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US military vets are in Ukraine for elite medical mission

Local residents help Igor Majayev, right, after home destroyed by Russian airstrike that killed at least 6 people, including Majayev's family members in Markhalivka, Ukraine, on March 5, 2022. (Marcus Yam/Los Angeles Times/TNS)
March 14, 2022

A group of former U.S. military service members, including a retired U.S. Army Special Forces sergeant, traveled to Ukraine earlier this month to assist resistance forces fighting the Russian invasion.

ABC7 San Francisco reported March 4 that Aaron Epstein, a surgeon from Buffalo, New York, and founder of Global Surgical and Medical Support Group (GSMSG), was contacted by Ukraine’s Minister of Defense, who asked for the group’s support in the nation’s resistance against Russia.

“We would ask for all possible cooperation from GSMSG in the field of medical/surgeon training,” the message from the Defense Minister said in a message to GSMSG.

Shortly after receiving the request, Epstein organized 10 GSMSG volunteers, including a surgeon, a pediatrician, an OR nurse, medics, and a recently retired U.S. Army Special Forces sergeant, who headed to Ukraine.

“I’ve told them that they can be armed, if it’s starting to look like where they will be is going to be a hostile combat area,” Epstein said.

When asked if the volunteers can return fire should they find themselves under attack, Epstein responded, “Yeah, yeah, absolutely. Absolutely.”

Epstein’s group also translated the U.S. military’s “Tactical Combat Casualty Care Course” into Ukrainian and shared it online.

Epstein said his organization has high standards for volunteers. In addition to medical qualifications, Epstein said members must be in excellent physical shape, adding that he worries about “keyboard warriors” who are tempted to travel to Ukraine and fight without the necessary skills or training.

“If these idiots run into a combat situation, get killed, and suddenly Russians are killing Americans. I mean, I don’t think they understand that like this could literally start World War III,” he said. “I mean, I think that a lot of people don’t understand what’s actually at stake when they just want to go shoot some people. I mean, it’s insane.”

Epstein has years of experience organizing some of America’s top doctors from Harvard, Yale and Georgetown to volunteer in warzones overseas.

“Then bring them right to these kind of frontline communities because we could cocoon them in my other network of security guys,” Epstein said, describing how he previously brought medical teams to Iraq. “We were essentially bringing levels of care that these communities hadn’t seen before.”

Espstein said GSMSG, which describes itself as “providing the highest quality medical care and training in austere settings overseas as well as responding to the COVID 19 pandemic within the United States,” has 1,500 medical professionals currently on its roster.

“The vast majority are former military or intelligence community folks who either were medical providers while in service or became medical providers after,” he said.