We received orders to recommence our mission and to leave the house. So we left. Once again, however, the mission was postponed. We advanced only slightly and moved into a beachside resort house. The house itself was beautiful but rather uncomfortable. It was still under construction and therefore lacked furniture.

A strange feature of this house was pigeons. But not just any pigeons. I have never, ever encountered birds like these. I mean, they were like giant Hamas pigeons from hell. It sounds stupid, I know. But these pigeons were first of all huge. And they weren't afraid of anything. They would waddle up to you and become openly irritated at you for "invading their space." They would actually start pecking at your feet, expressing their annoyance. They wouldn't leave you alone unless you physically shooed them away. Then they would fly around the corner of the building for exactly thirty seconds and then return, twice as many of them as before, and literally start attacking you. I have never seen anything like it in my life. It was so freaky we even made videos of it.

In this house we met up with Platoon 5, the Recon Platoon. I soon found my good friends, "Wee-Man" from South Africa and "The Glowing" from Connecticut, USA. As soldiers always do, we began swapping stories.

Wee-Man and The Glowing related a story involving a true miracle. The Recon Platoon had been advancing to another position. Because they are reconnaissance, they are often, but not always, much farther forward than most other platoons. In this particular case they had moved so far ahead that the tanks had not yet realized their presence. The tanks received the wrong coordinates of a Hamas squad, saw the Recon Platoon, and fired a shell at them. The shell landed in the sand at the feet of a Russian-Israeli commander. The sand, however, apparently had not been dense enough to detonate the shell. It skidded "harmlessly" to a halt about a meter away from him. He stood there, staring in shock at the unexploded tank shell.

Another battalion of the paratroopers wasn't so lucky. Their 1st lieutenant had led a platoon into a house and conquered it. Similarly the tanks had been unaware of their incursion and had received distorted coordinates of Hamas activity. To make it worse the 1st lieutenant briefly took off his helmet, presumably to adjust the straps. The tanks put a shell into the house through the window. This shell, however, did explode. He was killed instantaneously.

(Note: I have heard an alternate report of this story insisting that the 1st lieutenant was killed by a Hamas RPG attack. After a brief personal investigation I have determined that the account given by Wee-Man and The Glowing involving friendly tank fire is more accurate.

I also heard a report about an almost successful attempt by Hamas to kidnap one of our soldiers, but was never able to get enough details or verify the validity of this rumor. Any information or comments about either incident are welcome.)

Not all the stories and rumors heard in the army are accurate or truthful. In fact, most of them probably are not. At one point I even heard a claim that one of our best special forces units had located and rescued the previously kidnapped soldier, Gilad Shalit. I immediately discredited this rumor as false, as it obviously was.

They had another story for me. They were making an urban assault when one of the sharpshooters of Platoon 5 spotted a figure in the window of a neighbor house. He called it in. The person was dressed in a civilian sweater, standing near the window, and taking notes on a notepad. It was obvious that he was spying for Hamas against the Israeli advance. The sharpshooter received permission to fire. He misjudged the range, however, and barely missed, hitting just above his head. It turns out that the figure was the soldier of another battalion entirely. While stationed in the Hamas house he had become cold, put on a civilian sweater, taken off his helmet, stood next to the window, and began making notes of… I don't know what. It was not a very smart thing to do. And he almost paid for it with his life.

And so now I will address the question that has been posed to me many times: "Why so much friendly fire?" Basically there are three reasons friendly fire occurs.

First of all, there is something called "The Fog of War." When everything is literally blowing up around you the human body enters a state of shock that makes proper and accurate communication very difficult. The deafening noise doesn't help either. An entire group of people trying to function in this state of shock, noise, and confusion is highly problematic. One of the most important goals of military training is to reduce this shock to a minimum and to teach soldiers to operate automatically and according to instincts. While training helps dramatically it does not totally eliminate the shock factor.

Another problem is a lack of "originality," as it is called in Hebrew, with the differing units and battalions. Within Paratroopers 890, especially the Heavy Weapons & Recon Company, I usually know exactly who is going where and doing what without even thinking about it. You just know from months, even years, of training and experience who is going to do what, where, why, how, etc. We do not, however, necessarily have the same knowledge as to what the tanks, for example, are going to do. Likewise, they do not necessarily know how we move and operate.

And then we must consider that people sometimes just do stupid things, either from shock or some other unknown reason. While stupidity to this level is rare, all it takes is one person not using their brain to take out an entire platoon.

If there was one definite mistake of Operation Cast Lead it was the amount of friendly fire. As aforementioned it is very, very unfortunate that the majority of casualties were from friendly fire rather than Hamas reprisal.