Wednesday, March 05, 2008

Special Service to Our Nation

Limor is running late.

She has just heard that there is lecture being held in the instructor's room that started ten minutes ago. Her mind races, trying to find a plausible excuse for being late. She nervously approaches the instructor's room, palms sweaty and throat tightening.

To her surprise, she sees her commander, Captain Yaniv Heren, standing at the door of the room. “Limor, you're late,” he says, “Master Sergeant Kassam is inside waiting for you.” Instinctively, she checks to see that her uniform is in order. “I am sorry, commander, I didn’t know there was a lecture being held now, it wont happen again,” she says in a whisper. "Don’t worry about that now, just get in there already,” the commander says sternly. Limor slowly opens the door, embarrassed and expecting all eyes on her.

She enters the room to shouts of excitement: “Happy Birthday,” yell the soldiers with smiles on their faces. Commander Heren enters the room behind Limor and wishes her congratulations on her 20th birthday. Before Limor has time to thank him, she is smothered by hugs, kisses and pats on the back from her friends and fellow soldiers. This is a special occasion, for a special soldier; it isn't just anyone who is thrown a party for their birthday.

Private Limor has always wanted to be treated normally despite her differences. “Up until the third grade I learnt in a special school for the disabled, but it was not a good environment for me because I wasn’t learning at my level,” she says. “The next year I transferred to a regular school. I had fun there,” she recalls. “They treated me like a regular girl and I got along with everyone. I was in a smaller class then when I was in the special school, so I learnt better. My disabilities are relatively minor, and I've had them since birth so I'm used to them. I had a laptop with me during class which made doing the school work easier.”

Limor knew she wanted to enlist in the army from an early age. “It was always my dream; I wanted to experience something that everyone else can.” It is clear to friends of Limor's family that the apple does not fall far from the tree. Limor’s older sister is a career soldier and her father volunteered to the reserves corps until last year.

“Our family loves this country and it is important for us to serve and to protect it,” says Yehuda, Limor’s father. “Our house stress volunteerism, not evasion.” During the Second Lebanon War members of her family served as reservists all along the northern border of Israel. The Timor family resides in the north and during the war, despite the Katyusha rocket attacks, they decided to remain in their home. “I told my wife to take the children and go to the center of Israel, but she wasn’t prepared to leave her home.” Limor adds, “They told me to leave the north, but I said I would not leave my house, I am staying where the soldiers are. Even today I still am in touch with two officers who served up north during the war.”

It may be the family's love for the army that helped them face the challenge of getting Limor into the IDF. After two years of trying, Limor finally was allowed to join the 300 Territorial Brigade's Signal and Electronic 534th Company. “I started fighting to get in even before my classmates received their draft card,” says Limor.

“I sent numerous requests to the recruiting center in Tel Hashomer and Haifa. I told them straight off I was handicapped. It was very important for me to be honest with them about my condition. There are those who deny the fact, but I am very open about my disability. I wrote that I had graduated from high school and that I thought I could contribute to the IDF despite my disabilities. They invited me to dozens of interviews in the recruiting centers in Haifa and Tel Aviv in order to see what position would best suit me and to try and place me in a base up north so I could travel home every day.” Limor knew from the very beginning where she wanted to serve in the army. “I told them I wanted a job in computers because that is one of my favorite hobbies. I spend hours surfing the internet every day at home."

But in her senior year, Limor still had not received an answer from the army. She knew she had to pick up the phone and start calling the recruitment center. Towards the end of the school year, after many interviews and telephone calls and a long waiting period, she was given the green light to enlist. “I felt like I was on top of the world. I called everyone and to tell them I was accepted,” she says excitedly. She was sent to serve in the 300 Territorial Brigade, stationed only a few minutes away from her house. “I needed to serve in a base both suitable for my disabilities and close to my house, so I picked this one. I explained to the commanders on the base that I am handicapped and that I may need their help from time to time and they happily agreed to accept me.”

“I was informed that Limor was coming to this base only the night before,” recalls Captain Haran, Commander of the 300 Territorial Brigade and direct commander of Limor. “The brigade’s adjacency officer called me and said that a soldier with a walking disability would be joining the brigade and asked if I would take responsibility for her. I told the officer to send her over. After only one day she felt at home and we felt like she was part of the family."

“One of the commanders told me to check in and then I had an interview with Captain Heren, who introduced me to the other commanders,” says Limor describing her first day on the base. “After that they told me to go home.” Although she was sent home after her first day, Limor had no doubts that she would return. “I was sure everything would work out,” she says.

“I felt a bit strange when she came,” says Captain Haran. “Limor's situation is an unusual one and it's not simple to deal with. But when I interviewed her she acted like any other soldier would. After the interview her mother called me and explained Limor’s story and that she would prefer to be treated like all the other soldiers. I saw that she had been raised with strong values and would fight to be treated equally.”

Her friends on base were quick to add their two-cents-worth to the story: “we were all a bit nervous in the beginning, but she fit in quickly,” says Sergeant Aviad Cohen, the company's Master Sergeant. “Everyone embraced her from the first moment.”
“I had some misgivings about how she would fit in,” said Captain Haran. “But the main reason she got along so well was the because of her fellow soldiers. They went with her everywhere and gave her advice which I think really helped.”

An ordinary day for Limor begins at 8am, when her parents drive her to the unit. While her friends in the computer department are busy managing the different networks, Limor keys in and begins typing and printing out different graphs and tables. According to Captain Haran, Limor’s real job has nothing to do with computers. “It's true Limor receives and conducts her missions like everyone else, but her real job is to teach the other soldiers to accept people who are different. Most of them don't have much contact with disabled persons in their lives outside the base. But what we gain in morals and ethics from Limor, is more then we could ever gain from any computer work."

As for her future, Limor says she believes that she will stay in this position until she is released from the army. Her friends say that they are happy and want her to stay. Limor's commander adds, “In my opinion she will definitely stay here until she has finished her service, no doubts about it.”

It is three in the afternoon, Limor who has until now been occupied with a computer project receives notice from one of her friends that her dad has come to pick her up and takes her home. After a series of farewell hugs, Limor’s friends help her to her walker and down the stairs into the waiting car. Another day in the army is over for Limor.

“It's not really important to me if she gets to base at 8am or 8:15am. I don’t care if she comes late what's important is that she comes every day. She comes despite the physical difficulty and that simply amazes me", says Captain Haran. “I tell my soldiers that some people use an ingrown toenail as a medical excuse to evade the draft, and yet here is a soldier who has serious health problems and she has fought to get accepted into the army. There is so much to admire about her.”

Limor stresses the importance of expanding the options for people with disabilities who want to enlist. “We should let them contribute. My parents and friends really pushed me to enlist. And now I love my base and I so enjoy the company of the soldiers I work with. It's really a great experience.”

Source: IDF