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Andrew Silberman, an Illinois native, shares for the first time his wartime experiences in Gaza and at the Israel-Lebanon border.
From Gaza to sleepy suburban Chicago: Israel Defense Forces reservist Andrew Silberman has returned to his childhood home after a three-month deployment.
It was a deployment he mostly spent in the trenches at the Israel-Lebanon border, where he says his unit was providing cover for IDF tanks under "constant artillery shelling" and missiles launched by Hezbollah.
"It's all about statistics at that point. You hope you don't end up being the place where the rocket falls," said Silberman.
For eight days in late December, he was deployed to Bureij in central Gaza as part of an infantry battalion charged, in part, with capturing new territory and blowing up tunnel entrances "without causing immense levels of destruction."
The 21-year-old says his unit found tunnel shafts, on average, every 100 meters, often next to schools and other civilian buildings. He says the IDF uses tactics to avoid demolishing areas where hostages are believed to be held.
And though he looked down into tunnel entrances, he is thankful it was not his job to clear tunnels by foot.
As a machine gunner, Silberman's job in Gaza was to provide cover for other soldiers moving forward ahead of him.
"I got slapped with that job since day one in the army just because I'm a big guy and I can, you know, carry a big gun and carry a lot of ammunition with me at the same time," he said.
Silberman grew up in Buffalo Grove, Illinois. After high school, he spent a gap year in Israel and then volunteered in the IDF for two years. He was back in the U.S. on Oct. 7 when he learned about the Hamas terror attacks and the death of a close friend.
Without hesitation, he said goodbye to his family and caught the first flight to Israel to re-enlist.
Silberman said he wants to use what he witnessed in Gaza as a "case study" to dispel misconceptions around the IDF.
"We spent so much time and effort trying to avoid civilian casualties," said Silberman, who wrote a blog post about his deployment to Gaza.
Asked how he explains the high death toll in Gaza, Silberman blamed Hamas for putting civilians "under the crossfire of a war that they knew they couldn't win."
He added that "nobody wants that level of death." But it's something "that has to happen if you're going to ensure safety and peace of mind for Israeli civilians for the time to come."
Silberman is now an Israeli civilian, returning there Monday and soon saying goodbye to his mother again. Released from duty for now, he says he's ready to answer the call if the war escalates and Israel needs him again.
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