ISRAEL AT WAR - DAY 143

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IDF reservists shocked to be provisioned Vietnam War-era equipment

A note from 1963 that came with a vest given to a soldier serving in a high-risk area caught him by surprise, as the IDF maintains there is no shortage of supplies

Tal Schneider is a Political Correspondent at The Times of Israel

An IDF reserves soldier wearing his Vietnam-era vest, and the note that came with it. (Courtesy)
An IDF reserves soldier wearing his Vietnam-era vest, and the note that came with it. (Courtesy)

A note dated August 22, 1963, was discovered this week inside the packaging of a flak jacket provisioned by the IDF to an Israeli reserve soldier.

“Dear soldier,” it read. “A vest has no value if it lies on the side and not on your body. When you wear the vest, strap it over your shirt or coat – and under other layers of clothing if you have any. Signed: U.S. Army, Natick, Massachusetts, 22 August 1963.”

The vest, over 60 years old, likely predates nearly all the soldiers and officers in the IDF — including IDF Chief of Staff Lt. Gen. Herzi Halevi, who was born four years after this particular vest was packed in Massachusetts.

At the onset of the Gaza war, as early as October 8, several civilian organizations mobilized and gathered donations from thousands of people, recognizing an urgent need to provide ceramic vests in large quantities to reserve soldiers (and potentially regular forces).

The shocking events of October 7, when Hamas terrorists stormed Israel’s border and brutally killed 1,200 people, mostly civilians, and kidnapped another 240 to the Gaza Strip, prompted an unprecedented mobilization of reserves. Thousands did not even wait for a “Tzav 8,” Israel’s code for reservists to rejoin their units in emergencies.

On the logistical front, the IDF claimed to have ceramic vests for all regular and reserve personnel, attributing any supply delays solely to organizational issues within the supply chain. Any fighters entering Gaza or other combat zones are required to wear ceramic armor, which coincidentally had its first operational use during the Vietnam War.

Despite these assurances, private entities and citizens successfully procured, air-transported, and distributed thousands of ceramic vests in the first two weeks of the war. However, for the import of military or semi-military equipment into Israel, a recognized security body needs to sign the documents to ensure the clearance of this equipment through customs.

Different kinds of bulletproof vests prepared for distribution to reserve soldiers, October 10, 2023. (Israel Defense Forces)

Regular private companies are typically unable to import products of this nature. To address this procedural challenge, the IDF granted ad hoc import authorization. This arrangement permitted private entities or individuals to buy vests abroad, organize air transportation, handle customs clearance expenses, and deliver the equipment. Sometimes, the delivery was made directly to the hands of reserve soldiers, while at other times, it was done through the relevant units in the IDF.

Now, over eight weeks into the war, IDF reservists have been equipped with vests straight from the 1963 assembly line. The battalion receiving these vests is a reserve combat battalion consisting of IDF infantry soldiers expected to be combat-ready. It’s crucial to note that these are not support units; the majority of them are stationed in high-risk areas near the borders, though not inside Gaza.

It remains unclear whether these vests are recent IDF purchases airlifted to Israel or if they were stored in the IDF’s emergency warehouses for decades.

A civilian involved in importing vests during the war told The Times of Israel that he still receives daily requests from family members and relatives of soldiers in need of ceramic vests. Civilian entities, however, are no longer allowed to bring them in, and no civilian emergency warehouses are storing these vests.

The IDF indicates that there is a donation center that can be contacted, and all donations to the IDF are processed through the Defense Ministry. They conduct checks to ensure that donated equipment meets standard requirements. If it does, the equipment is transferred to the soldiers.

When asked about the Vietnam War-era vests, the IDF stated, “The vests in question have been tested by us and meet the standard.”

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