Tel Aviv, Israel—Daily, Sgt. I. Scouring the Internet to find elusive information to help Israel fight its enemies.
He is a Web Specialist in the Israel Defense Forces’ elite force, with a focus on open source research that informs high-level decision-making and can even reach the Prime Minister’s desk.
he is autistic too.
Sgt. I didn’t join the IDF by chance like about 150 others. Ro’im Rachok is the first program of its kind to deploy people with autism in the military to harness their valuable skills.
Speaking to Insider from inside HaKirya, the IDF’s sprawling headquarters, he can handle longer and more tiring espionage missions than many others, and he does best when given a to-do list. He said he was productive.
He couldn’t elaborate on the details of what he was doing. Members of the IDF and Ro’im Rachok spoke out, citing confidentiality of their work, on the condition that Insiders only use their initials or first names.
A typical IDF open source project may involve trolling social media and obscure sites for information on everything from the impact of sanctions on the Iranian economy to the size of Hezbollah’s arsenal. .
An IDF guard sat in the conference room the entire time, ready for a sergeant to intervene. I. I accidentally leaked confidential information.
Sometimes Sgt. According to I., his daily work is interrupted by “stiming”. Behaviors often associated with autism, including repeating words, sounds, or movements to deal with stress.
Sergeant I. tends to flap his hands when excited or overwhelmed. “It’s a blink-like impulse,” he said.
He had always been educated in a special education setting, so he was unaware of doing this before joining the IDF and starting working in offices with neurotypical soldiers. “So yes, I had to adapt,” he said.
Many autistic teenagers are exempt from military service
Sergeant I. is a graduate of Ro’im Rachok. Ro’im Rachok is an innovative Israeli program founded in 2013 that matches young people on the autism spectrum with military professionals in need.
Unlike most Jewish Israelis, who are usually drafted into the military at age 18, many autistic teenagers are exempt.
However, Ro’im Rachok allows them to sign up as volunteers.
Speaking to Insider from the office of Ono Academic College in Kiryat Ono, Tal Vardi, a Mossad veteran who helped create the program, said: No charity.
Explaining that the program is mutually beneficial for the IDF, people with autism, and their families, Vardi said, “No one wants anyone to do them a favor.”
Autistic volunteers are assigned to units deemed to have a comparative advantage, usually military intelligence.
Military intelligence and analysis are essential for all modern armies, but Israel values them especially highly, Nimrod Goren, a senior fellow for Israeli affairs at the Institute for the Middle East in Washington, D.C., told Insider. rice field.
Skilled recruits are in great demand, he said, because countries like Israel, which “feel as if their existence is at stake,” place a high value on intelligence gathering.
In return for their volunteer work, recruits with autism are provided with skills and connections that will help them easily navigate to an independent future working in a civilian profession.
“The idea is to combine real needs with real capabilities to create this win-win,” Vardi said.
The UK, US and Singapore military sectors and Israeli civilian industry have expressed interest in developing the model, he added.
To date, more than 300 soldiers have been recruited by the IDF from this program and serve in 27 different units.
Unit 9900 is the “National Eye”
The first unit recruited from this program was Classified Unit 9900.
Major R of Unit 9900 was approached ten years ago to include graduates of Ro’im Rachok’s aerial photography analysis course.
He said he agreed, even though he didn’t really know what autism was at the time. board.
Major R described his unit as “the eyes of the country”. Unit 9900 collects, analyzes, and interprets visual information and provides it to field commanders and other security forces.
The images may come from satellite imagery, drone footage and reconnaissance flights in areas such as the Gaza Strip and Syria, The Jerusalem Post reports.
An IDF spokesperson told Insider that the unit was involved in Operation Breaking Dawn, the Israeli name for the August 2022 Gaza-Israeli clash.
According to the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, 49 Palestinians were killed in Gaza during the three-day operation, including at least 22 civilians and about 360 Palestinians were injured.
Israeli authorities said 70 Israelis were wounded by mortars and rockets fired by Palestinian militants.
