“SPECIAL IN UNIFORM” IDF SOLDIERS
Special in Uniform IDF Soldiers amazed the world with this program encouraging youngsters to join the army despite their disabilities. The program captured the hearts of many leaders around the globe with its determination and will to show everyone that there is nothing they couldn’t do, as they always say. Some agreed to Israel’s idea to integrate them, but some also opposed for many reasons.
But from where did the courage and determination come? How did the Special in Uniform program begin?
THE RISE OF AN EXTRAORDINARY REINFORCEMENT
Back in early 2000, the conflict between Israel and Palestine was becoming more intense. During that time, young people with special needs were not permitted to serve in the military, and everyone with a disability felt frustrated and incapable. These youngsters already know they can never be a part of this society where ordinary youngsters integrate and socialize.
Until one day, Col. Ariel Almog came up with a concept. Together with Col. Tiran Attia and Yad Layeled organization, the Special in Uniform program was established. Seven youngsters enlisted in the program and instructed to become trainers of another incoming group of youngsters with special needs.
After a decade, the seven Special in Uniform soldiers sprang to almost 400 on more than 30 bases all over Israel, and it is growing in number. Supported by Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, JNF Chief Executive Officer Russell Robinson, and partnered with groups in and outside Israel, Special in Uniform IDF soldiers are moving forward to be accepted and recognized as equal to any other IDF soldiers.
The program’s mission is to give these young men and women with disabilities the opportunity to serve the country in their unique way. The feeling of being able to do what they want is the most significant part of their lives. These special youngsters are now able to get out of their shell and leave their old self behind. The Special in Uniform program unveiled the true self of each and brought out the potential to serve and be productive.
WHO COULD BE IN SPECIAL IN UNIFORM PROGRAM?
Perceived as inept and unfit for some, young men and women with autism, for example, can show that having a disability is not a hindrance in achieving a goal. With proper assessment, evaluated youngsters could be high-functioning and have a greater chance to be assigned in the most important unit of the IDF.
An autistic person has a visual sensitivity and reacts suddenly to stimuli. As a result, autistic soldiers are assigned to Intelligence Unit 9900 where they can use their ability to monitor and keenly observe any changes in the aerial graphs and maps that are essential in the IDF strategic planning.
Young men and women with Down’s syndrome, cerebral palsy, intellectual and physical disabilities can also register as Special in Uniform IDF soldiers and are assigned to different tasks such as dog handling/training, cooking, cleaning the kennels, and other physical activities.
SPECIAL IN UNIFORM TRAINING
Canine Program is one of the Special in Uniform IDF soldiers training. Partnered with dogs, the young soldiers can develop their understanding and help them accept what they are and to boost their sensory instinct. The training was designed according to the capability of the Special in Uniform soldiers and enhanced with proper guidance. These youngsters are trained for a few months until they are fully prepared and independently capable of doing the given tasks.
Aside from the canine program, occupational instructors taught them how to bake, some household chores and even computer works. High-functioning adolescents with special needs are excellent in the task sequence and easily remember things in order.
Another part of the training is socializing. Special youngsters have the right to socialize and integrate with other people. Some of them are pampered by their families which is why these special youngsters are worried they might not be accepted in society. But with the IDF soldiers’ guidance and understanding, all goes smoothly. The right to be treated well and determining a sense of equality are just two of the most important things a person with special needs requires to gain self-confidence and self-worth.
WHO SUPPORTS SPECIAL IN UNIFORM IDF SOLDIERS?
The number one supporter of every soldier, disabled or not, is the family. The role of a family in Special in Uniform is to give their never-ending full support in whatever the special youngsters will go through. It is where the positive attitude comes from which is the basic foundation of a Special in Uniform IDF soldier.
Another group of supporters is from the army and the Israel government itself. Like family, the government is always there with all the support they can give to these special youngsters and are overwhelmed by their high contribution to the workforce.
Organizations like the Jewish National Fund (JNF) and Crain-Maling Foundation are just a couple of the supporters of Special in Uniform IDF soldiers. There are still many organized bodies out there who are privately advocating these youngsters in the military. All have the same purpose, that is, to make persons with disabilities as productive as everyone else in the army.
A lot of persons with special needs went to universities, gained their degrees, went on to work hard in an office or restaurant or supermarket to make a living. It’s good to see these people, regardless of their disabilities, possess skills in their chosen field and make a name of their own. In Israel, the integration of youngsters with special needs in the IDF is more than just a personal interest. It is a choice that aims to be accepted and prove that military work is not just for those who are able but for all youngsters, disabled or not, who chose to serve the IDF over anything else.
Special in Uniform IDF soldiers stood firm and made history. This is an eye-opener to all nations that disability is not a burden. It is just one way to show not only what Special in Uniform IDF soldiers can provide for themselves, but what they can provide for Israel.