Intimate Conversations with America’s Change-Makers
Burn the Boats is an award-winning podcast featuring intimate conversations with change-makers from every walk of life. Host Ken Harbaugh interviews politicians, authors, activists, and others about the most important issues of our time.
Mark J. Lindquist is an Air Force Veteran who has been providing non-lethal aid to the Ukrainian Army since late March of last year. In this interview, he describes being a mile from the front lines, his efforts, and how Americans can help Ukraine win the war.
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What I've seen most is the civilian and the volunteers out here in Ukraine that are acting much like I believe our greatest generation did 80 years ago.
Which is band together for a cause greater than yourself, do whatever it takes and whatever is needed to save the life of their brother, their uncle, their cousin, out there on the front line.
And I see this wave of volunteerism occurring in Ukraine that I really wish we could spark in America.
I'm Ken Harbaugh and this is Burn the Boats, a podcast about big decisions.
My guest today is Mark Lindquist, an Air Force vet who's been providing non-lethal aid to the Ukrainian military since late March of last year.
Mark, welcome to Burn the Boats. Can you tell us where you are in Ukraine right now?
Thanks so much for having me, sir. West Ukraine, right now. I'm in Lviv, the first major city you find right across the Polish border as you cross into Ukraine.
But you have been as close to one mile away from the front lines. Can you tell me about your last mission, downrange, so to speak, providing aid to those Ukrainians, literally in the trenches?
Yeah. A lot of the requests that we've gotten since March of last year have been medical supplies. I always tell folks back in America that if you stand up a million men army in the course of a year, that's just a massive amount of supplies that you have to give to these guys.
And we in the American military, as a veteran as I am, we understand we can go to a supply depot and we can pick 10 of the thing that we want.
And unfortunately, these are civilians that were made into soldiers almost overnight last February. And so, it comes down to first aid kits, it comes down to bandages and tourniquets.
And some of these guys, of course, with the casualty rate being so high out here on the front lines, we get constant requests for these things that will keep guys from bleeding to death. And so, that's what I try to deliver as often as I can.
Yeah. Those high quality tourniquets are at the top of your list when it comes to fundraising appeals. Can you talk about the nature of modern warfare? How different it is than even when we were in …
I mean, the most common cause of death in the conflict in Ukraine right now, is a bleed out. I mean, we're talking about immediate intervention because once we get these guys and women to the aid stations, the survival rate is incredibly high.
But can you talk about that golden hour or really that golden minute?
Right. I don't know folks listening know that 80% of the deaths out here are due to people losing too much blood. So, it's due to blood loss. Roughly 80% or so are due to shrapnel as well.
Because when Russia sends 10 million artillery shells into the country of Ukraine, mostly on the front lines, there's a lot of shrapnel that destroys a lot of equipment and of course hits a lot of our guys.
And so, these basic bandages, chest seals, things that we'd find in IFAC, that's an individual first aid kit. And of course, the high-quality tourniquets, they don't break when you tighten them down on a limb, they're so needed out here.
And unfortunately, during the early stages of this war, and even yet today, we're finding virtually Fisher-Price tourniquets sold from China and from around the world being sold online.
And so, whereas pre-war or pre full scale invasion before February 24th of last year, you would find tourniquets that were $20, maybe $15 that were high quality. CAT 7, we call them.
Then they started selling these cheap knockoffs that people would buy and then send out to the front lines thinking that they were doing a good job, thinking they were doing something good for the Ukrainian army.
And eventually, they'd get out to the front lines, the guys take them in their first aid kits for want of anything better. And now, when you try to tighten them down and stop that bleeding, the windlass or the plastic parts break.
And so, we try to source locally approved tourniquets, think companies like SICH or NePro. But of course, the Generation 7s are the most expensive and desired like we would use in the American military. And so, we try to get our hands on those.
My appeal to the American donor is give me 15 bucks, give me $20, and I can go get a tourniquet and give it to guys that would be using (and this is no joke) shoelaces, or belts, or something, or just leave a guy to bleed out without a tourniquet.
So, any piece of medical supplies we can get to these guys really does mean saving a guy's life that's trying to preserve freedom out here.
Can you talk about those Ukrainians that you have met? Have you had the occasion to talk to any who've actually had to use the equipment you are bringing to the front?
