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Thursday, May 22, 2014

Thursday's Psychology Trivia: Can People With Special Needs Serve in the Army?

Thought for the Day: It's time for Thursday's PsychologyTrivia. Here's a question related to what kinds of work and public service special needs adults are capable of carrying out. Here's the question:
Adults with special needs (mentally and physically challenged)
     a) Are not capable of serving in any army;
     b) Would not fit in in a military setting;
     c) Could not complete the rigorous physical fitness drills required for any army;
     d) Would lose self esteem or be bullied by other soldiers if they tried to serve in a military unit;
     e) All of the above; or
     f) None of the above.
What do you think? Is it possible for people with special needs to be part of a military unit?

The answer is f) None of the above. Until recently, as far as I know, no country has allowed adults with special needs to participate in the army. This may seem like a simple common sense exclusion. People with illnesses like diabetes are rejected from military service. Even flat feet can weed someone out from enlisting in the army. One could easily argue that mentally challenged individuals would be a safety risk for themselves and others if trained to use fire arms.

In the United States where military service is voluntary, the exclusion has little impact on the special needs community. In Israel, however, where military service is mandatory, the impact has led to lowering self esteem of those unable to serve the broader community. Serving in the military is a rite of passage and an obligation citizens are proud to fulfill in Israel. Not serving is seen as shameful. Even among the religious community, conscientious objectors serve in public service troupes that do not see military action.

Until ten years ago, special needs citizens in Israel felt left out and ashamed that they did not serve in the army.  'Tzhal, the IDF, the Israel Defense Force created an innovative program in conjunction with a nonprofit organization, which enables the mentally and physically challenged to serve in the army.
Here's a description of the program from their website (Yad LYad LMeyuhad, Hand to Hands of Special Needs) :
"The project "Great in Uniform" was set up 10 years ago by Reserve Major Colonel Ariel Almog, who at that time served as commander of the HFC base in Ramleh.

The purpose of the project is to integrate young people with disabilities in the IDF, first as volunteers and then as soldiers in every aspect, including the simple soldier's ID and uniform, as part of their preparation for an independent life and their integration into Israeli society."

Regardless of your political views on the Middle East or on war, even pacifists, like me, can learn from this program. The Great In Uniform program is also called the Dream Fulfillment program. The results shows how important it is to help every person reach for and achieve their dreams. Applications for similar programs in industries which are conventionally off limits to the special needs population should be considered. 

Take a look at the video to see the positive impact the program has had not only for the participants but for the military units that they serve.

I pray for peace in the Middle East and applaud the sensitivity, creativity and resourcefulness of the IDF to develop such a wonderful program.

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