Ukraine Notebook: Onboarding

“Onboarding:” getting a new person integrated into your unit. Here’s how to do it.

When a new volunteer arrives at your unit, you need to be able to get them functional quickly, while ensuring that they have all of the skills and information that they will need to be both effective and safe. The US military has a lot of practice moving people in and out of new jobs quickly and efficiently. It revolves around a “sign-off” sheet. This is a form of checklist. It lists the people that you need to see–pay clerk, medic, postal clerk, etc., etc., etc. As you meet each one, they take care of whatever you need, sign your form, and send you off to the next person. In two days, you have taken care of everything, and you’re ready to start working.

Here is an onboarding sign-off sheet for a new volunteer in Ukraine with a unit doing “hot extractions–” evacuation of civilians from the front line. This is a very common occupation for foreign volunteers. Adapt it to your group’s mission, operating environment, etc. The sign-off process starts with assembling information, and then proceeds to ensuring that the new volunteer can demonstrate the required skills, and familiarity with the equipment for, whatever it is that you’re doing. Do you have suggestions for additions? Please tell us about them in the Comments section!

Personal information

Name:Stepan Bandera
Phone number:+1 503-456-7890
Emergency contact:Olha Kyïva
Medications:metoprolol 25 mg/day
Blood type:A+
Immunizations:COVID 12/22, DPT 3/2020
“NKDA” means “no known drug allergies.” Note that the Eastern and Western European blood-typing systems are different.

Personal Protective Equipment

Explain purpose and limits of body armor
Explain purpose and limits of helmet
Explain purpose and limits of ballistic glasses
Demonstrate proper adjustment of plate carrier
Demonstrate proper adjustment of helmet

Mission protocol

Install navigation system
Explain crew numbering system
Demonstrate injured driver procedure
Demonstrate injured navigator procedure
Demonstrate injured crew member procedure
Demonstrate body armor buddy check
Don’t know what an “injured driver procedure” or a “buddy check” is? Stay tuned for future blog posts.


For every vehicle:

Demonstrate checking oil
Demonstrate checking other fluids 
Demonstrate checking tire pressure
Show location of spare tire
Show location of jack
Demonstrate how to open and close doors
Demonstrate how to lock and unlock doors
State when to shut off engine
Do you really have to learn how to open, close, and unlock the doors of a vehicle? Absolutely. Many humanitarian groups use old cash-carrying vans with doors that can only be opened from one side, or that prevent the engine from being started if they are not locked, or… Multiply this by the number of vehicles in your unit, and then by how hard it is to remember details when someone is shooting at you. You’d be amazed.


Show location of bomb/fallout shelter
Show location of electrical cut-off switch
Show location of gas cut-off switch
Show location of water cut-off valve
Show location of fire extinguishers
Show location of keys
Show three potential exits from building
Location of first aid kit
Explain contents of first aid kit
Demonstrate use of fire extinguisher
Demonstrate locking and unlocking doors

Tactical skills

Explain cover versus concealment
Prone position for shelling
Aerial attacks
Situational awareness
Personal protective equipment: purpose and limits
PPE: use and wearing
Use of radiation monitor
Procedure for nuclear accident
Stay off of the fucking grass
Identify common land mines, cluster bombs, and booby traps
Identify common land mine injuries
Identify friendly and Russian uniforms
Blood chit
Define and state purpose of rally point
Indicate major roads on map (Kramatorsk)
Indicate major roads on map (area of operations)
Demonstrate first aid skills
Is there an entire sign-off sheet for first aid skills? Of course.

Ukraine Notebook: Driver’s daily checklist

Roads near the areas of combat in Ukraine have typically been heavily damaged by shelling, tracked vehicles, and the like, and are hell on the vans that extraction teams rely on. If you do not take care of yours, it will not be able to take care of you–or of the civilians for whose lives you are responsible…

Many foreign volunteers in Ukraine spend their time doing “hot extractions:” evacuation of civilians from the front line. That means driving into an area under fire, quickly loading little old grandmas into your vehicle, and getting out of there–fast. The typical crew will include a driver, a navigator, and a medic, and each of them has a crucial role to play in getting everyone to safety. The following list will help you make sure that your vehicle contains everything that you need. Following the list, you will find the rationale for each item, as well as explanations of obscure words (replacing our usual English notes). The driver should go through this list daily, and the team leader should verify that you did so. Have something to add? Tell us about it in the Comments section.