Absolutely. Being somebody that brings the medical supplies in primarily, (and it's the tune of about $6 million worth of medical supplies we've moved into the country in the last 17 months) I get to know the combat medics, those are my guys.
And so, I talk to those guys all the time, specifically out in Bakhmut, the hot zones. And so, they are using those tourniquets on their guys all the time.
And like you had mentioned, once you get them to the casualty collection point, once you get them to the makeshift Toyota RAV4 that the backseat is ripped out of, and they put a guy in it trying to get them to what we would consider the trauma one right here in Kramatorsk or Dnipro, the survival rate is high.
They are able to stabilize them and keep them alive. In fact, one statistic that I've heard from one of my buddies, Vlad, he used to be a pro project management Kyiv, now a combat medic, had about 435 guys that he had treated once he got into his makeshift ambulance and he saved all but one.
And they did lose a couple guys on the table back at the hospital, but during transport, he didn't lose more than one.
And so, without those volunteer donated items, that guy's just going to bleed to death on the battlefield.
And so, what we do is when those requests come in for these most basic items that the American military would think is a given that our soldiers would have, when we can get them into the hands of the Ukrainian combat medic, it does save a young man's life.
Those life savings statistics are really compelling. But let's get beyond the numbers.
Can you tell us one or two stories that have just stuck with you of those guys and women on the frontlines fighting, as you said, for freedom around the world? Are there stories that you're going to remember forever?
Yeah. I'll take another example from my friend, Vlad. He was a connection of an old college friend of mine.
When I came into the country, of course, people on Facebook were getting in touch and telling me to go meet the guy, support him however we could. He was headed to the frontlines, see if we can get him some body armor. We do consider body armor and helmets non-lethal aid.
And so, we met — like I said, his name is Vlad. And he was telling me a story about the realities of living in trenches out there in the Donbas. And you picture digging a foxhole for yourself.
Of course, I was an Air Force non-combat troop, I don't know what it's like to take a shovel and dig a trench, but he was showing me pictures and video of him doing just that.
And of course, you grab some trees and branches from around the local area. You build for yourself a little shelter. You bring a tarp and your rucksack, and you lay the tarp down. That makes sense. You want to keep yourself away from the rain and the moisture.
However, how dare the reality when you try to get a good night's sleep is then you line the tarp with about four or five inches of dirt. Why? Because then you can sleep soundly knowing that white phosphorus will be raining down upon you, and white phosphorus does not burn through dirt.
And so, again, they're able to sleep soundly for one night knowing that at least if an artillery shell, a rocket hits you, then it was your time anyway. But at least now, you're protecting from something that might burn you down to the bone, which is white phosphorus.
And so, it really gives me just this chilling visualization of what these guys are living through.
And that's one guy who largely is at the rear, not the very front positioned in places where they can evacuate people from the very zero line right up against the Russians.
And it just gives you a picture of the World War II movies that we've seen before. This is an artillery war. These weapons that Russian is using upon the Ukrainian troops.
It just creates a reality for these guys that, once again, they're not career soldiers. They're guys that used to work in an office in Kyiv, and they're learning how to do these things on the fly. They're learning how to save lives with real field experience.
And so, when you meet those guys, when you hear their story, when you meet their mother and their father, and they're asking you to support them out there on the frontlines, you're just going to do whatever you can to get them what they need.
And so, that's been our mission since day one and will continue to be until this thing is over.
I have a feeling that history is going to remember those Ukrainians in those trenches a thousand years from now, the way we remember the 300 Spartans holding the pass at Thermopylae.
One of the main differences being what you just pointed out, a lot of them aren't professional soldiers. These are financial analysts and janitors.
One of the first people we talked to on this show was in a foxhole defending Odesa and three days earlier had been in his office. This was three days after the start of the war, had never held a rifle before.
I mean, what an incredible task to assign a historical task of like historical proportions to a people that didn't have the kind of army at the outset to fend off the second largest military in the world.
I think a lot that example you just used in reference with 300, the movie we all know so well, and the story from history.
Why did they go to the gates? Why did they go to that place where they could possibly have chance to fend off the invading army? It's because on the other side of their effort was their wife and their family.