A spokesperson for the Israel Defense Forces said Unit 9900 “helped protect civilians” and provided operational support in the clash. Amnesty International described the operation as unleashing “new trauma and destruction” on the Palestinian people.
Major R. said he noticed early on that many autistic soldiers appeared to have an innate aptitude for aerial photography analysis.
The neurotypical soldiers were easily distracted, he said, while the autistic soldiers seemed to be able to focus on the task at hand.
Research from the Wellcome Trust shows that many people with autism have “higher perceptual abilities” and an improved ability to focus attention on specific tasks.
“Most of them don’t care about their surroundings. They don’t want to talk to their friends. They want to sit and work,” said Major R. “They are very focused on what they are doing.”
Ro’im Rachok’s first training course was photo analysis, but now he offers courses in data tagging, GIS mapping, and electronics.
For each course, students are assigned to a specific IDF unit, but at this stage students participate in training courses as civilians.
Insiders were granted rare access to the electronic engineering courses of Ro’im Rachok’s intensive training program.
It’s November and the Ro’im Rachok electronics course students are approaching the final month of their training.
Sitting in a circle surrounded by computers and maps of Israel, students ponder why they signed up for the training program. Upon successful completion of the training program, you can become a full-fledged member of the IDF.
There is unanimous agreement that employability plays a big role. It’s technically illegal for employers to ask direct questions about military experience, but it’s important in practice.
“Without the army, it would be very difficult to create a future, get a job, pay rent and buy an apartment,” says Natia, 18, from Holon, as her classmates nod.
Roni, 19, from Rishon Lezion raises her hand to speak. “I am joining the IDF to have better chances in the future,” she says.
It’s not just the addition to her resume that makes her employable, she adds, but it’s also the skills she and her classmates acquire along the way. “This helps a lot of people feel more confident in what we’re doing and communicate better with the language,” she says.
Givatayim’s 18-year-old Ron says the course has helped him tackle his “short fuse” and has become essential to his personal growth.
The skills and unique perspectives that people with autism can bring to the table are advantageous to the military because “we see the world differently” and “offer creative solutions.”
For example, Ron says he works hard and learns quickly, thanks to the intense, focused interests that are so common in people with autism.
“I know that when you’re obsessed with something, when you’re really interested in something, it’s hard to stop thinking about it and enjoying it,” he adds.
You can’t change your army, you have to face themCommand A., Unit 9900
Cmdr said the training program can be challenging for students. 9900 A.
“In their schools and homes, many of them were undergoing adjustments,” he said. “Here, we’re not going to make it easy for them. We can’t change the entire army, so we have to face them.”
This could include preparing recruits for situations they have never encountered before, from teaching recruits how to use public transportation to preparing for possible interrogation by enemy forces. there is.
Program students work with therapists to help them understand and accept autism. Some students were diagnosed with autism when they received exemption from military service. Others have known most of their lives.
About 10% of students in each course do not graduate. However, the majority will attend his four-month probationary period at the IDF before being officially hired.
Normally, conscripted soldiers are expected to serve a minimum of 32 months for men and 24 months for women. However, since Ro’im Rachok’s recruits are volunteers, they may drop out after a year.
Pvt. E., an autistic soldier in the 9900 Unit, said he had been with the IDF for over a year and decided to continue.
He finds working at the IDF enjoyable and says it is easier than many of his neurotypical colleagues.
“I don’t like to say I’m slightly better because it’s condescending, but sometimes being able to clearly see something other people can’t see can be really frustrating,” he said. Said.
i’m just a soldierSergeant I.
I., a web specialist in the Sgt. Open Source Research Unit, also says he finds certain tasks easier than his neurotypical colleagues, but that’s balanced by his struggling .
“If the average person has things they’re good at and things they’re not good at, it’s much more extreme for someone with autism,” he explained.
His strength, sergeant. “My brain works best when it has this kind of structure and order,” he said. “Like my co-workers, I’ll take it easy on average, no matter how tiring it is for others.”
However, he said he does not consider himself to be a “super-genius” or that his skills are exceptional.
“To be honest, I don’t really feel like I have a great special skill set that I should be like, ‘I’m just a soldier.'”