A few days before Elie entered the army, he told me a joke. It was not funny, if you took it in a literal sense, but it showed that he was already becoming a part of the artillery division, even before he had actually joined the army. Like a boy's favorite sports team, Elie was identifying as artillery. It is a bond that will follow him for the rest of his life; a number and a name for his unit and battalion.
The joke went like this:
"What happens when a paratrooper makes a mistake?" he asked me.
I looked at him as he answered, "a paratrooper dies."
"Ouch," I answered, not really liking the joke.
"What happens when artillery makes a mistake?" he continued.
Well, if he was going to follow through and tell me an artillery man dies, I was going to be positively miserable those few days before he entered the army. "I'm not sure I want to know," I answered.
"A paratrooper dies," he said with a grin, knowing what I was thinking.
Elie told me last week that they are about to start training up north. It's a shortened period because of the war. It can't be changed because the army runs on a clock. Soldiers enter the army at certain times of the year and others are discharged. The cycle continues, month after month, rotation after rotation, year after year.
A month of this rotation, even more actually, was taken up with the war. "Do you really need more training after all the shooting you did at Gaza?" I asked him.
"We need to train doing other things," Elie explained. "Lebanon and Syria are not the same as Gaza."
When I asked him what he meant, he explained that the army had to take into account the differences in land and population centers and so the way they fight is different. So for the next month, Elie will be training for the possibility of war in the north. But for the next few days, before that round of training will begin, Elie and his unit will be helping the paratroopers in their training exercises.
"Does that count as training for you?" I asked.
"No, all we have to do is shoot where they tell us to shoot."
"Live ammunition?" I asked.
"Yeah, of course," he said - and then he told me the joke again about what happens when artillery misses.
"Don't miss," I told him.
I could hear the smile in his voice, "we won't, don't worry."