Following the outbreak of coronavirus in Israel, soldiers from the IDF’s Special in Uniform project were sent home from bases around the country for their physical protection. Now they’re back, brimming with motivation and ready to continue defending the country.
The easing of government-imposed restrictions following the decline of coronavirus in Israel brings relief to millions of citizens around the country. Stores and business are reopening, imbuing hope into an economy that had ground to a standstill. Parents breathe a sigh of relief as kids go back to school; and the kids themselves are no less excited despite the sudden load of homework, tests, and reinstatement of the long-forgotten bedtime. Pedestrians have returned to the sidewalks, cars to the city streets and highways. The country is reawakening after a two-month slumber, and the general mood is optimistic. Yet few are as relieved as the soldiers from the IDF’s Special in Uniform program who are now returning to their bases after close to two months of furlough.
A project of the Israel Defense Forces in conjunction with Lend-A-Hand to A Special Child and JNF-USA, Special in Uniform incorporates young people with mild physical and mental disabilities into Israel’s military, offering them training and skills that empower them to integrate long-term into Israeli society and the workforce. Special in Uniform accentuates the unique talents of each participant and places him or her into an appropriate setting within the IDF. Breaking down societal barriers and fostering widespread acceptance of social diversity, Special in Uniform focuses on the ability, not disability, of each individual, and encourages independence, inclusion, and full integration into society.
In Israel, military service is a rite of passage of sorts for high-school graduates, as well as the gateway to a successful career. While young adults with disabilities were traditionally excluded from Israel’s conscription, much has changed since the founding of Special in Uniform. In the past decade, thousands of young citizens with physical and mental disabilities have contributed their part to Israel’s military, which imbues them with pride in themselves and their abilities. Over the years, the program has increased by 1,000 percent, expanding from 50 to 500 participants in 35 army bases around the country, with a long waiting list. Its passionate leaders are ambitiously planning to ramp up enrollment to 1,000 participants by 2023.
Not only does the presence of soldiers with special needs on military bases increase their own quality of life, but it also benefits the entire army — and, by extension, the nation. Their genial natures, their capacity and eagerness to work hard, and, above all, their perseverance all foster a positive atmosphere on base that motivates other soldiers to work hard too.
At the start of the coronavirus outbreak in Israel, the Ministry of Health in conjunction with Home Front Command recruited Special in Uniform soldiers to its Emergency Logistics Center to prepare and sort COVID-19 testing kits and dispatch them to hospitals and MDA centers around the country. The soldiers’ experience preparing emergency and crisis kits made them priority workers for the job, and they were recruited to facilitate the preparation, packing, and delivery of the kits. Specifically during a period of national crisis, the capabilities, skills, and talents of these remarkable soldiers rose to the fore as they demonstrated their capacities and exemplary dedication to their people and nation. Lt. Col. Kobi Malka, who commands the Special in Uniform group stationed in the Home Front Logistics Center, went so far as to say that his soldiers were able to accomplish the crucial task better and more industriously than others due to their conscientious, assiduous nature, their patience, and persistence at a job that requires long hours of meticulous, repetitious work.
All this stopped short, however, when the virus got out of control, spreading like wildfire throughout the country and claiming the lives of over 280 Israelis. Since many Special in Uniform soldiers suffer from assorted medical issues that categorize them as high-risk citizens, the administration set a blanket rule ordering all SIU soldiers to return home to their families or joint residences and remain there until it was safe enough to return to base.
Now with the recent lifting of coronavirus-related government restrictions, IDF commanders and soldiers around the country are joyfully welcoming back their fellow soldiers from Special in Uniform.
Upon returning to the Palmachim Airbase, Liel, 20, expressed, “I really missed being here. It feels so good to be back among my friends and people who care about me. I know that I have a special role here on the base, and it’s gratifying to be back doing my job and serving my country.”
While every kid—and adult—suffered cabin fever throughout the last weeks of isolation and quarantine, the challenge was doubly harder for those with special needs. “At home, I was going nuts. I waited every day for the call from Yisrael, my company commander, to tell me that we were coming home. Because for me, the base is home,” says Shiran, 21, who works in the Palmachim Airbase infirmary.
“When they notified us that we could come back, I was over-the-top excited!” adds Roi Ben Zvi.
Base commander S. expresses: “We missed them all so much, both on a personal and professional level, and we’re so glad to welcome them back to base. We watch them returning one by one, filled with energy, motivation, and desire to succeed and do their utmost for our country and nation.”
“These young adults are an inspiration to all of us, and they make us feel special. They do phenomenal work on the base, and we’re so proud of them,” says Col. (Res.) Tiran Attia, director of Special in Uniform. “Special in Uniform is a win-win situation for all, benefiting the kids, their parents, the IDF, and the State of Israel as a whole!”