A heroine of Ukraine

The writer is a former military man, now researching and wri...


Antonovsky Bridge - Destroyed

On the night of July 26, the Ukrainian Armed Forces hit two ...



Thomas LeeAug 4, 2022 (0)

Military types are a varied lot; such is the nature of any military force. But here, where the Westerners on the ground come from the most varied of backgrounds, the most interesting, perhaps, is Van Owen (name changed for OPSEC).

Like many Boers – South Africans of Dutch descent -- he is a longtime military man. According to him, and evidence bears it out, he served in the army of Apartheid as a dutiful kid, then the French Foreign Legion, then did a variety of private military contracting. Then it gets murkier. Now he has popped up here. The unit we comprise is fundamentally a Commonwealth unit, with some Americans scattered throughout for leavening, and the friction between the lads sometimes chafes. As I may have mentioned, I was elevated to command of the unit – an informal process, but one taken very seriously by the men (and myself, inasmuch as I do wear the mantle, and must walk the walk as well as talk the talk). In this capacity, I have had to sort out so many interpersonal and professional problems that I am frankly amazed. It isn't a Western military unit where rank alone commands respect; you must be willing to back it up at the drop of a hat. However, as I/C, I have done an OK job of shepherding the circus and the clowns, and much of the reason is Van Owen.

Van Owen is a weapon. He is no strategist, and not even a tactician. You point Van Owen at an objective and turn him loose. You do not give him a task that involves a lot of moving parts and expect him to get it done. Rather, you say, “Take that man and instruct him in the error of his ways,” and then go about your business. Despite Van Owen's indeterminate-but-over-50 age, rest assured, the problem will be fixed, whether the miscreant is a 20-year-old rifleman or a 30-year-old medic. Beer, boots and young fists notwithstanding, Van Owen returns and compliance ensues.

In the US Army, there is something called the “E-4 Mafia.” They are indispensable to completing the tasks that an army of that size requires. Bedsheets, toilet roll (“bog roll” to my British compatriots, which caused no small amount of confusion when I was first asked to buy it), boots…all process through the hands of the E-4 Mafia en route to the troops. It is said that the ratio of fighters to admin, clerks and cooks in the US Army is something like 1:13.

Here I have Van Owen. Like a dog or cat who owns you, and not the other way around, Van Owen has an interesting reaction when he believes his officer (me) has been insulted.

Here are the signs of danger: first, he gets quiet. Then he starts to curse out Ukrainian inefficiency, but that is merely ramp-up to the mini-apocalypse that is coming. Then his English slowly devolves into Afrikaans, word by word. First, there is one interspersed every five words or so. Then he paces around, and by the time it gets to a 1:3 Afrikaans-English ration, watch out: someone is going to get knocked out.

Yes, I had forgotten the importance of a senior NCO with a ton of experience under his belt.

Please see the following, from an article on AOL:

With strategic competition increasing, Western militaries are emphasizing the role of skilled NCOs.

“In the five months since Russia launched its attack, Ukraine's military has relied on its enlisted leaders to frustrate Moscow and force it to reduce its ambitions after heavy losses and limited progress.

Speaking to senior enlisted leaders from 65 countries on Monday, Ukrainian Air Force Chief Master Sgt. Kostiantyn Stanislavchuk attributed the effectiveness of those noncommissioned officers…”

Of course, the article defines NCOs somewhat incorrectly, but well and good: there is no question about the truth of the above statements.

History remembers generals. History reveres heroes. But I would like to quote one of my favorite men, a Newcastleman with an almost incomprehensible accent: “Ah doon't admire alla them sneaky-deaky special forces lads. I mean…twenty-two (the Special Air Service) and them all is good, I know, but I admire hard (horrid word) on the line.”

So do I, Geordie. Like Van Owen.

Ukraine would be lost without them. So would the Roman Legions, the Papal armies, the New Model Army of Cromwell, Roger's Rangers, the South, the North, the AEF, the USMC, the ISAF…and all officers, everywhere, henceforth and forevermore.

The writer is a former military man, now researching and writing about the Ukrainian Conflict. Questions can be sent directly to


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