For most of her life, Lotan Aroch has heard well-meaning friends, teachers and officials shoot down her dreams. Born four months premature, the 19-year-old has a range of disabilities resulting from her cerebral palsy.

But Lotan is not one to back down from a challlenge. She made national news when she became one of the first teens with Cerebral Palsy to enlist as a full-fledged soldier in the IDF.

Now, she is celebrating another classic Lotan victory: her acceptance into the specialized “Wings” program that once turned her down for not being able enough. Wings is a training program of independent living for adults with physical and sensory disabilities.

“All life long, they’ve warned us that she wouldn’t walk, wouldn’t dance,” relates her mother. “But all along I insisted, ‘Yes, you will!’”

During her senior year in high school, Lotan encountered one of her fiercest challenges when IDF officials visited and lectured about the army. She was enchanted, and enlisting became her unstoppable dream. But the army doctor had a different idea: “You’re exempt, don’t do it!”

Her determination to serve led her to Special in Uniform, the groundbreaking program developed by Reserve Major Colonel Ariel Almog, to integrate teens with disabilities into the IDF. The program operates in partnership with the Jewish National Fund (JNF).

“‘We’re with you, Lotan. We’ll escort you through this,” her mother remembers hearing. “It was then that I really began to believe that one day she would serve in the army.”

And serve she has.

As one of over 350 Special in Uniform soldiers, Lotan was posted to an Air Force Base where she completed a three-month course in life skills and occupational skills and 10 days of basic training. After training, soldiers are integrated into a variety of functional positions, manning emergency depots and military stores, preparing protective kits, working in print shops, kitchens, shredding mills and more.

“Growing up, many of these children went to special education schools,” explains the program’s director Lt. Col (Res.) Tiran Attia. “When they finally look forward to joining their peers, suddenly the gates are closed. Special in Uniform allows them to contribute, to give from themselves. Just like everyone else.”

For Lotan, serving in the army gave her more than skills. It confirmed her belief that she can ably contribute to community and society. It gave her the confidence to reach out to Wings once more.

This time, having seen what she achieved in the IDF, directors of the program rolled out the red carpet for her acceptance into the program.

“Special in Uniform starts in the army, but it doesn’t end there,” says Rabbi Mendy Belinitzki, Executive Director of Lend a Hand. “We see clearly how it is building a better society, community and workforce.”