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Overwatch Foundation members in Gush Etzion, Judea. Photo by Naama Stern.
Overwatch Foundation members in Gush Etzion, Judea. Photo by Naama Stern.
featureIsrael at War

The former US Marines who train Israeli civilians for battle

"Being Jewish, I always wanted to be involved in Israel," says the founder of the Overwatch Foundation.

Early on Oct. 7, Mark Turner was texting with Ilan Fiorentino, the security coordinator of Kibbutz Nahal Oz. Forty minutes later, the murderous Hamas attack on the Israeli communities bordering the Gaza Strip, in which Fiorentino was killed, began.

And that was one of the main motivations behind Turner, a former U.S. Marine, and his friends visiting Israel last week—to train others to make sure that such an assault never happens again.

Turner is one of the founders of the Overwatch Foundation, a group of special operations veterans who use their skills to volunteer and offer humanitarian aid where needed, such as assisting with Hurricane Ida recovery efforts, Afghan refugees and Ukraine. 

Turner first arrived in Israel during “Operation Shield and Arrow,” the IDF’s May 2023 aerial war with terrorists in the Gaza Strip.

“Being Jewish, I always wanted to be involved in Israel, and after that operation [“Shield and Arrow”], I started making connections.”

The team, which consists mostly of non-Jewish fighters, arrived in Israel and began working in the Gaza periphery.

Although he was in the U.S. at the time of the Hamas onslaught, Turner was deeply affected. Upon realizing the magnitude of the event, hundreds of members of the Overwatch Foundation decided to come to Israel to help.

“It is a struggle between good and evil, and it was clear to us whose side we are on,” Turner said.

“A[n Israeli] friend of ours said that everyone was being called to the [IDF] reserves and that there was no one left to take care of the families, and asked us to help. Of course, we agreed, and we set up a kind of ‘mother base’ in the settlement of Sde Bar in the east of Gush Etzion. We set up all kinds of parameters there, brought more equipment, and trained the standby squad to make sure that October 7 will not repeat itself.”

The group’s members have been in Israel three times since the outbreak of the war, each time to train civilian security teams and share their experience with Israeli special units. Most of their work is currently conducted in Gush Etzion in Judea, with the assistance of the regional council.

Gush Etzion Regional Council head Shlomo Ne’eman said, “It warms the heart to see the warm embrace of our friends from the U.S., who came with an amazing spirit of volunteerism, support for one another, and with a brotherhood of fighters for the people of Israel. 

“On October 7, we learned the great importance of a fighting force and skilled residents who know how to respond quickly and professionally to any scenario. The more we trust our forces, the more we can provide the best response and save human lives. I have no doubt that the training with the highly experienced Marines will help us protect our home and fight the enemy that tries to harm us,” Ne’eman said.

Turner said, “We are not coming to Israel to tell them that we are better, but to see what they do, to bring a different perspective and help them improve. Sometimes, when you’re used to a threat, you need a fresh look from somewhere else—and we provide that.”

Originally published by Israel Hayom.

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