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Montana man returns home from war in Ukraine

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Posted at 2:52 PM, Feb 16, 2024
and last updated 2024-02-19 12:09:54-05

GREAT FALLS — In 2018 I began Officer Candidate School with the Montana National Guard. One of my instructors there was a man named CPT Jeff Breeze. After commissioning I didn’t see him in person until very recently. While perusing Facebook, however, I saw a notification from him about returning home from the conflict that still rages in the Ukraine. I reached out immediately to ask how he was and see if he’d be willing to tell his story there. He was happy to help, but it wasn’t until I got to talk to him that I understood why.

“My ex-wife is Ukrainian and we have a daughter who is half Ukrainian,” is how he started our interview. Immediately I got it. This was personal. 

War in the Ukraine continues despite our attention being shifted elsewhere in a continually strafe fought world. In order to support their defense effort the Ukraine has received billions of dollars of support from over a dozen major nations around the world. Non-Governmental Organizations (NGOs) and non-profits have donated time, money, and resources as well. No gift, though, has been more personal than that of the men and women assigned to the International Legion Ukraine (ILU). Made up entirely of fighters from all over the world, many ILU soldiers have died on the front lines of the conflict. They serve in every combat role imaginable from direct infantry, to special operations, indirect fire such as artillery and mortars, and transportation. For four months Jeff was one of these fighters.

Jeff explained that he, like most of those fighting in the ILU, he didn’t go there for money. “You only get paid about $1,000 per month while you’re training. When you’re on the front lines then it’s $3,200 per month”. Jeff continued, “I went there for the same reason that I joined the Marine Corps and the Army… I don’t like watching people get bullied”. Due to his background of over 20 years in the US armed forces he had an advantage in training.

Despite being a little “long in the tooth” at 58 years old, Jeff easily completed training and became a mortarman. In the Montana National Guard he had served as an Indirect Fires Officer commanding IDF missions. This meant that he had practical knowledge of setting up IDF missions and supporting the infantry ahead of them. They would often times be less than 750 yards from the trench line sending over mortars to soften the Russian advances. While they weren’t typically in the trenches themselves, the threat was no less real. Drones and near constant artillery fire towards them meant that life could be cut short at any moment.

“We lived in a bunker. It was pretty nice though. We had electricity, water, and internet. The generators powered it all though and sometimes you had to sprint to turn them off when the drones came through.” They had some form of attack often. Jeff told me about a time that Russian Spetznaz, an elite infantry unit, came through the area as well. “There were about 10 of them. One of our guys went out and found them. They set an ambush and killed half of them and seriously wounded a couple more. We took two prisoners, a Private and a Sergeant, and they spilled everything. Most of their guys were conscripts. They didn’t want to be there. They [the Russians] would get them drunk or even give them drugs in order to get them to fight.”

Jeff recalled that there were many good times too. “It was an amazing experience. The best thing was the friends that I made.” When asked about the current status in the region he said that they already had the weaponry needed to continue to fight, but “they need our help, they think we can do it. They need ammo right now really bad, that’s the biggest thing. They need ammo."

EXTENDED INTERVIEW:

Extended interview with Jeff Breeze