The IDF is the army of all of the people of Israel – including young people with special needs. We sat down with Lt. Col. Ariel Almog, founder of the “Magshimim Halom” project for special needs soldiers, to hear his story.
Ariel Almog served for 28 years in the IDF Artillery Corps. In 2001, he was severely wounded. While he was in hospital, he met soldiers and patients who had suffered from severe psychological trauma. That’s when he knew that he wanted to do something to help people who didn’t fit into a regular IDF framework find a way to contribute.
A few years later, the “Magshimim Halom – Mitgaysim leTsahal” (“Realizing Our Dreams – Engaging with the IDF”) project was born. Ariel, then a commander in the Home Front Command, decided to give young people with special needs the opportunity to serve on his base.
“We dismantle gas masks and sort all the different parts of the mask, which we then send for repairs,” says Daniella, a soldier who works in the warehouse. “All the soldiers do the same job, whether they have special needs or not. This work used to be done by non-special needs soldiers, and frankly it was more complicated because they were not as motivated.”
Military service is an integral part of Israeli life. Ariel could not accept that an important group of Israeli youth were not able to share this experience.”Soldiers with special needs voluntarily commit to serve their country for three years, just like their peers,” he says.
“Soldiers with special needs voluntarily commit to serve their country for three years, just like their peers,” he says. “They have the full support of their families, who see this program as a great opportunity for their children”
Magshimim Halom’s more than thirty soldiers all live together. Part of the group works in the warehouse, and the rest in the kitchen or in the base’s office. Their instructors are with them at every stage, and are available to help them deal with any problems they encounter. “When they arrive, some of the soldiers do not have the capacity to eat or bathe alone. With time and the help of the instructors, they become independent, even at work,” says Ariel.
“Magshimim Halom soldiers who have finished their service now work for private companies,” says Aviva, one of the instructors. “Working here allows them to progress and gives them confidence.”
Thousands of Israelis are now benefiting from the hard work of Magshimim Halom’s soldiers. Thanks to Lt. Col. Ariel Almog, they get to fulfill their dreams too.