IDF completes groundbreaking ‘Phase Two’ program for women
Shir Badichi is sworn into the IDF at Camp Dotan near Pardes Hanna in central Israel. Credit: Courtesy.

The program, aimed at women aged 30-50, aims to tap into the vast pool of professional experience and skills that this cohort possesses, bridging a crucial gap in the military’s capabilities.

By Raphael Poch
July 5, 2024

Sixty-one graduates of a new version of the Israel Defense Forces’ Shlav Bet (Phase Two) program were officially sworn in on Monday at Camp Dotan near Pardes Hanna.

The graduates, women between the ages of 30 and 50 who had not previously enlisted, hail from diverse backgrounds and took time off from their families and civilian jobs to participate in this unique opportunity to serve their country. Many are mothers with spouses who have been serving in Gaza over the past nine months.

The program aims to tap into the vast pool of professional experience and skills that these recruits possess, bridging a crucial gap in the military’s capabilities.

The program’s first cohort, trained at the IDF’s Camp Dotan (aka “Base 80”) is tasked with carrying out the basic training of all non-combat and combat-support forces. 

“We are happy to host this new program here at Base 80, especially during wartime, and we hope that we have more programs such as this. We hope that more will enlist and contribute,” said base commander Lt. Col. Reut Zecaria.     

“They each understand that they can contribute to their country through the IDF by utilizing the experience they have accrued in their professions in ways that 18-year-olds cannot,” she added. 

“Each was recruited because they have a skill that the IDF currently needs, and will be serving in a role where they utilize their professional talents,” said Zecaria.

These roles include social workers serving as mental health officers, medical professionals being placed in field units and high-tech workers joining various units requiring their experience.

The Shlav Bet program traditionally puts older male recruits through basic training and includes a shortened period of active service, often totaling six months. The program is engineered to allow these recruits to be called up for reserve duty, should the need arise. 

In the wake of the Oct. 7 Hamas onslaught on Israel, the IDF recognized that there was a great need for people with professional skills and experience in a variety of positions and that bringing in people with those skills would be the fastest way to answer those needs.

One participant, Tzvia Shelter, a nurse and paramedic from Karnei Shomron in Samaria, shared with JNS her motivation for joining.

Tzvia Shelter and her children. The sign reads “our mother is a soldier.” Credit: Courtesy.

“The need to be part of the war effort and the IDF really sharpened for me on Oct. 7 when the IDF said they needed medical teams in the field. I have the training and it would take the IDF a long time to train new people to do the job that I can already do,” she said. 

Shelter said she has dreamed of joining the IDF for a long time. “In the community I grew up in, girls did national service. I got married and began to have kids. Every time I see a soldier part of me feels that something is missing,” she said. Her father (age 70), two brothers and husband were all called up to their reserve units following Oct. 7. She describes her family as one that has a strong military ethos.  

Tzvia Shelter during basic training. Credit: Courtesy.

After learning about the new Phase Two initiative, Shelter realized her dream was about to come true.

“This is the realization of a dream for many of us here in the unit,” she said. 

Shelter, who works in the emergency room at Meir Hospital in Kfar Saba, has received orders to report for duty before the end of July and is likely to be assigned to a combat unit as a paramedic. She expressed both pride and concern about her new role: “My kids are very proud of me, but they’re also worried, as they know I will likely be in a unit that sees combat.”

The training program at Base 80 was adapted to accommodate the unique needs of this older cohort.

“Young instructors, typically aged 18-19, received special preparation to lead these experienced women,” Zecaria explained. “Despite the age gap, the participants adapted well to the military hierarchy and structure, and many of them broke into tears during their swearing-in ceremony together with the younger instructors,” she said.

Shira Badichi, a 33-year-old social worker from Jerusalem, found the experience eye-opening.

Shir Bardachi at Camp Dotan in central Israel. Credit: Courtesy.

“Just joining the IDF is challenging. It’s a different mindset, having 18-year-olds give you orders. It was truly wonderful and amazing. I would be happy to stay here for another month,” she told JNS.

“Usually in life, we follow certain paths and stages. Here came an opportunity to completely change our paths, and we were able to do it,” she said.

One of the most significant challenges for these women was not the physical training itself, but rather balancing their new military responsibilities with their family and professional lives.

“The most challenging thing for me was not the training, but rather the logistics and making sure things were okay back home so that we could focus on what we needed to do here,” Shelter told JNS.

The impact of this program extends beyond the individual participants. It sends a powerful message about the value of women’s contribution to national security and breaks down barriers in a traditionally male-dominated institution. Moreover, it allows the IDF to benefit from a wealth of professional experience in critical support roles.

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