An Alaskan spent 2 months coaching troops in Ukraine. Now, he’s pushing for protection coverage adjustments.

Mark Hayward was in Savoonga, nearer to the Russian Far East than the Alaska mainland, when the Worldwide Legion of the Protection of Ukraine formally invited him to affix the warfare effort.

The 53-year-old retired Inexperienced Beret lives in Nome and works for the native well being care system as a coach for village well being aides in communities within the Bering Strait area. Whereas on St. Lawrence Island, a clinician let him use the web to do a Skype interview with Ukrainian navy coordinators.

Hayward mentioned he felt referred to as to motion by the willingness of Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, within the face of grave hazard, to remain and battle alongside his countrymen.

“I mentioned, ‘Screw this, that is unacceptable, that is unacceptable in our instances,’ ” Hayward mentioned in an interview.

He acquired an e-mail from a Gmail account telling him the place to report in Ukraine. And he went.

This week, Hayward returned to the US after roughly two months in Ukraine. Throughout most of that point, he discovered to make himself helpful by coaching troopers on a missile system that has confirmed instrumental in slowing the advance of Russian tanks and different armored models. In doing so, Hayward recognized substantial gaps between the overseas navy tools that’s arriving in fight zones and Ukrainian troopers’ skills to make use of it successfully.

A lot of that disconnect, in Hayward’s expertise, pertains to coaching, logistics and tolerance for inventive DIY options. As a main instance, one in every of Hayward’s major contributions to the Ukrainian trigger could also be tinkering collectively an alternate battery system for a posh missile launcher. His workaround concerned wiring collectively spare motorbike batteries into the sort of practical, jury-rigged configuration you may discover in Bush Alaska.

“Working with Ukrainians, I really feel like I’m working with a nation of 42 million Alaskans,” Hayward mentioned.

As he transitions again dwelling, Hayward is advocating for changes in American protection coverage to higher help the Ukrainians. He’s already beginning to see outcomes. After a shot-in-the-dark e-mail to U.S. Sen. Lisa Murkowski’s workplace, he discovered allies amongst her workers who’ve helped increase points with high-level officers within the Pentagon. On Thursday, he spoke with Murkowski in particular person at her workplace in Washington, D.C.

“I don’t know the way inside-the-Beltway politics work,” mentioned Hayward, who had by no means earlier than spoken with a senator. “However so far as I may inform, everybody in that room understood the stakes.”

An Alaskan and a Texan

Hayward and his spouse have lived in Nome since 2018. He retired from the navy in 2007 after an unconventional profession throughout the service that in the end left him as a captain specializing in fight drugs by the point he separated.

By his personal admission, he doesn’t carefully comply with international affairs.

“More often than not, I don’t hassle studying the information ‘trigger it doesn’t have an effect on me any,” Hayward mentioned.

However information of Ukraine was completely different. After obsessively following the Russian invasion on the finish of February and mulling over the way to assist Ukraine defend itself, he submitted an software to volunteer with the Ukrainian navy. Inside days of approval, he turned one of many many volunteers with navy expertise from across the globe who entered the nation initially of the warfare by way of the newly established Worldwide Legion of the Protection of Ukraine. Estimates of the variety of overseas fighters who’ve joined the Legion, as reported by Western retailers, vary from a few thousand as much as 20,000 coming from as many as 52 international locations.

After arriving in Poland, a taxi driver helped Hayward supply transportation: a used ambulance he purchased for 4,000 euros and painted inexperienced in order not violate Geneva Conference guidelines round medical automobiles in fight zones. The mechanic who tuned up the rig charged him barely something for elements or labor, an indication of assist for Hayward’s trigger.

Within the comparatively secure western metropolis of Lviv, Hayward recognized that a lot of the help he may provide was serving to refugees — worthwhile work, however not the most effective use of his navy background and expertise. At church companies one Sunday, he managed to satisfy a fellow traveler: a Ukrainian-born American who had come from his dwelling in Texas to assist troopers after seeing photos of his hometown being bombed, and was equally trying to get nearer to the entrance.

