Phil Gonzales, a 74-year-old resident of Hope Mills, saw pictures of Russia attacking Ukraine in February.
A few months later, Gonzales, a former member of the Special Forces and a contract advanced medical instructor for the joint Army and Navy Special Operation Medical Branch, would travel thousands of miles from Cumberland County to Ukraine to aid Ukrainians and train them to handle similar situations in the future. Gonzales collaborated with John Padgett, a Special Forces veteran with more than 30 years of clinical experience in family practice, urgent care, and industrial medicine, to instruct members of the Ukrainian Territorial Defense Force in quick-response combat medicine. Padgett served as a medic in the Vietnam War. Gonzales and Padgett work for Refugee Relief International Inc., a non-profit organization founded in the 1980s to offer treatments to Cambodian and Burmese landmine victims. The group is committed to providing medical care for armed war victims. Gonzales claimed that Padgett was in charge of organizing the logistics for connecting with people in Ukraine in March to plan travel and joining forces at the end of September.