We talk a lot about “bucket lists” ever since the movie was such a success. And sometimes people come along and change what you expect from your own bucket list. My mom sent me an email this morning. I started to read this article and my blood started to pump. I am going to copy and paste the beginning of this article because towards the end he starts getting in to an hour by hour itinerary. Enjoy the tour of what is out there for you to experience!
A tour of
duty … on vacation
Well, not technically on holiday, as I was just playing tourist and was actually undergoing the training in my capacity as Travel Weekly’s destinations editor. But if the minds behind new Israeli military and extreme-tourism operator LionOps have their way, more and more Americans will follow in my dusty footsteps, paying to spend their next vacation in the Holy Land firing Uzis, jumping from airplanes at 12,000 feet and embarking on mock spy missions.
Granted, it’s a niche type of traveler who would fly more than 10 hours overseas to spend anywhere from one to 10 days learning the “top-secret techniques” of the Israeli Defense Forces’ Special Forces units, something that LionOps founder and business development manager Eldar Bar-Or — a 26-year-old triathlete and army reserves captain in an elite commando paratroopers unit — readily admits. But, as he explained to me, this is a sort of military tourism “lite,” a thought-provoking and quite doable taste of what it’s like to serve in the armed forces in one of the world’s most volatile regions. It’s also, I found out, a lot of fun.
“There are some situations where you need a bit of mental toughness, but we focus on the experience,” Bar-Or told me. “We don’t m
arket just to ‘tough guys.'”
I, for one, am certainly not a tough guy. Although my father was a U.S. Navy SEAL, I never served in the U.S. armed forces and in fact would describe myself as a pacifist. Before my trip with LionOps, I’d never held a gun, much less fired one. In fact, I’ll admit that I feared and even loathed weapons. And while several family members occasionally hunt game for sport, I never understood the appeal.
In short, I was one of the least likely candidates imaginable for a LionOps trip. Yet I was also intrigued by, and oddly drawn to, the proposed itinerary. Whether it was wanting to connect with my inner “macho man,” curiosity about the lives and livelihoods of those deployed in the ever-tense Middle East, the chance to revisit Israel or all of the above, I was hooked on the idea. As it seemed an ideal kind of male bonding experience, I asked my younger brother, Jeffrey, to accompany me.
Of course, there was much more to the trip than just gunplay and grenade-throwing. Over the course of four days, we skydived; underwent a mock interrogation; “infiltrated” a top Tel Aviv hotel on a “spy mission”; learned camouflaging and surveillance techniques; took a beachfront lesson in the Israeli martial art known as krav maga; fought a paintball battle with young Orthodox Jewish settlers; and hiked up towering Mount Carmel. We even managed to squeeze in a little sightseeing to the Roman-era seaside ru
ins at Caesarea and the Judean hills outside the strife-torn Palestinian city of Nablus, some fine dining and, on our final day with LionOps, a night out at one of Tel Aviv’s trendiest clubs.
Throughout our stay, we were taught, guided and minded by the youthful, affable and yet highly professional Bar-Or and his team of instructors. Although we were working off of a prearranged itinerary that he had put together as a sampler of LionOps product, Bar-Or and colleagues gauged our ability and comfort levels all week, consulted us as to our wants and needs and tailored and adjusted the program accordingly. It’s a tactic, he said, that guarantees that LionOps’ military tours are accessible to most travel types.
“I don’t want someone to fly all the way to Israel and have a bad experience,” he said. “Our approach is that on the first day of each trip, we start on a very basic level to see with our own eyes, regardless of the package picked, the ability level of the participants.”
If arriving clients are “not up to” the planned activities, LionOps suggests some tweaks, as diplomatically as possible. “We’re not trying to make their experience difficult for them,” Bar-Or said.
When crafting LionOps tour product and assessing clients’ skill levels, Bar-Or brings to bear his own considerable
experience, gained both in his army days and later as the founder of Excellent Training, one of Israel’s premier military “special operations unit assessment and selection” firms.
Born and raised in Kiryat Motzkin, a town north of Haifa where his leisure tour firm is now headquartered, Bar-Or started LionOps in 2009 as a way to share with the civilian population the “unforgettable experiences” he and his friends had in the Israeli army. In the company’s official vision statement, LionOps states that it exists “to serve anyone who wants to acquire the skills of the IDF’s Special Operations Units.” (That said, potential clients sometimes undergo a background check to ensure their interest is benign.)
In fact, despite the machismo factor inherent in its offerings, LionOps’ potential client pool includes women. Israel, after all, requires both male and female citizens to serve in the armed forces.
Bar-Or aims to make LionOps accessible to all. “We thought it would be rather fun to do the sort of stuff we did as soldiers and army officers; not in the difficult way we did while in the army, but in an experimental way, a fun way,” he said. “We started doing it with a couple of guys and then we grew and grew, and then we started doing it as a serious business. And now we’re trying to make it even bigger.”
Many of the activities offered by LionOps would be “very hard to come by unless you actually join the army,” Bar-Or said, though most Israelis might be familiar with them, since they are obliged to serve two to three years in the country’s military. But curious Americans, relieved of military conscription since the Vietnam War era, represent a big, untapped potential market.
A menu of options
Hence, my time with LionOps in Israel. As Bar-Or wanted me to experience as many of the company’s activities as possible, I engaged in a wider selection of experiences than might be typical, though some of them were abbreviated.
While LionOps, working with travel agents, can tailor customers’ experiences to fit, it also offers a menu of prearranged itineraries and scheduled departures at a set cost, ranging in length from one to 10 days. For example, during the one-day Plan A itinerary, participants spend an entire day at LionOps’ private West Bank training facility (the aforementioned unfinished settlement).
There, they spend the morning learning how to shoot long-range weapons and handguns and then are trained in krav maga techniques. After a lunch break, the focus shifts to indoor urban fighting, hostage rescue and team building before all those newly acquired skills are put to the test in a final “advanced drill” using paintball guns. Plan A, available as a day trip from Tel Aviv and other locations, is priced at $324 per person and includes transportation, instruction, facility entrance fees, weapons and safety equipment rental, ammunition, insurance, lunch, a light dinner and snacks and drinks all day. Plan B, which adds a second day trip that includes skydiving and a Jeep rally competition, is priced at $1,320 per person.
At the other, more intense end of the scale, LionOps offers the four- or 10-day Multiday Excursion, an activity-filled tour of training sites around Israel. Priced at $3,281 and $5,890 per person, respectively, the trips are all-inclusive, “from the moment a client lands at Ben Gurion [Airport],” including food, beverages and accommodations. First and last nights are spent in four- or five-star hotels, Bar-Or said, but “in between, clients sleep outdoors, in tents or in barracks.”
“It depends on where we are staying, since every day, we do [activities] in different places,” he said. “We want them to taste, a little bit, some hardcore adventure.”
The company is also planning one-day Ultimate Showdown events, the first tentatively scheduled for this October, which, Bar-Or
said, “will be around 100 people fighting each other with paintballs in a compound facility.”