EXCLUSIVE: Retired US Special Forces sergeant from Bay Area headed to Ukraine on medical mission

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Saturday, March 5, 2022
EXCLUSIVE: Retired Bay Area Special Forces Sgt. headed to Ukraine
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A group of veterans are on a medical mission to Ukraine, including a Bay Area man who is a newly-retired member of the elite US Army Special Forces.

PALO ALTO, Calif. (KGO) -- The ABC7 I-Team has learned that a group of U.S. Special Forces left Friday for Ukraine. No, these are not active duty troops being sent into battle. These are veterans and volunteers on a medical mission, including one man from Palo Alto - a newly-retired member of the elite US Army Special Forces.

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The I-Team's Dan Noyes received one private message being passed to veterans on social media: "Want to go do something? Have your passport? Contact us ASAP by email with your DD214," the official record of military service said.

Dan Noyes: "Want to do something? Have your passport? It's kind of cryptic, right?"

Dr. Aaron Epstein: "Yeah, yeah. I mean, basically, it was like trying to reach out to the right people."

Aaron Epstein is a surgeon in Buffalo, New York who worked as a defense contractor in a previous career. In 2015, he started GSMSG - Global Surgical and Medical Support Group to treat victims of Isis, and arranged doctors from places like Harvard, Yale and Georgetown to volunteer in Iraq.

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"Then bring them right to these kind of frontline communities because we could cocoon them in my other network of security guys, "said Dr. Epstein. "We were essentially bringing levels of care that these communities hadn't seen before."

His message now on social media uses abbreviations that veterans will understand, asking for Special Forces combat medics from the Army, Navy, Air Force and Marines. He says GSMSG has 1,500 qualified medical professionals on its roster.

"The vast majority are former military or intelligence community folks who either were medical providers while in service or became medical providers after," he said.

Dan Noyes checked and GSMSG is an active 501c3 non-profit that has sent medical staff to the Middle East, Africa, and Central America. They were also busy staffing field hospitals in New York for the pandemic, and then Russia invaded Ukraine.

Last week, Dr. Epstein received a letter from Ukraine's Minister of Defense, saying, "We would ask for all possible cooperation from GSMSG in the field of medical/surgeon training."

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So Friday, 10 GSMSG volunteers are on their way to Ukraine: a surgeon, a pediatrician, an OR nurse, medics, and a newly-retired US Army Special Forces Sergeant from Palo Alto.

Dr. Aaron Epstein:: "I've told them that they can be armed, if it's starting to look like where they will be is going to be a hostile combat area."

Dan Noyes:"But if they're going to come under fire, they can return fire?"

Dr. Aaron Epstein: "Yeah, yeah, absolutely. Absolutely."

The group has also translated the US military's "Tactical Combat Casualty Care Course" into Ukrainian and posted it online. The aim -- to train more Ukrainians to take care of their own.

The requirements for joining GSMSG are tough - along with medical qualifications, you have to be in the same top shape you were in the military. Dr. Epstein is worried about all those keyboard warriors, who might actually show up in Ukraine with no military experience, very little to offer, looking for a fight.

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"If these idiots run into a combat situation, get killed, and suddenly Russians are killing Americans. I mean, I don't think they understand that like this could literally start World War III. I mean, I think that a lot of people don't understand what's actually at stake when they just want to go shoot some people. I mean, it's insane."

Dr. Epstein is not heading to Ukraine himself. He is already scheduled for upcoming trips to Kenya and South America, and can't afford to take more time off from his paying job, as a surgeon in Buffalo.