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This year I am spending the 4th of July holiday in Ukraine. During my long military career I spent countless holidays deployed overseas, but this one is particularly poignant. I have had a chance to see much of the battlefield. The destruction, death and suffering is beyond anything I have ever seen in person. Photographs of Berlin at the end of WWII is the kind of destruction now found in Ukraine. This is not a war with insurgents and irregular guerrilla fighters launching hit-and-run ambushes with roadside bombs like the Taliban or ISIS. This is two very modern, uniformed militaries of countries that are both represented in the United Nations. This is a mechanized, force-on-force, combined arms death match.
The Ukrainians are fierce warriors. Every inch of territory occupied by Russia has cost them dearly. Accurate casualty figures are tough to find, but the BBC reports that between 100-200 Ukrainian soldiers are killed each day, with over 500 being wounded. I have toured hospitals and visited the combat wounded. Rooms designed for two patients have six or more. The medical staff work round the clock. They are short-handed and constantly in need of supplies. Ukrainians under the age of 60 cannot leave the country and many have been pressed into service. Their need for combat training is just as critical as their need for logistics in general, and medical supplies in particular.
In the three-plus months this war has been going on, the Russians have suffered horrific casualties as well. Nearly 35,000 Russian soldiers have been killed, wounded or missing. That’s almost 300 a day. They’ve lost almost 1,500 tanks, over 200 aircraft and fourteen of their ships and boats have been sunk. When you read these numbers remember that most of these troops are conscript teenagers with very little training.
The situation in Ukraine reminds me of President John F. Kennedy’s inaugural speech, “Don’t ask what the country can do for you; ask what you can do for your country.” From what I have seen so far, the Ukrainian people are stepping up and doing the impossible for their country.
Back home in the USA, the Fourth of July holiday celebrates the fundamental essence of what it means to be an American. It is a holiday that recognizes our never-ending fight to preserve and protect our freedom as Americans with unalienable rights to life, liberty and the pursuit of individual happiness and prosperity. The Ukrainian people I meet remind of this spirit because they want the same thing. The unprovoked Russian invasion of Ukraine is their version of the British occupation of Boston and the early battles at Lexington and Concord in Massachusetts. The Ukrainian people know this US history very well and are quick to point out the comparisons to a visiting American.
The best part of my trip to Ukraine is being reminded of my own nation’s struggle for freedom and to never take what we have in the USA for granted. I hope everyone has a happy and blessed Fourth of July!
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