Força Ukraine Update: July 15, 2023

Dear friends – 

Today I wanted to share with you an incredible piece of writing that was done by one of our own teammates about his experience on this trip.  A few months ago, I had the privilege of listening to Finch describe his first trip to Ukraine, and during that talk he read a couple of the pieces he had written that time.  I was moved by the experiences he was able to capture so well in writing – he has a true gift for story-telling, and for empathy.  I hope you find his piece as meaningful as I did.  This work he describes, and our very small part in it, is only possible because of you, your generous donations, and your support for each and all of us.  

As always, thank you.  

Independence Day

“July 4th has always had a special place in my heart. It has been one of my favorite holiday’s since I was a small child. I love hearing, and even feeling, the percussion of the firework blasts through my body as America celebrates its independence.  Though, this year was spent a little different than any year prior. I still spent my day feeling and hearing percussion, but this time it was from the volley of artillery and literal rockets bursting in air as Ukraine continues to fight for its own independence.

In late June our team embarked on this mission to bring combat trauma training and aid to the areas of Ukraine in highest need. To effectively do that we knew we would be put in harm’s way. As I kissed my wife goodbye and once again asked her to make the sacrifice of holding me for what she knew had the potential of being the last time, I made a promise. The promise that I would return home. A promise I did, and always do, intend to keep.  However, this experience has brought me to question how many of these soldiers made that same promise to their loved ones, knowing full well it was a promise they were likely to break?

The death toll of this war is unlike anything we have ever seen before. I don’t believe we will ever have accurate numbers from either side, but I am positive the numbers would shock even the most tenured of war experts. An entire generation of people being wiped out. Applying tactics from the early 20th century in a war with advanced 21st century weaponry. Imagine what D-Day would have looked like if drones had been able to strike the boats before our forces ever hit the beach. This is a reality of their war. A modernized war in which location services on phones have to be disabled and they can only travel in two to four man teams, because they will be a “less desirable” target for the Russians.

The near-distant artillery blasts that interrupted our trainings were a constant symphony of death and destruction, serenading us in reminders as to why we were here in the first place. The casualty rate of this war has been so high that many soldiers have been placed on the front line with little to no training, and often they are left to die because nobody knows how to provide even the most basic combat aid. Our team worked tirelessly to change that. We worked to ensure, even if only for a few hundred people, that on these soldier’s worst day, someone would be able to give them a second chance to keep that promise and return home.

Many of these warriors are farmers, plumbers, miners, doctors or teachers. Weeks ago, they were tending their land or educating young minds. But now they have answered the call to fight for the same freedom I have been blessed with from birth. A right which we hold to be self-evident, but at this point requires no self sacrifice other than being born an American. These Cossack warriors are fighting the war of our American forefathers.

As I look into the many eyes of these men and women, young and old, I see something familiar.  A burning pride that I recognize from the American soldiers I trained with and fought alongside. The pride that comes with believing unequivocally that the cost of their lives is worth moving the line in their nation’s favor, even if that movement is ever so slight. It is a sacrifice they are willing to pay because they believe in something bigger than themselves. They believe in an independent and free Ukraine.

Amidst this atrocity, I have also been shocked by beauty. The beauty of the human spirit, just to keep fighting, even when odds were not always in their favor. The first time I was in Dnipro I helped a young soldier who lost his leg to artillery blasts. After countless surgeries doctors finally stopped the spread of infection by amputating his leg above the knee. This left him broken, not only in body, but in spirit. However, he refused to let this loss define the rest of his life. He chose to recover. He chose to get back in the fight. He chose to return back to the front lines and continues to fight alongside his brothers-in-arms. I was fortunate to get to reconnect with him on this trip. I told him that in my mind he is a Hero of Ukraine, to which he replied, “All the Heroes of Ukraine are dead.”  

When he first said this, it broke my heart. To think someone who has sacrificed so much can’t even appreciate how amazing it is that he is still in this fight. But then I realized, this is a way of respecting those who willingly gave their lives for a future of freedom. A way of instilling courage in those marching to their fighting position, knowing that if it leads to their death they will be regarded as a Hero of Ukraine.

During our time here we hit 500 days of “the big war.” And all I am reading from Western newspapers is that the Summer counteroffensive “isn’t going as well as planned…” For who? In the last month Ukraine has taken back more land than the Russians and Wagner took in several months past. And Ukraine is making deliberate advances against fortified positions at a pace that limits their human loss as much as possible. I can’t even imagine the causality rates if they were moving faster. These are real people’s lives, not just numbers on a paper that they get to look at from a nice air-conditioned room across a border.

As trainers, knowing many of the soldiers we are training may not be alive next month, we have to keep some emotional distance. However, when I reconnected with one of my closest Ukrainian friends from my first deployment, he told me he got his conscription papers. Zak is a great man. Someone I want to grow up to be like even though he is younger than I am. But Zak is not meant to be a soldier. He is kind hearted and has a contagious laugh. I am proud of Zak’s willingness to fight for his country when asked, but I also selfishly want him to find a way to not have to go to the front line. Zak is someone who’s interpersonal abilities will greatly affect the development of this nation once Ukraine wins.  I don’t want to lose another personal friend to this war. I am very openly scared for his life and fighting back tears at the thought of him in combat.

After he told me this news, it became hard to remain emotionally distant, because I know all of these soldiers are Zak to somebody. They all have families, friends and people that care about them and want to see them come home safe from this war. A war that none of them want to be fighting in the first place. They want peace, liberty and the freedom to let Ukraine grow into the country that is destined to become, without corrupt Russian influence. So, when NATO says the counter offensive “isn’t moving fast enough,” they have to remember that they are not the ones who are actively losing soldiers by the hundreds for every kilometer. NATO is demanding Ukraine fight a war they are 100% vested in winning, but not fairly judging the human cost of this request. How many Zaks does Ukraine have to lose for NATO to be satisfied at the speed of the counteroffensive?

As I have explained to many people before, the life of a humanitarian is not for everyone. It is uncomfortable, dirty, smelly and can be emotionally and physically challenging. It requires a big sacrifice. Not just from those deploying, but from those who are left at home. The fear of what might happen when their loved one is gone is nothing to be ignored. I am fortunate to have a family that has once again put up with me being gone to help in a small way with what is just and what is right. For that I am eternally grateful.

On my 34th birthday I set off on the long journey to return home. I can say without a doubt the last three weeks have been among the most important of my 34 years. For that reason, I ask that anyone wanting to get me a birthday gift, you please simply take that money and make a donation to the Forca Foundation so my team can continue to do this work after I leave. 

Thank you for keeping Ukraine in the forefront of your mind and continuing to talk about what is happening over here. They need us… All of us. And we need them… All of them. Ukraine is an important NATO ally. Don’t let Ukraine be forgotten as this war rages on. We must continue to help them one day celebrate their own independence, with fireworks, rather than artillery.

https://forcafoundation.com/donate/.

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