vanished. I no longer felt alone, like a measly infantry soldier in the paratroopers weighed down by missiles. We were a team. We were an army. We were friends. And we were gonna sock it hard to Hamas.

The air force also accompanied us. At almost all times there were Cobra gunship choppers flying overhead as well as drone airplanes with surveillance equipment. I later discovered that the drones themselves were not defenseless, and packed a pretty good payload. Likewise the landscape was occasionally illuminated by an enormous explosion in the distance. It was then that I heard the sonic roar of the F-15 Eagles flying low overhead followed by the impact of the detonation.

We pressed on. What they didn't tell us, however, was that the whole way consisted of sand dunes. Walking 3 km in sand dunes with two missiles, body armor, 24 hours of food and water, 200 bullets, etc., is not the most fun thing in the world.

And it was cold. No, I mean really COLD! Anyone that thinks that Israel is warm and pleasant all the time is seriously in error. The climate is very similar to southern California. In the summer it is warm, even hot, especially in the deserts. But in the winter it gets cold, mainly because of the proximity to the sea. And tonight apparently was not an exception.

Most of us had mild hypothermia because some of us, including myself, started passing out Finally we reached our destination and prepared to set up shop with Platoon 5, the Recon Platoon, on a ridge in Elei Sinai. This ridge overlooked the first towns of Gaza from where most of the Kassams had been launched. When we arrived, however, the colonel reassessed the situation and realized that the vast majority of the targets that we were supposed to destroy with our SPIKE missiles had fled from the air force and mortars. So there was no real reason for us to stay there with the Recon Platoon as originally planned. Therefore we were ordered to continue south and join Platoon 8 as a light infantry force spearheading the operation. The only problem was that we still had the missiles and other equipment on our backs, and we had just been ordered to walk another 7 km. Needless to say it was a nightmare. That was the longest 7 km I have ever walked in my life.

We continued marching... and marching... and marching. All the while the mortars and air force proceeded to blow up almost everything in front of us. Apparently the idea of the bombing was not just to clear our path but also to make sure that no civilians remained in the area. Y'all need to understand just how big of a deal it is to be bombed by these things. The explosions are so massive that even from a distance of a kilometer you could feel a solid rush of air against your face and your ears popped from the sudden change of pressure. Now imagine that you are sitting in your house, stubbornly refusing to evacuate, and then mortars start landing 50 meters from your backyard. The idea was that anyone willing to stay in the area after that was either a terrorist ready for a fight and/or suicidal. The technique worked really well, and most of the urban areas we entered were almost completely void of civilian life. Contrary, of course, to what the media would have the world believe.

At about 5 am we arrived at our new destination. It was an abandoned orchard just outside the first city. We quickly dug in and waited for the sun to rise and the rest of the Israeli armed forces to catch up. It was so cold I couldn't feel my feet and I was actually worried that I had a serious problem. Likewise I think most of us had mild hypothermia because some of us, including myself, started passing out while standing up. Later I heard that at least six soldiers from a sister battalion had to be evacuated from severe hypothermia.

I also heard that the Golani battalion had walked into a booby trap. Golani had entered the assault more from a southern and diagonal angle, if you were to consult a map. Golani, however, is known for entering combat quickly and sometimes even recklessly. In some situations this feature is an advantage. In Gaza, however, it proved to be detrimental. In the paratroopers we had proceeded slightly slower, with our mortars (hopefully) blowing up any mines, explosives, or other booby traps along the way. Apparently Golani moved in too fast, or their mortars had missed something. They stepped on a very large mine. Two of their soldiers died and twenty of them were wounded.

I would like to stress, by the way, that the information given about other units is usually NOT based on my first-hand accounts. It is information passed to me by other persons, rumors spread among troops, or conversations heard over the radio. If any of the information provided about, for example, the Golani entry, is not 100% accurate, please let me know. I want my accounts to be as accurate and truthful as possible. I am simply reporting to the best of my knowledge what I saw and heard both about me and my fellow soldiers.