Hector served two violent tours in Iraq as a US Marine, then got out, got a pension and a civilian job, and thought he was done with military service. But on Friday, he boarded a plane for one more deployment, this time as a volunteer in Ukraine. He checked in several bags filled with rifle scopes, helmets and body armour donated by other veterans.
“Sanctions can help, but sanctions can’t help right now, and people need help right now,” said the former Marine, who lives in Tampa Bay, Florida, and like other veterans interviewed for this article asked that only his first name be used for security reasons. “I can help right now.”
He is one of a surge of American veterans who say they are now preparing to join the fight in Ukraine, emboldened by the invitation of the country’s President, Volodymyr Zelensky, who earlier this week announced he was creating an “international legion” and asked volunteers from around the world to help defend his nation against Russia.
Ukraine’s minister of foreign affairs, Dmytro Kuleba, echoed the call for fighters, saying on Twitter, “Together we defeated Hitler, and we will defeat Putin, too.”
Hector said he hoped to cross the border to train Ukrainians in his expertise: armoured vehicles and heavy weapons.
“A lot of veterans, we have a calling to serve, and we trained our whole career for this kind of war,” he said. “Sitting by and doing nothing? I had to do that when Afghanistan fell apart, and it weighted heavily on me. I had to act.”
All across the US, small groups of military veterans are gathering, planning and getting passports in order. After years of serving in smouldering occupations, trying to spread democracy in places that had only a tepid interest in it, many are hungry for what they see as a righteous fight to defend freedom against an autocratic aggressor with a conventional and target-rich army.
“It’s a conflict that has a clear good and bad side, and maybe that stands apart from other recent conflicts,” said David Ribardo, a former Army officer.
After the invasion, he saw veterans flooding social media eager to join the fight. Unable to go because of commitments, he has spent the past week acting as a sort of middle man for a group called Volunteers for Ukraine, identifying veterans and other volunteers.
New York Times News Service