Ambassador David Friedman greets a soldier from the IDF's Special in Uniform program at the Palmachim Air Force Base..
(photo credit: Courtesy)
US Ambassador to Israel David Friedman, along with Presidential aide Chris Neely, visited the Palmachim Air Force Base this week to observe how the IDF has integrated people with disabilities into the army.
There are about 50 soldiers with autism and other disabilities currently serving at the Palmachim base and around 400 serving in the army in total. Their service is organized by the IDF's Special in Uniform program, which was conceived by the Lend a Hand to a Special Child organization in partnership with the Jewish National Fund.
Israel is currently the only country in the world in which autistic and disabled soldiers serve in the army.
Friedman was apparently so impressed with the program that he said, "We're already checking with our military attache to see how we can implement a similar model in the US army."
"I've visited many army bases and observed the arms and brain of the IDF," Friedman commented. "Today, I see the heart of the army."
"This project is a national pride, a light unto the nations in every sense of the word," said Lt. Col. (res.) Gabi Ophir, Chairman of Lend a Hand to a Special Child and a founder of Special in Uniform. Ophir's daughter, who has Williams syndrome, a developmental disorder, currently serves in the army as part of the program.
Ophir went on, "I never dreamed how far [Special in Uniform] would go or how it would transform the fabric of the IDF and the nation itself. I'm proud of our military and Israel which is the world's pioneer of inclusion."
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