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Honoring those who protect us every day

Former governor George Allen (center) was the featured speaker at the fundraiser dinner for the proposed Commonwealth Public Safety Memorial. Above, Allen is pictured with the fire chiefs of Middlesex’s four fire departments. From left, the chiefs include, Ray Burch, Middlesex Volunteer Fire Department; Billy Collier, Upper Middlesex Volunteer Fire Department; Allen; Jimmy Walden, Lower Middlesex Volunteer Fire Department; and Alan Blake, Hartfield Volunteer Fire Department. (Photo by Tom Chillemi)

by Tom Chillemi

On May 8, 2006, Fairfax County police officer Mike Garbarino didn’t come home.

Garbarino was sitting in his police car behind his police station when a carjack suspect opened fire with a hunting rifle. Although the officer was struck five times, he was able to broadcast a warning to other officers to not exit the back of the station.

Before police shot and killed the suspect, he fatally wounded detective Vicky Armel, who died that day.

Garbarino would linger in a hospital for 9 days. His “end of watch” was May 17, 2006.

A 23-year police veteran, Garbarino left behind a wife and two young daughters.

Garbarino’s wife Sue wrote a letter to Matt Gray, executive director of the Public Safety Memorial Foundation, and asked that it be shared with everyone.

“Mike mentioned to me that if he ever died in the line of duty,” wrote Mrs. Garbarino, “he wanted to be certain that the actions he took were not in vain and that they be utilized in a positive way to prevent other tragedies, and most of all, that his story not be forgotten.

“We want our shared sacrifice to be remembered as an example of the importance of our public safety officers,” she wrote. “Building this memorial is one step towards meeting his request.”

Garbarino and Armel are just two public safety first responders who died in the line of duty whose names will be engraved on the Commonwealth Public Safety Memorial, which will be built on Capitol Square in Richmond.

Gray’s remarks came during a reception to honor first responders and heroes held at the Hartfield Volunteer Fire Department on September 11. As of that date, said Gray, the names of 832 fallen public safety personnel had been identified, dating back to 1865. 

Virginia is one of 5 states that does not have a public safety memorial honoring first responders, said Gray. Construction of the $1.5-million memorial is set to begin in the spring of 2014.

Local efforts
The September 11 event in Hartfield also kicked off a grassroots fund-raising effort with more than $10,000 being donated locally, said Garth Wheeler of Urbanna, who coordinated the fundraiser and co-chairs Virginia Shield Foundation, a non-profit organization that honors Virginia’s first responders.

Gold sponsors ($2,000) include Estate Assurance Systems Inc., Friends of Delegate Keith Hodges and Middle Peninsula Insurance Agency.

Silver sponsors ($1,000) include Michael Marketing, Virginia Beach Sheriff Ken Stolle, Middlesex Sheriff David Bushey, Middlesex County administrative staff, and the Virginia Fraternal Order of Police.

Bronze sponsors ($150 per person) include Mrs. W. David South, Senator Ryan McDougle and Robert LeBoeuf.

The program gave a special thanks to American Legion Post 241 of Cooks Corner, the Middlesex County Museum of Saluda, and Buddy Moore of Saluda.

“Forever grateful”
Former Governor and former Senator George Allen was the featured speaker. He said the top two responsibilities of state government are law enforcement and education.

Every Middlesex fire department and rescue squad is all-volunteer, Allen noted. “This is just a fantastic show of responsibility.” He added that local taxes would be much higher if the county had to pay for emergency services.

Allen’s comments came on September 11—the 12th anniversary of the terrorist attacks on New York City and the Pentagon. He recalled the heroic deeds of the first responders on that day. “They were willing to risk their lives to save others,” said Allen. “That’s what I remember about 9/11. That’s why we need to have such great respect and gratitude for the men and women who are first responders, who put their lives at risk every day.”

First responders are always ready, willing and able to help when something happens, Allen said. “You are on the front lines every day. Indeed, you are the best, here in America. We are forever grateful to you, and beyond each and every one of you who serves, we also thank your families. I just hope and pray that our country and Commonwealth will continue to be blessed, with heroes, like the ones we lost on 9/11 and the ones we lose so often.

Those who died in the line of duty need to be honored, said Allen. “It is important that we show our gratitude as Virginians” through this Public Safety Memorial. “We will always stand strong alongside those who protect us every day.”

In conclusion, Allen said he prays that “God will continue to bless us with people of your character and your caring ways for your fellow human beings. You all are the best.”

“Ultimate sacrifice”
Also speaking was Marla G. Decker, Virginia Secretary of Public Safety, who thanked those who “day in and day out keep us all safe.”

The Public Safety Memorial will be much more than granite, Decker said. “It will have all the names (engraved) of the people who made the ultimate sacrifice. They died for us with a common mission of public safety. We will never forget.”

Donations can be made to Virginia Shield Foundation, P.O. Box 29365, Henrico, VA 23242. Charitable donations benefit the Commonwealth Public Safety Memorial. Visit for more information.

posted 09.18.2013

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