“You win the warfare by defeating the oppressor. That’s once I determined to affix some sort of unit,” mentioned Anton, the Texan, who requested to not use his surname as a result of he has members of the family nonetheless in Ukraine whom he doesn’t wish to danger figuring out. He initially traveled again to assist them escape, however by the point he arrived, the realm the place they dwell was surrounded by Russian forces.

“There was an American with a bus that mentioned, ‘I’m right here to place some harm on the Russian armor,’ ” Anton mentioned from his dwelling in the US, the place he’d returned this week.

Contained in the van was a big Alaska state flag and Alaska stickers Hayward doled out liberally. He wryly defined that he stored two sidearms within the driver’s facet door: a ball-peen hammer and a can of bear spray.

The 2 males linked up, touring collectively to Kyiv, then onward to Mykolaiv in southern Ukraine, the place they spent nearly all of their keep earlier than shifting on to Zaporizhzhia, nearer to the place preventing has intensified through the second Russian offensive push.

Each Anton and Hayward have been topics in a Wall Road Journal article printed final week. The boys mentioned they understood the dangers of talking with journalists and felt it was very important to get out details about what they have been seeing. Publication successfully put targets on their backs, and so they unexpectedly left Ukraine.

‘I went on many raids’

Hayward turned centered on Javelins — a cellular weapon consisting, in crude phrases, of a round tube linked to a giant sq. viewfinder — which have proved to be one of the efficient instruments combating Russian advances. They’re refined missile launchers designed to lock onto the warmth signature of a tank or armored car, then shoot out a self-propelled ballistic that arcs up into the air to strike tanks from above, the place the armor plating is thinnest. They’re light-weight and have an efficient vary of a few mile and a half, very best for small bands of troopers to “tank hunt” from a distance and halt a traditional artillery offensive.

However there are drawbacks. The batteries used within the launch unit solely final 4 hours, then should be discarded. Commanders didn’t have spares, or know the way to supply them. With out further vitality provides, the weapons have been usable for a couple of hours, then ineffective.

What’s extra, when Western international locations withdrew their navy personnel forward of the warfare’s begin, additionally they took essential coaching tools, just like the simulators used to get troops acquainted with the Javelin system.

“The marines didn’t have sufficient batteries to the place they might flip them on and observe with them,” Hayward mentioned.

What Hayward and Anton noticed have been costly, highly effective methods primarily sitting on cabinets and in basements, with Ukrainian troops conserving them as a sort of Hail Mary instrument troopers may use as a determined final resort if a tank approached, hoping they might work out the way to fireplace them within the second of reality.

“The group we have been working with had one Javelin, and 4 extra in storage,” Anton mentioned of the primary marine unit they linked up with. “They might have 5, however solely had one.”

The 2 Individuals seen this as a logistics downside: They wanted a surplus vitality provide for Javelins that may permit troopers to coach on them earlier than taking them into the sector. Hayward discovered a workaround. He experimented with rigging collectively a regionally ubiquitous vitality supply: rechargeable 12-volt motorbike batteries. With some inventive wiring and a plastic body, he constructed a prototype that he then handed off to native engineers, who refined the mannequin and made it scalable.

Neither Hayward nor Anton had expertise with Javelins, however they knew sufficient to supply info from acquaintances, coaching manuals and on-line movies. Liberated from the bounds of a hard and fast battery life, they began coaching troopers the way to use them, and translating manuals into Ukrainian.

“Inside 96 hours of getting that first battery constructed, they have been sending out fight patrols to hunt for and have interaction with Russian armor,” Hayward mentioned. “Inside 96 hours, they’d killed the primary Russian tank with a Javelin.”

It was hardly a complete observe regime, nevertheless it was higher than nothing.

Anton estimates they skilled upwards of 120 troopers on the way to use the Javelins earlier than leaving, with loads of them capable of educate different fighters.

Requested about their very own expertise of fight in southern Ukraine, Hayward replied, “I went on fight patrols with models, however I didn’t interact with or fireplace upon the enemy.”

Anton was briefer.

“We name them raids,” he mentioned. “I went on many raids.”

