British-Israeli among 120 ‘outstanding’ soldiers honoured by President Herzog

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British-Israeli among 120 ‘outstanding’ soldiers honoured by President Herzog

"Not many people get to do what I do, to be in an amazing combat unit and to guard my home. Every day is a threat there, but our presence helps them live in peace," Adam Russel tells Jewish News.

Adam Russel, British Israeli soldier who received an honorary award from President Herzog.
Adam Russel, British Israeli soldier who received an honorary award from President Herzog.

British-Israeli citizen, Adam Russel, was among 120 “outstanding” soldiers honoured by Israel’s President on Independence Day. 

Russel was awarded for his outstanding service as a soldier in the IDF’s 74th Battalion of the 188th Brigade of the Armoured Reconnaissance Company, also known as the tank unit. He is what is known as a “loader”, which means he carries ammunition and loads it onto the tank.

Speaking to Jewish News ahead of the presidential ceremony, Russel said his family immigrated from Edgware, England to Israel with in 2014 when he was 11 years old, just two months before the Gaza war broke out.

Despite the harsh new reality of war, Russel said his family dealt “quite well” with adapting to life in Moshav Talmei Yosef near the Gaza border.

“As a child, to hear all the booms and sirens from your room and see the tanks coming, really just turns into a lifestyle,” Russel said.

British-Israeli citizen, Adam Russel, was among 120 “outstanding” soldiers honoured by Israel’s President on Independence Day. Credit: IDF

When it was time to enlist in the army, his memories of the tanks protecting his family and the rest of the citizens in the Moshav had made an impact which unit he wanted to be in.

“I think the tanks kind of sat with me in my subconscious. Understanding the effects tanks have on warfare, I had no doubt that this was the unit I wanted to be in,” Russel said.

But being in the armoured corps is no walk in the park. In fact it’s not a very popular unit due to the physical and mental hardship the soldiers endure.

“There is also stigma about the unit, with some saying you don’t get to go home and that you are always dirty. But I can say that it’s no worse than any other place,” he said.

After eight months of training, Russel was certified as a fighter and went straight into a commander’s course. Luckily, he was sent the unit that protects the Gaza border, just 10 minutes from his family’s house.

One of the most challenging experiences for Russel was a week of war simulation, where his unit was under extreme physical and mental duress.

“For about 4-5 days we don’t change our clothes in the tank, it’s in the middle of the summer, so it’s extremely hot. You just wear your overalls and a kevlar vest, which gives you a rash and it’s hard to move in it,” he said.

“Each person has a fan in there but when it’s 40 degrees it doesn’t help much. To be inside the tank for a full week is really hard. I got to a breaking point but I passed it. To understand what your body can actually do,” Russel added.

Despite the difficulties and hardship, Russel takes pride in what he does: “Not many people get to do what I do, to be in an amazing combat unit and to guard my home. Every day is a threat there, but just us being there helps them live in peace. That has been an amazing experience to me.”

Russel is still close to his family in England, visiting as often as he can and calling his grandparents every week. But moving to Israel, he said, was no doubt the right decision.

President Herzog and IDF chief of staff Herzl Halevi honouring 120 outstanding IDF soldiers. Credit: Kobi Gideon (GPO)

“It’s a big contrast. Apart from the threat from Gaza, there’s huge freedom here and there’s barely any crime. Your parents let you go out and play at the playground by yourself. And if you want to meet your friend, you just to do it,” Russel said.

“In England it’s all about planning the play dates and so on. It sounds silly but that’s how it works. I miss England and I love the country. Every time it rains here it reminds me of England. But I won’t move back,” he added.

At a ceremony on Israel’s 75th Independence Day, President Herzog thanked the 120 outstanding soldiers for their service, saying: “On behalf of the entire nation, I want to tell you: I am proud of you. We are all proud of you! Well done!”

“You, the 120 outstanding soldiers on this stage, are 120 exemplars of hidden light and of hope. The IDF is the people’s army, and you, dear outstanding soldiers, together with your devoted and loving families, who give you strength, and who deserve enormous thanks today—you are our absolutely most beautiful face; the most beautiful face of the State of Israel,” Herzog.

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