Reflections of a Special Forces Officer in Ukraine Edition 3: Dogs & Cats & Things That Make You Go Hmm…
Dear reader, I decided to write about some lighter subjects than the war for this article. I live it every day all day so a respite is needed on occasion.
A Brown dog barked at me as I entered the hotel courtyard even though I had fed him and gave him bellyrubs several times. The three hotel cats immediately came up to me. This is Ukraine, where everything is in reverse, the dogs are standoffish and the cats are friendly. Dogs and cats are EVERYWHERE. It seems like every business, restaurant, guard shack, etc. has several dogs and cats hanging around. They are part of the scenery and have not seen any Ukrainians chase off dogs or cats. Pet stores are popular as well.
I never run without a baton though. Ukrainians do not have a jogging culture so when a dog sees a runner, about 30% of the time, he gives chase or at least acts aggressively. Prior to the war, all stray dogs had orange tags on their ears indicating they had been spayed or neutered. The Ukrainians actually had a pretty good system. They do not put down stray animals. The cats are not skittish. They love humans and one sleeps right outside my hotel room door (she does not like cheese by the way). Cats are everywhere as well and they seem to get along with the dogs.
Things in Ukraine that make you go hmmm…
-A man passed out on the sidewalk with his pants down at this ankles and someone standing over him poking him with a stick.
-A man in a wheelchair with his leg in a cast and missing an arm and an eye in the middle of six lanes of rush hour traffic hour going against the flow.
-Getting stopped at a random police checkpoint 20 minutes before curfew and trying to explain to skittish police armed with AK74 assault rifles that an air soft grenade is not an actual grenade.
-Battle hatchets and steaks sold in a gas stations.
-It takes at least 15 minutes whenever you go to get your car gassed up. You have to first talk to the attendant (they pump your gas for you), then go inside and tell them how much you want, then go back outside and tell the attendant to start pumping, and finally go back inside to pay using a very user “unfriendly” app.
-Ukrainian gyms have this OCD compulsion about their floors. You cannot walk into a gym with shoes that you have worn outside. The first time I was in a Ukrainian gym, I had to put plastic covers on my shoes. I have been chastised on at least four separate occasions for stepping one foot off of the entrance mat in the street shoes.
-Ukrainians call any soup “borsch” but will go into great detail about how it is not soup and theirs is different from Russia’s borsch.
-Security guards and cameras are everywhere, even in a barber shop. The barber shops here are first rate by the way. In the U.S., it seems like we are always on a search for an excellent barber. Here they are all good and attentive.
We were training in an old Soviet Young Pioneers Camp (USSR’s version of the Boy & Girl Scouts). It is a huge area with several buildings, an open air stadium, and woods which has fallen into disrepair. I spent all of my formative years in the Boy Scouts and worked at a Boy Scout Camp for several summers so I can just imagine young Soviets sitting around a campfire there at the same time as I was at my camp. I spoke with one of our older interpreters who was a Young Pioneer and he remembers it fondly. When asked about the political indoctrination, he said that the slogans back then were all about being healthy and strong to be able to fight the capitalists!
A note on the remnants of the old Soviet way of thinking within Ukraine. It is still ever present. When discussing some of the U.S. military’s biggest special operations failures as a way to pass on lessons learned, I was asked if there were any legal repercussions for those in charge and if they went to prison. I was a little taken back by the question and was later told by a senior Ukrainian officer who has lived in the U.S. that under the Soviet system, senior leaders were “purged” for failures and there would be big show trials. He also told me that under the old Soviet way of thinking, citizens did not (and do not) take away the right lessons learned, it is more about avoiding getting caught or taking responsibility. Taking the initiative and delegating responsibility is a relatively new concept within the Ukrainian military. They do not have a Noncommissioned Officer Corps (NCO), but the more progressive officers know they need one. You will often see Ukrainian officers running around doing “NCO business” such as headcounts and task organizing soldiers. One of our instructors, a former Marine Raider and 82nd Airborne Division NCO has started teaching classes to the appointed NCOs and they have been very receptive.
Guys, Just a recruiting pitch for the Mozart Group, Ukraine needs training from folks with the following expertise (just go to The Mozart Group – Delivering critical capabilities to Ukrainian frontline units and click on the JOIN button at the top of the page):
Former military from U.S., NATO, Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, French Foreign Legion, etc. This war is a high tech fight with armor, infantry, UAS, and a lot of indirect fires. Much of what we are teaching is basic light infantry skills as well as planning up to the battalion level. Every unit we train asks for something a little different and we always need those specialty or niche skills such as UAS, EOD, etc.
-Unmanned Aerial System (UAS) operators-the Ukrainians mainly use DGI at the tactical level
-SOF/light infantry medics/Physician Assistants (PA)
-Experienced civilian EMT-Paramedics/trauma nurses
-Experienced police SWAT officers
-Long Range Surveillance/Force Recon/recce experience
-SOF NCOs/Petty Officers
-SOF company/field grade officers
-Light Infantry NCOs/company/field grade officers
-Intelligence NCOs/company/field grade officers
-Armor senior NCOs/company grade officers
-Fire support/field artillery NCOs/company grade officers
-Navy Special Warfare Combatant Craft Crewman
-Logisticians-senior NCOs/company/field grade officers (flexibility to establish nonstandard supply/maintenance systems and teach Ukrainian logisticians at the company and battalion level)
-Eurasian Foreign Area Officers (FAOs)
-Former NCO Academy Instructors
-Former U.S. Army Captain’s Career Course small group instructors/USMC The Basic School (TBS) instructors
-Tactical communications expertise using a variety of military and commercial handheld radios (Harris, Motorola, Baofung, etc.)
-Expertise in Russian made small arms, mortars, and antiarmor systems
Authored by Francis Marion.