And it's the same thing here. If these guys don't stand in front of this artillery on the eastern part of Ukraine and the southern part, down in Kherson, these Russians are going to march to Dnipro and kill their wife, their children, and their grandfather.
And so, I think you're right. I think that history will look favorably upon the Ukrainian bravery.
And I want to speak maybe just a little bit about what I've seen most is the civilian and the volunteers out here in Ukraine that are acting much like I believe our greatest generation did 80 years ago.
Which is banned together for a cause greater than yourself, do whatever it takes and whatever is needed to save the life of their brother, their uncle, their cousin out there on the frontline.
And I see this wave of volunteerism occurring in Ukraine that I really wish we could spark in America. I think that's what we need. I think we need something that would instead of divide us all, with all the things that we're dealing with in America, maybe it would unite us around a cause that is noble.
And so, I'm inspired by these Ukrainians every single day. They're still trying to go to work. They're still trying to see their family doing whatever job they had before the war.
And then after they're eight hours a day on the clock, they work another 8 to 10 hours a day in the warehouse trying to sort medical supplies, getting it ready for the next transport out to the Dunbas.
And so, these are the folks that I work with and I'm inspired by every day because even though they might not be combat troops, even though they might not be fighters, it is all hands on deck effort out here in Ukrainian society.
Which is why I believe the Ukrainian society will be one of the most formidable in the western world in the future, because they're learning to set aside their differences and do something great together, which is something every free society I think could learn from.
I'm glad you brought that up because I'm drawn to something you wrote recently, which is that, “Ukrainian society will be one of the most formidable on earth in the future as they are learning how to set aside their differences and work together toward a common cause greater than themselves, much like America's greatest generation 80 years ago.”
How does that make you think about our division and our tribalism? Because when a society is caught in a vice, it either cracks apart or it is bound closer together.
What are you learning from the Ukrainians and their approach to adapting to that pressure about how we could maybe change how we are responding to being caught in various kinds of vices, which seemed to be cracking us apart?
So, I'm a former intelligence analyst. I was a one in for a network intelligence analyst with the Air Force and then attached to an NSA/CSS group out in Hawaii.
And so, just from my six years, five years of active-duty service doing that job, I think about this through that lens, which is to understand that there are enemies of freedom out there on earth that wish to divide us.
And I think right now, America is following prey to exactly what Russia wants and exactly what the enemies of freedom want, which is for us to war against each other.
Because nobody on earth, even the greatest or most powerful society on the planet, being an American society, can mount a solid defense against you if we're fighting amongst ourselves.
Look at what we just saw with the Wagner Group and maybe Prigozhin marching to Moscow. Those of us that were on the Ukrainian side, we were cheering at the idea that there would be a civil war in Russia, because if there's a civil war there on the opposite side, then they'll never be able to mount a defense against us. Does that make sense?
I wrote on Medium a while back about what I believe is happening in America, which is Putin has us right where he wants us, which is distracted by each other, distracted by our problems and inward focusing.
Because if American society were to just band together behind the Ukrainians and the cause of freedom on the eastern edge of the free world, this thing would be over in the course of a few months.
But right now, we seem to be distracted by other things, and we are unable to mount that defense against the enemies of freedom.
And so, unfortunately, I look upon American society and they say, “Yep, we've been duped.” We've been subscribing to what I believe are Russian talking points. What I believe are very simple and elementary ways to understand this that might lead you to not want to support Ukraine with your full heart and donations.
And so, it really breaks my heart to look back at America and come back to visit every once in a while and realize that I think the propaganda machine out of St. Petersburg and out of Moscow is working on American society.
And I think as history writes about this, that is probably one of the things that will be written, which is you can take down America if you just distract us with ourselves.
That propaganda machine is working with the complicity of people who should know better, who do know better. What do you say to the Putin apologists in positions of leadership like my own senator in Ohio, J. D. Vance, who said he could not care less what happens in Ukraine.
I mean, it's one thing to see the American public, at least on the right, begin to drift away from the defense of the Ukraine because they're being fed misinformation.
It's another thing altogether to see people in positions of power fueling that misinformation, the J. D. Vances of the world. How do you answer them?
I would say, “Sir, I'm very disappointed in you that in the land of freedom, the home of the brave, the place that in our country, on our eastern border has a Statue of Liberty that talks about the people around the world yearning to breed free.”
