“An Army of One” was the Army’s recruiting slogan in the early 2000’s. To address its sagging manpower goals, Army marketing research went into reaching the stereotypical male teen, playing video games by himself in the basement all day. The Army concluded the current generation of young people is so individualistic, so resistant to authority and rules, that it has to market military life as the natural home of the free-wheeling unfettered spirit.” A critic saw the base dishonesty in the pitch. “The Army is not, never has been and never will be about one soldier. Individuality has absolutely nothing to do with Army life,” he wrote. Another commentator remarked, “if you want to be an ‘Army of One’ you probably want to join the Hell’s Angels, not the U.S. Army.”
It’s in that context that thousands have volunteered as free-agent soldiers for Ukraine’s freedom. News reports indicate Ukraine has had little trouble attracting young American men to join in the fight. Under American law, it’s legal for a U.S. citizen to provide combat services as a volunteer – although it is illegal to fight as a compensated foreign mercenary. The Law of Armed Conflict defines the conditions to needed to recognize a fighter as a legitimate combatant: (1) they form part of a military command structure, under formal orders and preceded by an “official request”; (2) they display a distinctive badge; (3) they carry arms openly; and, (4) they conform to the rights and obligations of war.
Take for example, a young Ohio man (said to be a rightwing militia member) whose flight was paid by donations through GiveSendGo. (The same Christian funding site was used by “American hero”, Kyle Rittenhouse, who moved on to “make a killing (pun intended) on the evangelical speaking circuit )”. After publicizing his complaints about harsh field conditions, including inadequate supplies of weapons and ammunition, our brave Ohio freedom fighter deserted his post and fled Ukraine. “I have been here 15 days now and still nothing is happening,” another volunteer bitched on a phone interview. “I am not putting up with that.” Perhaps that’s why none of these “armies of one” ever enlisted in the military.
In Jesus and John Wayne, Kristin Du Mez wrote of how Wayne became an icon of evangelical masculinity: “his toughness and his swagger; he protected the weak, and he wouldn’t let anything get in the way of his pursuit of justice and order.” She adds Trump’s “testosterone-fueled masculinity aligned remarkably well with that long championed by conservative evangelicals.” For any number of young evangelical Walter Mittys, the heady battlefield mix of testosterone and adrenaline is the chance to prove their Christian manhood.
But there’s a time when lofty idealism meets grim reality. It’s one thing to rack a high score at the local gun range, or on your Big Game Hunter video game. Or in the woods, shooting at animals that don’t shoot back. It’s quite another when you’re hunkered down in a fetid dirt trench, while 120mm mortar rounds splash all around you. That’s literally the baptism by fire, where even seasoned veterans often lose their nerve – and the contents of their bowels.
A California guy who said he liked “guns, cars, building stuff, basketball, sports and MMA” was eager to get on the battlefield and kill Russians. He had no military experience, but wanted to be a sniper. “They have no experience in doing such a job,” Mamuka Mamulashvili, commander of the Georgian National Legion said. He added that war tourists were an unwelcome – if not dangerous – nuisance. “You are not Rambo, there to single-handedly slay Russians and post your selfies,” a former CIA operative cautioned. His advice was basically: grow up, shut up, and do what you’re told. Just the sort of thing that millenials didn’t want to hear from their parents, either.
Its interesting to note that the chance of seeing combat in the army is low. Only 10% are deployed into front line combat. The remainder are assigned to supporting units: administration, maintenance, logistics, medical, military police, chow hall, etc. Many of these soldiers are doing non-sexy jobs like supervising cargo deliveries or guarding critical infrastructure. That’s the lowered expectations that a Michigan male went in with. A veteran with a 50 year-old back has given up on the idea of slogging through mud with an overweight pack. “I’m a realist,” he says, comparing his physical condition to his service days in the 1980’s. “He suggested that he might drive a truck to transport refugees or bring food into areas of need,” the article comments.
Well, these skills aren’t exactly exclusive to the military. During my years in Sarajevo, people would tell me stories of Serb forces allowing European trophy-hunters to zero in on Sniper Alley. Humans are the ultimate big-game. It nauseates me to think of volunteer killers. It seems odd that so many volunteers drop their teddy out of the crib and go home if they can’t kill someone. If they have to drive an army truck to support the Ukrainian military, that’s not on their adventure bucket list.
In fact, why must it be a military truck? Why not use that plane ticket and fly to someplace in eastern Poland, and volunteer with a civilian refugee aid organization? Flights from the U.S. to Warsaw are still under $1000. If young Christian men want to serve Ukraine, that’s what I’d recommend.