ALEXANDRIA, Minn.-As Jake Skifstad looked over the crowd Saturday afternoon, March 24, at the Law Enforcement Building at Alexandria Technical and Community College, he told a specific group what their donations truly meant. "To the donors in this room, look at the officers standing by you. Now, your donation has become priceless," he said. "Their lives are now attached to that gear." Skifstad is the founder and president of Shield616, a unique organization based in Colorado that helps equip law enforcement personnel with the necessary advanced gear to be used for active shooter and crowd control situations. They work with sponsors to provide officers and deputies with a vest package that includes a ballistic helmet, carrier vest and more. Carrier vests, which are often referred to as bulletproof vests, are used to protect officers from handguns. The new vests offer protection against rifles.
Teaming up with Shield616 was We Got Your Back, a local support group for law enforcement started by two Alexandria businessmen, Craig McMillan and Gordie Billmark. Because of the work by those groups, 16 deputies from the Douglas County Sheriff's Office and 14 officers from the Alexandria Police Department were presented with the donated kits. All 30 kits, which have a price tag of $1,400 each, were donated by individuals or businesses in the Douglas County area. During the presentation, law enforcement agents were not only presented with their new gear, they also had an opportunity to meet their donors.
McMillan noted that more donors are still needed. He explained that donors can choose the officer or deputy they would like to donate to or they can randomly donate and a kit will be provided to an agent. There is a list of officers and deputies still in need of kits, he said, on the We Got Your Back website, www.wegotyourbackusa.org.
"We need about 28 more vests to be able to equip all law enforcement agents in the county," McMillan said. "And it is our (We Got Your Back's) mission that every officer gets one. We will get them."
What does it mean?
One of the newest deputies at the Douglas County Sheriff's Office, Nicole Klimek, was given one of the kits. Although she felt she wasn't deserving of it because she is new, she was extremely grateful.
"It means a ton to me," Klimek said after the presentation. "It's about our safety, about our everything. It shows there is a great relationship in this community. It means that these awesome guys and ladies have built a relationship in our community and that is special."
Her parents, Don and Jill Klimek, were among the numerous donors, but they were not their daughter's donors. McMillan was her donor and when she told her parents about it, they knew they had to do their part.
The Klimeks ended up donating five kits, with one going to Klimek's fiance, Alec Swanson, who is an Alexandria police officer.
"We feel honored that we get an opportunity to do this," Don Klimek said. "Our community is worth it and it is our way of giving back."
Alexandria Police Chief Rick Wyffels said the donations shows the tremendous support the citizens of Alexandria have for law enforcement and that they are willing to work together.
"It shows that the citizens love their police force," said Wyffels. "It is great to be able to have another tool in our tool box."
"It's an overwhelming feeling," said Douglas County Sheriff Troy Wolbersen, who also attended the presentation and was provided one of the kits. "I am so thankful for this equipment, but not just because it protects us. It protects our families. This was a gift to the families of our deputies. I am beyond grateful for that."