“If there's any chance for freedom and freedom's torch to stay lit on earth, it's got to be the responsibility of the United States of America.”
“And for you to be one of the 538 most powerful people on the planet, certainly one of the most powerful 100 senators on earth while in America, for you to be so interested in the other guy losing …”
Now, I'm talking about Republicans versus Democrats and the idea that I have, which is, I don't care what Joe Biden or the Democrats say, no matter what they say, I'm going to be against it. I think that's where we stand right now.
And I would say, “Shame on you because as a member of the American military, as a member of that fighting force of 18 million veterans that have served the cause of freedom on earth, how dare you dishonor that cause of freedom for political gain?”
“If you were to take a step back and remove yourself from this very heated political battle that we find ourselves in, wouldn't you want America to stand on the side of freedom? Wouldn't you want America's enemy, Russia and Putin to fall?”
“Wouldn't you want us to take advantage of this moment in history where we might be able to decimate Russia's ability to make war for the next few decades?”
“But you're not, you're falling prey to these talking points that I think are politically motivated because the other guy is for Ukraine, so that means you can't be. And that's embarrassing to me.”
And I think that many of our leaders in Washington, who I've talked to many of them on Capitol Hill in the last 17 months, I think we've lost our way. Because if anybody stands for freedom, it's got to be America and the leadership of America.
How do Ukrainians feel about that American support? I have to believe you run into Ukrainian soldiers in the field all the time with American kit. What do they say about it?
They cannot be more thankful for American supplies, weapons, first aid kits and the like.
They love America. They love Joe Biden. They love everything that America's doing because they understand without America and American leadership and supplies, they would not be a country anymore. Most of it would be considered Russian territory. So, they are so thankful.
And I'm fortunate to be the America's representative out there. Many times, I'm the only American that they have met, simply because not many of us go that far east out to the front lines to hand deliver aid.
And so, they express their overwhelming thanks to Americans through me. I try to pass that on to Americans when I meet them and let them know.
Here's a quick story. I was out there in Lyman not too long ago when we were doing some aid deliveries, but also, I was actually singing, kind of like Bob Hope used to do and build morale like we do with the USO.
And so, I was out there singing and I met some soldiers that had just gotten back from the front lines in Bakhmut.
And this young soldier, after he heard me perform, he went back to his barracks and got me a little key chain that he wanted me to carry with me.
And he said, “Mark, I want to give you this because I don't have a javelin, I don't have a stinger, I don't have a HIMARS to give you.”
“But I want to give you this because I want you to know and remember that there's a million Ukrainian soldiers fighting this war who when America asks us to fight for you, anytime in the future, in the next few decades, we'll be there for you.”
And so, we're creating allies out here in the eastern edge of what will be future NATO territory that will last for generations. And so, they're thankful.
I as an American citizen feel like I have the right or the ability to be somewhat critical of our government and what we are doing or not doing, but they are not. The Ukrainians are nothing but thankful. I'm the one that's saying we can do more.
Are they determined to join NATO? Is that fairly universal?
I think for the average soldier, that isn't on their mind. That's as we say, above their pay grade. And so, of course they want to. Of course, they hope that Zelenskyy and the folks that are making these decisions end up backing them with a NATO membership.
But they understand the realities of the political mess that is the global treaties that exist. They're more and worried about do they have enough to survive the next day on the frontline.
And so, I don't get into a lot of conversation with them about NATO, although anytime we do talk about that, the conversation ends up drifting towards their thanks for the American help.
Have you seen American heavy equipment in the field? Yet it really hasn't been brought to bear in the kind of massive arms we expect to see in a breakthrough. But have you seen it deployed?
I don't go close enough to the frontlines where there's action to see like a HIMARS or a Patriot missile system, but I have seen javelins, I have seen stingers. Mostly it's spent tubes that I end up seeing that have been brought back from the front.
I see them on the roads, certainly as we travel from west to east. I do see convoys of American military hardware and most of it has got tarps on it and is covered and has a police escort with it. So, you don't know what's in that convoy necessarily.
I do hear HIMARS. It's an unmistakable sound. So, I do hear that out east all the time.
And as far as the accounting of all of this military hardware, I know that it's out here and being put to use. I am not of the level or of being privy to the intelligence to know where it is or if it's all getting there that has been promised.
