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Virginia – first state to send surplus tactical gear to Israel

A portion of the tactical gear sent to Israel through the efforts of Atty. Gen. Jason Miyares and Bob Marcellus resulting in donations from law enforcement departments across the Commonwealth. Contributed photo

Editor’s Note: The following are excerpts from articles published in the Richmond Times-Dispatch in October and November.

Local law enforcement agencies donated used armor plates and vests to send to Israeli Defense Forces

 Tactical gear donated by Virginia law enforcement agencies and collected by Attorney General Jason Miyares reached Israel, where it was distributed to civilians and first responders near Gaza, according to Bob Marcellus from Powhatan, who helped organize efforts to gather and send the surplus equipment.

Around 12,000 pounds of tactical vests, helmets and other gear have “hit the ground,” Marcellus said, and are being handed out to “civilian first responders and … moms guarding (village) perimeters due to men being called up.”

“It’s horrible what’s going on over there. It’s just evil,” Marcellus said as he leaned against a pickup truck full of combat gear. “If one of these stops one bullet from a terrorist and the good guys [are] wearing this, this is going to help,” he said as he gestured down toward the supply of tactical gear.

Miyares sent a letter to all 123 Virginia Sheriffs asking them to consider donating their expired or excess law enforcement gear to the Office of the Attorney General, to be donated to the Israeli military as it fights Hamas terrorists,” according to an excerpt from his office.

“While I’m aware that some police departments are stretched for resources, there are many departments that have expired equipment that are required to be donated or discarded. If you have excess law enforcement protective equipment, my office will collect them and ship it to the Israel Defense Forces,” the letter said.

The initial effort secured $11 million worth of new vests and tactical equipment from suppliers at a discount for Israel.

Nearly 40 counties in Virginia  committed to donating surplus combat gear, and the Virginia State Police were also involved.

Virginia is the first state to start this initiative, but Marcellus said other states will likely follow suit.

“It tells the Jewish community here and abroad, and everybody in Israel who’s for peace, that we have your back and we care,” added Marcellus. “There’s somebody out here looking [out] for you.”

Those on the receiving end say the gear is already making a difference.

Jenilee Bader-Ben-Shimon, 69, a U.S. Navy veteran who was stationed in Virginia for decades before she retired from military service and took a job with the city of Virginia Beach, lives in one of the Israeli villages and confirmed to the Times-Dispatch that residents have started receiving shipments of the supplies earlier this week.

“Everyone was smiling,” Bader-Ben-Shimon said, adding that the community wanted to personally “thank Virginia,” Miyares and Marcellus for their work.

Some of the packages included personal letters from Virginia law enforcement officials expressing their solidarity with Israelis.

“Please accept these gifts from the Lancaster County … Sheriff’s Office,” read a note from Lancaster Sheriff Patrick McCranie. “May they provide comfort and protection as you go about serving your citizens during this most difficult time.”

The vests that Bader-Ben-Shimon’s community received came from the Henry County Sheriff’s Office, Marcellus said, emphasizing that the project is not just about supporting Israel, but also about supporting Virginians abroad.

It is “by Virginians, and for Virginians,” Marcellus said.

And Marcellus noted that the generosity has persisted.

Southern Police Equipment in Midlothian donated entire pallets of equipment, Virginia Tech students have volunteered to shuttle the gear to and from locations across the state and cargo space on Israel-bound flights has been provided for free, Marcellus said.

He called the network of participants an “impressive global supply chain, from Virginia to the front lines.”

Marcellus also credited Miyares for enlisting the help of other states. Due to Miyares’ efforts, Marcellus said, Nevada and other states had provided tactical vests for shipment to Israel.

“They’re all taking Jason (Miyares’) letter (requesting surplus tactical gear), and saying ‘lets do this,'” Marcellus said.

“Thanks to the collaborative efforts of Virginia’s law enforcement community, nonprofits, and Richmond’s local Jewish community, the shipments of excess protective equipment has arrived in Israel for distribution to civilian first responders and kibbutzim deemed the most in need,” Miyares said in a statement to the Richmond Times-Dispatch

Marcellus was also quick to share credit with a team of people helping pull this all together, including Rabbi Dovid Asher at Keneseth Beth Israel and Avrami Segal from the charity, The Support of Israel.

Both men are helping coordinate the logistics of transporting the sensitive donations to Israel.

For Rabbi Asher, this effort is very personal. He currently has family fighting in Israel, and members of his Richmond congregation have also volunteered to stand with the IDF against Hamas.

“My father’s brother moved to Israel. His daughter, my first cousin, sent her husband and her two oldest boys off to war. That’s an unbelievable amount of sacrifice for our family,” said Asher. “I’m getting reports saying that they need this equipment, so I’m trying to connect the dots. It’s very personal for me. None of this is just a hobby.”