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AP PHOTOS: In Israel, Jewish teens gear up for military rite of passage by training in mud

03/31/2015 04:19 EDT | Updated 05/30/2015 05:59 EDT
YAKUM, Israel - Israeli high school seniors have more on their minds than prom and final exams.

With a mandatory three-year military service looming after graduation, Jewish teenage boys, and increasingly girls too, are gearing up for the draft, getting into shape and trying to improve their chances of acceptance into elite combat units. Girls serve two years, but very few are placed in combat positions.

Military service has long been a national rite of passage in Israel, with high school students competing to get into the most prestigious combat units. Some train solo, others in groups, to be ready for the pre-draft workouts the military holds for those who want to become air force pilots, naval officers or infantry commandos.

The military is Israel's most admired institution, and men serve in reserve units well into their 40s. Ultra-Orthodox Jews and Arabs are largely exempt.

Among secular youth, it is customary to spend afternoons and weekends in military-style training preparations.

One such group of about 400 seniors from around the country has been doing strength and endurance training with a military veteran to prepare for the rigours of the army, including running through an obstacle course.

"The mandatory military service is one of the experiences that most shapes the lives of Israelis," said Nir Cohen, 31, a former paratrooper who runs the "Excellent Training" program. "We try to prepare them both physically and mentally."

Here's a collection of images from the training.

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