But I do know, back to the conversations that I have with Ukrainian soldiers, we call them war trophies, maybe things that you would collect from either a Russian soldier or like a stent javelin tube.
And these are items that say Made in the USA on the side of them that these Ukrainians will treasure and never let go of for the rest of their lives because they know where the help comes from.
I know that we need more. I know that we don't have enough long range weaponry. That's what's been asked of me since the very beginning. And I think it's a very simple equation that as I try to explain it to the American public, maybe they don't understand how to fight a frontline war.
Maybe our American military doesn't either, because we don't have anybody in our American military who has. We were trained for insurgent warfare in Iraq and Afghanistan. And so, we don't understand the necessity of being able to outshoot your enemy.
If I sneak into your home while you're out at the grocery store and I have a sniper rifle, now I'm in your home and all you have in the truck is a shotgun, dude, are you ever going to get back in your home? No.
So, that's why we keep asking for long range weaponry. If our artillery only goes 50 kilometers and the enemies goes 70, you'll never be able to push them back. And while you do, and while you try to do that, you're in great danger if the enemy's artillery is of a greater range than yours.
And so, the bravery of these Ukrainian soldiers sneaking their M777s up to as close as they can get and able to take out the enemy is as inspiring as it is terrifying.
And so, the conversations that the UK is having, the conversations that NATO's having in the White House about long-range weaponry, just give them enough to push them out of Ukrainian territory.
Our opinion, push them back out of Crimean, that is Ukraine, push them back out of the Dunbas. But you can't do that without enough tanks in artillery and long-range weaponry.
The counteroffensive that's now underway has been receiving some criticism from armchair tacticians for being too slow.
Can you give us a sense of what it is like going up against multi-layer fortifications that have been a year in the making, what the Ukrainians have to punch through to get that breakthrough after which they can really bring to bear the heavy equipment we've been providing?
When you think about what a counter offensive game is, when you think about what has to be done in order to retake territory that is now Russian controlled …
Remember now, conventional warfare tactics or statistics might say that when you are the offensive force, you will lose two to three, maybe even four troops for every one on the other side that is being overtaken.
And so, now, we are the offensive force. We are that entity that is now, trying to recapture territory. And so, when you hear of this counter offensive, we must understand that we must be steadfast.
And I think of George W. Bush, I think of post 9/11, and I think of being the people with more resolve. And understanding that although we all want it to look like it did last fall, and we pushed them out of Kharkiv region surprisingly, and took back major slots of land, the longer this goes on, the smarter the enemy gets.
And so, it's going to be a grind. If we're taking a football field a night, if we're taking a kilometer a week, that's how slow it's going to be when you're trying to retake territory that has been fortified by the Russians. They know what to look for now.
Misdirection down in Kherson last year was the winning strategy when really we were going to take [inaudible 00:33:19] and Katyn. I think they know that might happen again.
Now, we all know the grand prize is to push through down to Crimean and try to strike deepening the Russian controlled territory. So, do you think they're ready for that? Of course, they're ready for that.
And so, I think that we must have the resolve that's necessary to understand that this is not going to be done in a quick fashion.
And certainly, when you're going into a counteroffensive with what we believe with the Institute for the Study of War believes is about a third of the amount of tanks that you should have to be able to push back the Russians, it's going to be slow because you just don't have the heavy weapons that are necessary to be the offensive force.
So, any victory that we see, any recapture of land or liberation of previously occupied cities is something that should be celebrated.
And we must understand from the American and Western point of view, it's probably not going to be quick because we're making due with, like I said, about a third of what we really would need or should have for a proper counter offensive.
You mentioned Crimean, you also mentioned Dunbas. How confident are you that the Ukrainians will reclaim everything lost since the 2014 initial conquest by Russia?
In my heart, all of us are very hopeful. Because if Florida was taken by Cuba, we would never just give up Florida. Come on guys, let's be realistic. And that's the same situation that we're in here in Ukraine.
That is Ukraine, that was Ukraine controlled territory. And now, a dictator just came over and took it. So, we're hopeful.
The reality of it is, without more modern war weapons, without an increased flow of these long-range weapons, it could take years, man, it could take years to take back the amount of land that Russia took out in the Dunbas. There were 6 and 7 million people that lived out there.
