Special-needs IDF soldier to receive President’s Award on Independence Day

Shavi is the first among 750 soldiers with disabilities participating in Jewish National Fund USA’s Special in Uniform program to receive this prestigious award.


An IDF soldier with disabilities who enlisted through a special program will make history this week on Israel’s Independence Day when he becomes the first soldier with special needs to be honored by the president for his outstanding contribution to the IDF.

Sergeant Gal Shavi, 22, of Yavneh will be called to the podium at the President’s Residence to receive the Award for Excellence for his outstanding contribution to the IDF and the State of Israel, which is delivered annually to 120 outstanding IDF 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, to receive this prestigious award.

The program, the IDF’s Special in Uniform, incorporates youths with autism, special needs and disabilities into the military.

The program offers adolescents with special needs training and skills that empower them to integrate into Israeli society and the workforce by accentuating the unique talents of each participant and placing him or her into an appropriate setting within the IDF.

In the past decade, thousands of young Israeli with special needs have contributed to Israel’s military. Over the years, SIU enrollment has soared from 50 to 1,000 participants in 45 army bases around the country, with a long waiting list. It has proven successful in dissolving societal barriers and stereotypes and fostering inclusion and acceptance of diversity.

‘When they told me, I cried’

Gal began his career in the IDF in 2018 as a volunteer in the framework of Special in Uniform. Two years later, he was officially inducted into the army, as the organization continues to escort him.

Since his first day in the army, Shavi has served at the warehouse department of Home Front Command’s base in Arad.

“The war reserve-stores unit never looked as good as it does since Gal joined us,” says his unit commander.

Gal has a twin brother who served as an officer in an Iron Dome defense battery, and a younger sister who has just been inducted as a medic. A photo of Gal hugging his sister at the entrance of the reception base on her first day in uniform went viral.

“When they told me that I’m going to be receiving the Presidential Award, I cried,” Gal shared. “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, said that “Gal does everything here with outstanding diligence and excellence. He is 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 could not or would not do, and I never once heard a word of complaint from him.”

“He is receiving this Presidential Award because he earned it, and not as an act of sympathy. I personally and wholeheartedly nominated him for the award,” he added.

‘Gal deserves this award’

Special in Uniform founder, Major General (Res.) Gabi Ophir, said that 30 years ago, when he first conceived of the concept of Special in Uniform together with Professor Reuven Feuerstein, who won the Israel Prize 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 the ‘People’s Army’ that reaches out and grants equal opportunities to all,” he stated.

Ophir further said that he remembers Gal “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,” he added, “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.”

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