Alabama Marine veteran volunteers in Ukraine

CULLMAN, Ala. – For about a month now, U.S. Navy veteran Sean Schofield has been sending dispatches to Cullman from a place few would volunteer to go. Since the end of March, he has been one of more than 6,000 foreign volunteers from the United States, Australia, the United Kingdom and other Western countries who have left their civilian lives behind and traveled to Ukraine, helping the military personnel and civilian supporters to mount a sovereign defense against Russian invasion.

During this time, Schofield let his country know that he had already seen active combat, participated in civilian escort missions in combat zones and participated firsthand in Ukraine’s ad hoc response to the huge Russian military machine. He has already traveled the country almost from end to end, settling recently (at the request of Ukraine) in the outskirts of kyiv. There, he served as an instructor with a training unit that trains Ukraine’s armed forces — many of whom are recent enlistees with no prior experience — in an intensive two-week intensive military course before they are sent to the forehead.

Schofield’s presence in Ukraine has been facilitated by the International Territorial Defense Legion of Ukraine, a unit of the Ukrainian Armed Forces created earlier this year by the Ukrainian government under President Volodymyr Zelenskyy. This is by no means a mercenary task: the Ukrainian government provides foreign volunteers like Schofield with accommodation and food, but everything else, including the cost of the flight to get there, is covered. of the volunteer.

“The Ukrainian embassy basically explained it like this: ‘We’re not going to pay you, but if you want to come at your own expense, do it: we’ll feed you and give you a place to sleep,'” says Ken Brown , a Cullman resident and active local VFW member who has aired a series of interviews with his fellow service member, since Schofield landed in Ukraine, on local television and on Facebook.

“He made it there, but he did it out of his own pocket,” says Brown. “It cost him $1,800 to get there, he’ll need another $1,800 to get back, plus $2,000 for equipment and a $1,000 weapons license that goes to the Ukrainian government. The original plan was that he will be there until the end of June – if all goes well. Of course, the group of international special forces is in Kyiv, and if the capital is threatened again, it is possible that he will be involved in a response to that – and that would obviously affect his schedule.

Schofield has lived in Cullman with his wife and two children most of the time he has been in plain clothes, moving to Alabama from his home state of Massachusetts shortly after honorably leaving the Corps in 2005 following of a post-September. 11 tour of Iraq and Kuwait as part of Operation Iraqi Freedom.

Schofield already knew what it was like to recommit to a cause he believed in: He joined the Marines at 18 straight out of high school and had completed his service, which included a deployment to Okinawa, Japan, in as an air gunner. Observer, in 2000. But like many soldiers, the September 11 attacks prompted him to return to uniform once more.

Leaving the comforts of home to volunteer in a foreign conflict was not a decision Schofield took lightly. In a recent video chat with Brown, Schofield said early reports of indiscriminate killings, coupled with the assault of invading a peacetime sovereign neighbor, sparked a volunteer instinct he had harbored since before re-enlisting. in the Marines following 9/11. attacks on the World Trade Center.

“‘The bad guys don’t even try to find the good guys in uniform and fight them,'” he explained. “They shoot everybody… It came down to a lot of the reasons I wanted to become a Marine in the first place. Marines are always the good guys; wherever they go…and I wore that uniform with so much pride.”

Not all of those who have traveled to Ukraine to help in the fight are soldiers: Brown estimates that more than half of the 6,000 international volunteers in the country are there to provide medical and social assistance. The trained military volunteer force of which Schofield is a part, he estimates, numbers between 2,500 and 3,000.

“He just felt he was equipped to go out there and be one of the people who could make a difference,” Brown said. “Sean is a Marine Corps-trained martial arts instructor, as well as a marksmanship instructor, and he’s seen combat since his service. That’s a pretty remarkable thing for someone who lives in Cullman to look at what’s going on there and think, ‘They need me. I can help.'”

Schofield is a member of his local VFW, which handles donations to fund the rest of his Ukraine tour – including his return trip. Checks to support Schofield’s volunteer mission can be made out in any amount, with “Sean Schofield” in the subject line, to Cullman Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 2214, and dropped or mailed to VFW (112 Veterans Drive SW, Cullman, AL, 35055).

Marines serving with the 1st and 4th Reconnaissance Battalions performed static line jumps to maintain their qualifications and hone their flying skills here, June 22, 2013. (Cpl. Joseph Scanlan/Marine Corps)

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