Sergeant Gal Shavi
Sergeant Gal Shavi Special in Uniform

Intrepid IDF soldiers with disabilities are making history on Israel’s upcoming Independence Day. Sergeant Gal Shavi, 22, of Yavneh will be called to the podium at the President’s Residence to receive the coveted Award for Excellence for his outstanding contribution to the IDF and the State of Israel, which is delivered annually to 120 outstanding Israel Defense Forces’ soldiers at the gardens of his residence in Jerusalem.

Shavi is the first among 750 soldiers with disabilities participating in Jewish National Fund – USA’s Special in Uniform program, which incorporates youths with autism, special needs and disabilities into the IDF, to receive this prestigious award.

Gal began his career in the IDF back in 2018 as a volunteer in the framework of Special in Uniform. Two years later, he was officially inducted into the army in 2020, albeit the organization continues to escort and facilitate him, empowering him to exploit his unique skills and abilities to the maximum.

Since his first day in the army, Gal Shavi has performed his service in the warehouse department of Home Front Command’s Arad Base. “The war reserve-stores unit never looked as good as it does since Gal joined us,” says his unit commander.

Interestingly, Gal has a twin brother who served as an officer manning Iron Dome and a younger sister who has just been inducted as a non-commissioned medic. The famous photo of Gal hugging his sister at the entrance of the reception base on her first day in uniform went viral.

Gal relates: “When they told me that I’m going to be receiving the Presidential Award, I cried. This is the pinnacle moment in my life, and now, I can dream further! One of my dreams is to sign a contract as a career officer after I complete regular service.”

Chief NCO Rami Hassan, who commands the war reserve-stores unit shares that “Gal does everything here with outstanding diligence and excellence. He’s first every morning on base, exudes motivation, and does what it takes a whole group of regular soldiers to do! There was nothing that I ever asked him to do that he couldn’t or wouldn’t do, and I never once heard a word of complaint from him. He’s receiving this Presidential Award because he earned it, and not as any act of sympathy. I personally and wholeheartedly nominated him for the award.”

Special in Uniform founder Major General (Res.) Gabi Ophir expresses that 30 years ago, when he first conceived of the concept of Special in Uniform together with Professor Reuven Feuerstein, Israel Prize winner for Special Education, “Never once did I dream that it would reap such successes or initiate a revolution in society, as it has done. On Israel’s 74th Independence Day, I’m prouder than ever of the IDF and the State of Israel which is the only country in the world to integrate people with special needs and disabilities into the military, award them the status of equals, empower them with skills and abilities, and enable them later to integrate successfully into society and the workforce. This is the most compelling proof that the IDF is a ‘People’s Army’ that reaches out and grants equal opportunities to all.”

“I remember Gal Shavi from his very first days here on base, and when I see him today, I’m in awe. This is not the same small, anxious Gal who first ventured onto base. Today, he’s a man, independent. He believes in himself, smiles at everyone, and communicates effectively with his fellow officers. Things weren’t always like this for Gal, and I credit a great deal of his success to his commanders and the entire Special in Uniform staff for investing their hearts, souls and spirits into these youth. They escort them and encourage them every step of the way, doing everything they can to turn every young man and woman who joins the program into a success!”

Ophir concludes: “Gal deserves this award, and I regard his achievement not only as a personal achievement, but as the collective achievement of all 900 Special in Uniform soldiers who strive with all their might to integrate into the IDF and into Israel society. To me, they’re all winners!”