Persistence beats resistance every time. On 25 November 2016, I woke up and like most mornings I got a cup of coffee and went to see how many emails I received overnight. I noticed an email from a good friend and former Ukrainian SEAL asking me for help. (For the safety of all SOF parties involved, I will not be using their real names).
My friend said that a good friend of his currently serving in Ukraine’s SOF in Eastern Ukraine was shot in the elbow on 9 November. The wound was right in the joint, and the round fractured several of the bones. You can click here if you’d like to see a picture of the wound, but be warned that it is a bit graphic.
Ukraine’s hospitals did not have experience with these types of wounds, and the fear was that he would lose the use of his arm. My friend was seeking U.S. support. I was also informed that time to do the surgery was limited, so we had to act fast.
I reached out to my friend Mike Lappi with Harvard Medical. He said that if we could figure out the politics and logistics to get him to Boston, then Harvard could handle the medical side. This was great news, but the logistics and politics were not an easy obstacle to overcome. I reached out to the U.S. Defense Attache office in Kyiv, Ukraine, intending to find a way to get him to Landstuhl Regional Medical Facility in Germany.
The Army Attache there is an SF officer who has served several assignments in Europe, and he felt the best move was to send the wounded soldier to Walter Reed National Military Medical Center (WRNMMC) in Bethesda, Maryland.
The SOF network was hard at work to make this happen, and the U.S. Embassy started the process of getting the Ukrainian government to request the assistance. Behind that national effort, people from the Embassy, Ukraine Ministry of Defense, WRNMMC, and the EUCOM J5 pushed forward to ensure that once the approvals were granted, the movement of the wounded soldier would be quick.
Because this was the first attempt to do something like this, it took a lot longer than desired. In May 2017, the wounded soldier was finally sent to WRNMMC, and in June I was able to get to WRNMMC to link up with him and check on his progress. I was really amazed that the network actually pulled it off in time to help this young man get the medical help he needed to live a normal life. The surgeries in WRNMMC all went well, and his physical therapy was effective. I was thrilled to find out that he was sent home to Ukraine last week with the ability to use his arm.
A lot of people worked really hard to overcome major barriers to make this happen. These efforts have created a precedent and process that will allow other seriously wounded Ukrainian service members to come to the U.S. for such treatments much more quickly. The U.S. does things like this for other Partner Nations, but the people who work hard to make it happen rarely get the recognition they deserve.
To everyone that helped make this happen: BRAVO ZULU!