Daily vehicle checklist

  • Oil and fluids checked
  • Tires checked
  • Battery expiration date checked
  • Lights and turn signals checked
  • Spare tire air pressure checked
  • Jack in place
  • Medical bag in place
  • Tool kit in place
  • Crew snacks and water
  • Water for civilians
  • Radio present
  • Litter present (it’s not what you think–see below, or this video)
  • Phone cables present
  • Powerbank present
  • Fire extinguisher present
  • Jumper cables present
  • Blankets present

Problems noted: Here you should document anything that you need to take care of before departing on a mission.

Roads near the areas of combat in Ukraine have typically been heavily damaged by shelling, tracked vehicles (tanks, armored personnel carriers, etc.), and the like, and are hell on the vans that extraction teams rely on. If you do not take care of yours, it will not be able to take care of you–or of the civilians for whose lives you are responsible… Hence this checklist. Here are explanations of some of the words that appear on the list.

Spare tire: This is the extra tire that you will use if your tire is damaged. “Spare” means an extra thing that you have in case you need it. “Spare tire” is also a slang word for the fat hanging off of the waist of a man. (On a woman, it’s a “muffin top.”)

Jack: This is the mechanical device that you use to raise a vehicle in order to change a flat tire. This video will help you learn this obscure English word.

Medical bag: This is an easily identifiable bag containing more than you carry in your individual first aid kit (IFAK). In my group, the medical bags include everything that goes in our IFAKs, plus a splint, eye covers, a windlass for improvising junctional tourniquets, a radiation monitor, trauma scissors, and extra gauze. Lots of extra gauze.

Litter: This is a device for carrying an injured person, or more often, an old person who cannot walk. Speed is of the essence if you want to avoid Russian artillery figuring out exactly where you are, so anyone with limited mobility needs to be moved by you, not hobble along at their own speed. This video will help you learn this obscure meaning of the word litter.

Want to support our work in Ukraine? You can send donations directly to me via PayPal using my email address, if you know me. Otherwise, I recommend these three groups. One of them is mine, and the others I have worked with very closely. Please mention that you came to them via me/the Zipf’s Law blog.
Base UA/База ЮА is a Ukrainian organization that does hot extractions, sets up mobile medical clinics, and runs tactical medicine courses and an art camp for refugee children in the beautiful Carpathian mountains. With our comrades from the US and Germany, we have evacuated thousands of civilians from Luhansk and Donetsk in the Donbas region.
Community Self Help is a Ukrainian organization that has worked with refugees from the Donbas region since the start of the Russian invasion in 2014 providing mental health care. Since the current phase of the war started in February 2022, they have also provided medical supplies, documented war crimes, and fought back against Russian propaganda and disinformation.
Global Augmentation is an American and Irish organization that sends volunteers to Ukraine (and has a group about to leave for Turkey for search and rescue operations). Global Augmentation folks are drivers, navigators, medics, trainers, and all-around fearless guys and gals. (And yes, that’s my picture on the web site.)

Photo: Paul Wall, an American veteran paratrooper, a thinker, and a man of courage, fixes a vehicle in Kyiv before leaving for a month in Bakhmut
Curative Power of Medical Data

JCDL 2020 Workshop on Biomedical Natural Language Processing


Criminal Curiosities


Biomedical natural language processing

Mostly Mammoths

but other things that fascinate me, too


Adventures in natural history collections

Our French Oasis


ACL 2017

PC Chairs Blog

Abby Mullen

A site about history and life

EFL Notes

Random commentary on teaching English as a foreign language

Natural Language Processing

Université Paris-Centrale, Spring 2017

Speak Out in Spanish!

living and loving language




Exploring and venting about quantitative issues