‘I Just Can’t Stand By’: American Veterans Join the Fight in Ukraine
Hector served two violent tours in Iraq as a United States Marine, then got out, got a pension and a civilian job, and thought he was done with military service. But on Friday, he boarded a plane for one more deployment, this time as a volunteer in Ukraine. He checked in several bags filled with rifle scopes, helmets and body armor donated by other veterans.
“Sanctions can help, but sanctions can’t help right now, and people need help right now,” said the former Marine, who lives in Tampa Bay, Fla., and like other veterans interviewed for this article asked that only his first name be used for security reasons. “I can help right now.”
He is one of a surge of American veterans who say they are now preparing to join the fight in Ukraine, emboldened by the invitation of the country’s president, Volodymyr Zelensky, who earlier this week announced he was creating an “international legion” and asked volunteers from around the world to help defend his nation against Russia.
Ukraine’s minister of foreign affairs, Dmytro Kuleba, echoed the call for fighters, saying on Twitter, “Together we defeated Hitler, and we will defeat Putin, too.”
Hector said he hoped to train Ukrainians in his expertise: armored vehicles and heavy weapons.
“A lot of veterans, we have a calling to serve, and we trained our whole career for this kind of war,” he said. “Sitting by and doing nothing? I had to do that when Afghanistan fell apart, and it weighed heavily on me. I had to act.”
All across the United States, small groups of military veterans are gathering, planning and getting passports in order. After years of serving in smoldering occupations, trying to spread democracy in places that had only a tepid interest in it, many are hungry for what they see as a righteous fight to defend freedom against an autocratic aggressor with a conventional and target-rich army.
Header featured image (edited) credit: Troops/Casimir Pulaski Foundation
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