Updated: May 2, 2021
Since the army in Israel is mandatory, the unit you joined influences your status in the country. In job interviews, employers even ask what army unit you were in. Even though everyone thinks their unit is the best, we picked out some of the units that we think are particularly special.
01 Special Needs Unit
The army is not the first place you would think of to integrate people with special needs, but Israel did. In 2014, three men, Major (Ret.) Tiran Attia, Major General (Res.) Gabi Ophir and Lt. Col. Ariel Almog created a unit called Special in Uniform to include people with autism and developmental disabilities.
The first person to join was Tarc Tuba, 24, a Druze man with Down syndrome. All the volunteers in this unit receive a salary like all other soldiers and are guided throughout their service to help prepare them for their career after the army. Today there are over 450 soldiers in the Special in Uniform unit in 28 different army bases. This program has inspired Chris Neely, a US Army, and Navy veteran, to create a sister program in the US army called Corps of Honor that will begin in summer 2021.
02 Women-Only Combat Unit
Israel is one of the few armies in the world that include women. Women account for about 33% of soldiers in the army and are increasingly given expanded roles that have been traditionally given only to men.
In December 2020, Israel opened the 869th combat intelligence battalion, "Shachaf," to an all-women unit that specializes in collecting drone intelligence. A short month later, and for the first time in Israeli history, Israel deployed the new female intelligence soldiers to the front line on the Lebanese border.
The IDF also recently created the "Red Unit", its first all-female special forces unit that imitates enemy fighting strategy using a large-scale urban warfare training facility, to strategize how to respond to future scenarios.
03 Lone Soldiers Unit
People from all over the world and from all religious backgrounds feel a calling to Israel. Some even feel the call to support Israel by joining the Israeli army. The lone soldier unit is comprised of new immigrants, volunteers from abroad, and orphans or individuals from a broken home. Most Israeli soldiers have families they can rely on for support and care, but lone soldiers have none. They are a very special group of people who join the army, knowing that it might be incredibly challenging.
In 2009, a group of people founded the Lone Soldier Center, in memory of Michael Levin, a 22-year-old Jewish American lone soldier who enlisted as a volunteer and was killed during his army service. After Levin's death, his friends and family wanted to make sure no lone soldier was ever alone. The center provides emotional and physical support for lone soldiers, so they can succeed in their army service and successfully integrate into Israeli society.
04 Underwater and Alpinist Units
Israel is a tiny country with an incredibly diverse landscape, including coastal cities, deserts, and even a snow-capped mountain (Mt. Hermon), so the army has to be prepared to fight in all conditions, even underwater! There is a special reserve unit that is trained to maneuver and cope with extreme weather and immerses in learning the mountain terrain in snow and warm weather. This takes enormous fortitude since most Israelis never encounter extremely cold weather, let alone snow.
There is also a unit that trains exclusively for underwater missions that were established in the early 1980s. They learn how to dive and navigate all kinds of underwater army exercises, but their main focus and priority is rescue missions.
05 Israeli Medical Corps Field Hospital
You may have seen Israel in the news after the earthquakes in Nepal and Haiti, and after the typhoon hit the Philippines. That's because Israel's army has a special unit just for responding to emergencies and natural disasters, both in Israel and around the world.
Israel's emergency responders are usually the first on the scene at many disasters to help stranded countries. They arrive equipped with a state-of-the-art field hospital so as not to be an additional burden on the affected country. In 2016, the UN World Health Organization recognized the Israeli Army Field Hospital as the number one in the world and the first and only (as of now) Type 3 field hospital.
That means it far surpasses the capabilities of most field hospitals, including over 80 inpatient beds, four operating rooms, can perform 15-30 surgeries per day, can provide rehabilitation and other specializations including burn units, dialysis, OB/GYN care, and reconstructive plastic surgery.