Hitting the ground running in Eastern Europe

My second week with Spirit of America started with a flight to Kyiv, Ukraine. As Chris Clary and I took off from Dulles International Airport, I sat with my laptop and reviewed SoA’s many contributions to freedom, sovereignty, and resiliency in Ukraine. From funding transmitters for a now greatly expanded Ukrainian-run ArmyFM, to ensuring children in the war-ravaged eastern region of the country had a safe place to learn, Spirit of America’s continued work sends a message to the Ukrainian people that the American people care about their future. To our troops and diplomats, SoA’s work reminds them that the American people are standing with them and have their backs. I couldn’t be prouder to be a part of this team.

The snow was coming down hard as we left the airport and started our three-hour drive from Kyiv to Berdychiv, Ukraine, to meet the US and Ukrainian soldiers training there.

We landed on a snowy evening in Kyiv, and began the 100-mile journey west to a Ukrainian Army training site in Berdychiv. The roads were lined with yellow and blue Ukrainian flags waving in the cold wind as we drove by.

Overlooking the city, Kyiv’s “Motherland Monument” was constructed during the Brezhnev-era to honor the Red Army’s victory over Nazi Germany in World War II.
The temperatures in Ukraine had been so cold that the lake and rivers were frozen over and solid enough to walk on.

We traveled to Berdychiv with the US Army officer who identified the mission-critical need for cold weather boots and gear for Ukrainian soldiers. I wanted to see the need firsthand and meet the US and Ukrainian soldiers in person. There is no substitute for being on the ground and meeting the people you are helping in order to fully understand and respond to their needs.

Here I am during our visit to Berdychiv, Ukraine.
The snow-covered training grounds where Chris and I got to know some of the US cadre and Ukrainian soldiers who were training before going to Ukraine’s front lines.

As fighting continues in the country’s east, the Ukrainian Army is working hard to defend their homeland and to enact serious and necessary reforms in the structure of their armed forces. The Ukrainian soldiers who received the SoA-provided gear are graduating from an arduous, US-led training course and will be the tip of the spear in this fight.

For months, these Ukrainian soldiers have slogged through the mud and cold, learning invaluable lessons from US Army’s training cadre. When the US soldiers were unable to secure funding to replace the Ukrainian soldiers’ gear that had worn out during the rigorous training, they reached out to SoA to help equip the pioneering graduates with the boots, socks and other cold weather gear befitting of the elite soldiers they’ve proven themselves to be.

Last week, in a mix of Russian and English, Chris and I arranged the purchase of equipment in Kyiv, by phone, from SoA’s main office in Arlington. This week, we hit the ground to deliver the supplies. A US Army trainer quoted a Ukrainian soldier, saying, “the boots mean more than any other piece of equipment, because they represent the friendship and support of the American people as we risk our lives to defend Ukraine.”

Chris and I got a picture by the selection board. Across the top it read that this unit “isn’t for everyone.” Only the best candidates made it to the end of the course.

After returning to Kyiv, we met the diplomats who serve as the face of the American people in Ukraine at the US Embassy. We heard of their successes, their challenges, and their plans for the future. We also made a stop by the now famous Ukrainian ArmyFM studio, where the staff excitedly told us of plans for expansion, as well as many stories and morale-boosting effects the broadcasts from the station were having on Ukraine’s frontlines. The radio crew also eagerly shared news of the positive effects of SoA’s assistance in publishing an ethos book for the Ukrainian Marines. Regarding the manual, the Ukrainian Army broadcasters stated that it “was a huge source of pride”, and the first of its kind in the Ukrainian military.

During our meeting with members of the ArmyFM staff, we heard about their progress and discussed plans for further growth and expansion.

We finished our whirlwind trip in Germany, spending a day meeting with members of the US Special Operations Command Europe, stationed there. We discussed how Spirit of America’s continued support for the US forces serving throughout Europe will help our troops succeed in their mission from the Baltics to the Balkans, and in the southern Caucasus. I know I’m going to be busy in the coming weeks and months.

Boarding the flight for the final leg of our journey back to the US

These few days on the ground in Europe were just a taste of what’s to come in my new role as SoA’s Europe Project Manager. I look forward spending time in a region I grew to know and love while serving as a US Army soldier, and I am very excited to share more stories about the positive impact SoA’s support is having.

As always, thank you for your support!

Nick Israel
Project Manager – Europe

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