And when we, like I said, try to take a football field tonight, that's going to take forever.
So, ultimately, if we are going to do that, there has to be some major decision on the part of world leaders to say, “We're going to end with this, and our objective is to restore the 2014 borders and take back Crimean and call it Ukraine once again.”
And that's either going to take a major shift in policy at the White House or a major decision on the part of NATO to say, “Enough is enough.”
I am a believer that the talking points out of the White House that say, “As long as it takes,” is as uninspiring a battle cry as I could think of. Because if it's as long as it takes, that means that we're going to wear down a fighting force that is out of people. There's not an unlimited amount of guys out here that can fight.
And certainly, I will say that after the initial full scale invasion, February, March after the initial recruiting offices were filled with men. There aren't men wind up at the recruiting offices anymore because they see the terrors of an artillery war.
And so, you don't have a lot of guys left in Ukraine that would be of fighting age and capability to do this. And so, we have to do it with the guys we have left.
And so, I do fear if it lasts for another few years, that war of attrition that we all talk about will not come down in our favor.
And so, there has to be, if I were king for a day, if I were president for a day, if I were the person holding the purse strings, I would say we have to come up with a strategy to back General Zaluzhnyi with what he needs to end it and push them back once and for all and then fortify our own positions on the eastern edge of the free world.
But if it goes as it is, I do fear that we're going to run out of guy.
What is the one thing you most want this audience to understand about the fight in Ukraine?
You can help. I don't know if Americans are used to the idea of supplying a military, because the American military doesn't need any supply from the civilian populace.
What do we get when we're deployed? We get tear packages of stickers and hot sauce. We don't get sent IFACs and body armor.
I want the American people to understand that I'm a civilian volunteer that came out here to help because I think it's what should be done on earth right now, and that the American citizen could do a pancake breakfast or a spaghetti dinner and raise 2,500 bucks and send it over here and we’ll buy the things that these guys that are needed locally.
I wish that the American people understood that during World War II, the money it took to buy the tanks, and the bombs, and the bullets and send 16 million boys to war, half of it came from the American people in the form of war bonds.
That’s $180 billion of the $341 billion that FDR used to fight World War II. 180 billion of it came from war bonds, which means it came from the American citizen that decided that freedom on Europe's continent was important even across the ocean.
I wish the American people knew that they could help and that they should, because these guys don't have enough. They don't have enough supply to stay alive long enough to fight off the second most powerful military on earth.
If people volunteered at a higher level, if people decided to act back in America and do a little fundraiser and we all got involved, these guys would have enough first aid kits and we wouldn't lose 80% of them. These guys would have enough armor and the shrapnel that hits their position wouldn't kill them.
If they had enough vehicles, if they had enough mud types, if they had enough drones, I think that this war is winnable with commercially available supplies that are sitting on the wrong spot on planet Earth. The world has enough stuff, it's just sitting on the wrong spot on the planet.
If the American people acted with all of their might, I believe that maybe for the first time in modern warfare or warfare in general, that the civilian populace can take the outcome of war out of the hands of governments and armies, maybe for the first time in history, because we can do it from our smartphones.
The world is connected with the internet and the supply chains that exist this far east in the free world that you, the average citizen, could help turn the tide of this war if you want.
If you like the idea of Ukraine getting F-16s, help me raise a few hundred thousand dollars for F-16 simulators that I can get on Europe's continent and make sure that these Ukrainian pilots are up to speed once America gives them the test in order to understand if they can fly these F-16.
You can do something like that. And you have to get over the idea that now, you're supplying a military and get over that, I don't know, trepidation you might have that, “Oh, I'll help the civilians, but I won't help the army.”
This army needs help, and you can help.
Well, thank you, Mark. Really appreciate your insight. Really appreciate you making time from Ukraine. Thank you so much for joining us.
Thank you, sir. Appreciate you.
Thanks again to Mark for joining me. You can support Mark and the Ukrainian Army by visiting markjlindquist.com.
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Burn the Boats is a production of Evergreen Podcasts. Our producer is Declan Rohrs and Sean Rule-Hoffman is our audio engineer. Special thanks to Evergreen executive producers Joan Andrews, Michael DeAloia, and David Moss.
I'm Ken Harbaugh and this is Burn the Boats, a podcast about big decisions.