Coverage adjustments to be seen

Hayward reached out to Murkowski’s workplace on April 20. Staffers there discovered an unsolicited e-mail from a stranger claiming to be an Alaskan with suggestions for navy help coverage in a warfare zone to be a bit unusual, relative to a lot of the constituent requests they area. However after checking round, they turned satisfied Hayward had severe expertise and was elevating respectable issues.

“We get requests for help from constituents daily, however Mark’s case was distinctive for a variety of causes, together with that we needed to talk securely at odd hours of the night time and have been very cautious about passing particulars about him to businesses for his security,” mentioned Steve Wackowski, state director for Murkowski, and a fight veteran who developed a kinship with Hayward throughout their exchanges.

Wackowski and different staffers started corresponding with Hayward, who supplied formal letters from Ukrainian protection officers testifying to their want for Javelin coaching kits. Murkowski’s workplace then received these requests to American officers on the Workplace of the Secretary of Protection.

“Mark clearly articulated the necessity for the U.S. to not solely provide the tools they want, but in addition the information and coaching to soundly and successfully function the tools that we’re offering. It’s not sufficient to allocate cash into direct safety help packages. We have to shut the loop and ensure it’s efficient,” Murkowski mentioned.

Previous to assembly with Hayward in particular person, Murkowski raised the difficulty throughout a Protection Appropriations Subcommittee listening to on the Protection Division’s price range Tuesday.

“What we’re listening to is that the brand new Ukrainian troops are usually not supplied sufficient coaching to function these $200,000 weapons methods,” Murkowski mentioned, citing suggestions from Hayward with out naming him.

“So the query to you is whether or not or not they’ve sufficient of the javelins that they want, however what they’re doing to assist facilitate then the coaching in order that they’ll most successfully deploy these weapons, and what’s DoD telling the Ukrainian Ministry of Protection in response to their ask for extra trainers? How are we doing on that facet?” Murkowski requested Protection Secretary Lloyd Austin, who mentioned issues with Javelins particularly had not come from his counterparts in Ukraine.

“In the event that they increase that situation, actually we stand prepared to coach them. If it’s a requirement, and because you introduced it up little question it’s, we are going to return and verify with them once more and the those who they should practice, we stand prepared to coach them. And we’re pushing coaching kits into nation, as effectively,” Austin mentioned.

As extra refined overseas weapons methods proceed arriving in Ukraine, the coaching gaps may widen. Current navy help to the Ukrainian authorities has included superior standard methods like 155mm howitzers and cutting-edge gadgets like weaponized drones which have necessitated taking Ukrainian troopers overseas for coaching and redeployment. This takes time and entails huge dangers transporting tools and folks over highways and rail methods that may be focused.

“It’s a greater concept to have a cellular coaching unit,” Anton provided. “This manner, they’ll reinforce the troops the place they’re.”

[A race against time in Ukraine as Russia advances, West sends weapons]

In the intervening time, Anton is targeted on coordinating donations and volunteers to extra successfully assist troopers preventing within the contested areas.

“I would love Individuals to know that in the event that they proceed to provide arms to Ukrainians, they won’t solely cease Russians however will drive them again to the place they got here from,” Anton mentioned.

Hayward thinks the U.S. navy ought to ship uniformed personnel to “practice, advise and equip” Ukrainian forces. In his evaluation, there are two wars being fought proper now. The primary is a smaller, standard battle between two nation-states, Russia and Ukraine, which he believes the latter will win in six to 18 months. The second warfare is extra dire: the battle over the contested inhabitants facilities in jap and southern Ukraine proper now, wherein Russian troopers and militias are extensively reported to be committing warfare crimes towards civilians. And in that warfare, based on Hayward, hastening the Ukrainian navy’s lethality and efficacy by closing coaching gaps will imply doubtlessly diminishing the dimensions of struggling, displacement and loss of life.

“What I noticed myself was Russian vicious incompetence,” Hayward mentioned. “Each place that the Russians occupy and have occupied, they’re conducting a program of political cleaning and directing the usage of pressure towards civilians in a very appalling array of warfare crimes.”

Hayward expects to return to Alaska within the coming week.

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