August 20, 2019

IDF Accepts New Candidates for Special in Uniform Program

After a long process which began May 16, Michael Bibas, a Canadian native, was recently accepted to the Israel Defense Force’s (IDF) Special in Uniform program.

The program was developed by Lend A Hand to A Special Child and sponsored by Jewish National Fund-USA, which has so far integrated 400 Jewish and non-Jewish young people with disabilities into the IDF.

At age three, Bibas was diagnosed with autism. When he was 11 years old, his family made Aliyah to Israel. Both Bibas and his younger brother, Tzachi developed a strong sense of responsibility and love for the country. Tzachi was able to regularly enlist as a soldier, but Michael was exempt from military service because he had autism. Nonetheless, Michael was determined to fulfill his dream of joining the IDF, so he reapplied through Special in Uniform and was accepted.

“Two aspects that make this program so appealing to individuals with special needs and/or disabilities are that Special in Uniform soldiers acquire essential life skills and lessons throughout their years of service, and also benefit from career assistance and job placement after being discharged from the army and resuming civilian life,” Michael’s mother Loreen said in a statement to the Journal. “As for the military, it’s an opportunity to harness the unique skills that often come along with autism,” the Special in Uniform program explained.

After a year as a Special in Uniform volunteer, Michael was invited to the Bakum Base outside Tel Aviv in April to receive his dog tag and ID card with the other new soldiers.

“Wow, I have to say, this has got to be one of the most emotional things I’ve ever had,” Michael said in a video publicizing his experience.

“I can say from experience that it’s going to be hard on [Michael],” Tzachi, 19, who recently enlisted as a paratrooper said about his brother. “It’s going to be challenging just being in a military environment, but I know that he’ll make it through, and I believe in him. With support from all of us, the family at home and his new IDF family, he’ll make it through. He’ll learn a lot from the army and come out better for it.”

“Michael will serve alongside other Special in Uniform soldiers at the Palmachim Air Force Base, which remains a well-guarded Mediterranean Sea installation and key center for Israel’s technological advancements in the field of air defense,” according to the statement. “The base is famous for countering an array of threats from hostile rockets and missiles.”

Last February, United States Ambassador to Israel David Friedman and Chris Neeley, who serves as Chairman of the U.S. President’s Advisory Committee on People with Disabilities, visited Special in Uniform at the Palmachim Air Force Base to learn how the IDF has welcomed youth with disabilities into the military. The purpose of the visit is to eventually replicate the project to meet the needs of the American military.

“Special in Uniform has shown itself successful at breaking down societal barriers,” Lt. Col. Tiran Attia (Res.), project manager of Special in Uniform said in the statement. “Partly as a means of reducing this stigma, we point to our soldiers as models of what young people on the spectrum and/or with special needs are capable of achieving when surrounded by suitable support systems. When the whole neighborhood sees their neighbor, a guy on the autism spectrum, coming home on Friday in uniform and hears that he’ll be continuing in his field in the civilian workforce, it has an enormous impact,” Attia said.

Watch the full video below: