IDF lone soldiers to commanders: Here are our rights, safeguard them

Rachel Lester, 24 from Los Angeles, undertook filming and editing on her own time, on top of her responsibilities in the IDF's Spokesperson's Unit.

IDF Nahal troops complete Gaza war simulation (photo credit: IDF SPOKESPERSON'S UNIT)
IDF Nahal troops complete Gaza war simulation
A few months ago, two lone soldiers from the United States embarked on an ambitious project: making the IDF and its commanders aware of lone soldiers' rights.
Rachel Lester, who served in the IDF Spokesperson’s Unit, together with Jenna Kaufman, who serves in the IDF’s Manpower Directorate, “wanted to find solutions to help other lone soldiers,” Kaufman said in an interview with Army Radio.
The move to help came shortly after a report released in August showed that abuse and neglect complaints by lone soldiers were on the rise.
The Commissioner of Soldiers’ Complaints explained how bureaucracy and failure to implement medical guidelines, among other criticisms, have meant that the IDF was not providing the “foundation of a significant and honorable military service,” to lone soldiers.
“It’s not just the issues of lone soldiers; we saw that most problems came from a lack of knowledge and understanding,” Kaufman said. “Not just commanders, but also other Israeli soldiers that serve with them, who have no reason to understand what we go through every day at home.”
Head of the Lone Soldier Department Lt. Sagi Sulimani told Army Radio that he scheduled only half an hour for a meeting with Jenna and Rachel. But the meeting with the two lone soldiers turned into two-and-a-half hours and provided the military with strategy that it had “never even thought about."
Together with Sulimani, the soldiers came up with an idea to create a video where lone soldiers explain their rights. Rachel, a video editor in the IDF Spokesperson’s Unit, undertook filming and editing on her own time, on top of her responsibilities.
“The day Sagi called me to start the video, I was really, really excited,” Lester said. “I went straight home and started building the script. I consulted with at least 10, 20 of my friends, lone soldiers, officers, officers who had been lone soldiers.”
Lester said that it took her “about a month to go around to all the bases and another two months to edit all the footage after army hours, at nights and on weekends.
“Finally, something came together that I’m really, really proud of,” she said.
In the three-minute-long video, lone soldiers explain their rights and why they need them, from arriving home early on Fridays, to the "errands day" that gives lone soldiers time to visit the bank or pay a bill, adding that “errands day is not a vacation.”
The video also touches on the other welfare aspects of a lone soldier’s service and reminds commanders that they are “responsible to make sure your soldiers get everything they need as soon as possible,” a female soldier explains in the clip.
The video also includes a section on mental health.
In the past year, four lone soldiers have committed suicide while on active duty. While each case wasn’t necessarily related to soldiers not receiving their rights, the video hopes to make commanders take better care of their lone soldiers.
“The video came to present a different point of view – more emotional – for the good of the soldier, and to show commanders that rights don’t just exist to be mandatory, but because the soldiers really need them,” Sulimani said. “We are getting a lot of good feedback from commanders and officers in the field… and it was definitely successful."
In the past, there were instances where lone soldiers were accused by their commanders of taking advantage of the system.
“It’s important to say that we do not want not to be given punishments if we deserve them,” Lester explained to Army Radio. “But simply [that a commander needs] to check and be sure that we’ll still manage to do everything we need to get done outside the army.”
Tzvi Joffre contributed to this report.