“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!
metoprolol 25 mg/day
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
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
Explain cover versus concealment
Prone position for shelling
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
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.
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
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
Litter present (it’s not what you think–see below, or this video)
Phone cables present
Fire extinguisher present
Jumper cables 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.
On January 6th, 2023, two British volunteers, Andrew Bagshaw and Christopher Parry, went missing near Soledar in the Donetsk region of Ukraine. As I write this, in late January 2023, there have been no verified sightings of them, and they are presumed dead or captured. Their vehicle was found soon after their disappearance–locked. Presumably they had to abandon it and head out on foot. You should prepare and practice for this situation. The protocol that I am suggesting for you here is based on the US Navy’s procedure for abandoning a sinking ship. Air crew members: if you can add something, please tell us about it in the comments.
Count to ensure that everyone is present or accounted for.
Check that all survival equipment is on someone’s back or in their pockets: BOB, medical bag, communication tools, escape route maps, water and food.
Destroy all sensitive information.
Consider destroying or disabling the vehicle.
Everyone present or accounted for: “everyone” means all team members and any passengers. Passengers are most often civilians who are being evacuated from the front (with attendant communication problems related to lack of a shared language), but may also be journalists (who can present their own set of challenges). If you must leave behind bodies, note their location. Take their passport, wallet, telephone, and any other personal effects or useful items (for example, individual first aid kit (IFAK), helmet, body armor, water). Consider leaving identification of some kind with them, or writing identifying information (including nationality so that the appropriate embassy can be contacted) on their clothes or body. Also consider taking a lock of their hair, some bloody clothing, or a cheek swab for later DNA matching. (Back in the day, American medics took fingerprints of bodies that would be buried overseas. See below for a link to an article on digital collection of fingerprints–no pun intended…)
Bug-out bag (“BOB”): this is an easily carryable container, typically a small- or medium-sized backpack, containing everything that you would want to have with you if you had to abandon your home (or office, or vehicle) in an emergency. You can find plenty of advice elsewhere on what a BOB should contain. Customize it for your operating environment, and update it as that changes, as the weather changes, as your crew size changes, etc.
Medical bag: this contains more things than one would have in an individual first aid kit (IFAK, or аптечка). Ours have the usual things, plus a splint, extra bandaging materials, and a radiation monitor.
Destroy all sensitive information: Destroy information on evacuees you have picked up or were on the way to pick up. Delete from your phone/destroy paper maps that show your safehouse, checkpoints, military units, humanitarian centers, routes… You should have left for your day’s mission with a separate map that shows the area that you would have to walk through to reach safety, and nothing else.
Destroying or disabling the vehicle: Even a vehicle that no longer runs is a valuable source of spare parts for the enemy in a war where logistics has been a/the major struggle for both sides. It also might contain sensitive information that you missed when you left it. I don’t know shit (to “not know shit” means to not know anything at all) about destroying vehicles–if you do, dear reader, please tell us about it in the Comments section. (In the Navy, you place explosive charges in relevant places so that the ship is guaranteed to go down.)
Notify someone: Tell them who is with you, where you are, and where you are heading.
The British reporter Tom Mutch knew one of the two missing British volunteers. He describes them as brave guys doing life-saving work–and as under-equipped and ill-prepared for working in a combat zone. You do not have to be ill-prepared. Practice this protocol before you need it. Andrew Bagshaw and Christopher Parry: I hope we see you again some day.
Read these two books and graduate school will be much easier for you.
In my previous life, I was a pretty good linguist, although I was also a pretty crappy person. My name was John Peabody Harrington. In addition to be a crappy person (see here for details), I was also a crappy poet. This is because I avoided reading other poets, on the theory that doing so would contaminate my own innate style.
That was stupid of me. In fact, to become a good writer, the single most helpful thing that you can do is to read other writers. Read enough, and you will not only recognize the good ones and be able to take from them what works well, but you will also recognize bad ones, and can try to avoid doing what they do.
The second most important thing you can do: practice. Practice, practice, practice, and practice. In fact, this blog often serves as a place for me to find the rough spots in my writing techniques. For example, I think I’m OK at writing beginnings, but I suck at endings.
The third most important thing you can do: get feedback from other people. The most direct way to do this is to ask them to read, and to comment critically on, your stuff. The indirect way to do this is to read good discussions of writing by people who have done a lot of it. Having read a lot of that kind of stuff, I am going to suggest to you my favorites: two books that every grad student should read. I admire them so much that I keep multiple copies of both of them in my office, and if a student approaches me about doing a project in my group, I hand them a copy of each; part of the deal for me saying “yes” is that they commit to reading them. Ready? Here goes.
They Say/I Say: a hugely popular guide to “argumentative writing,” now in its 5th edition for very good reason. Authors: Gerald Graff and Cathy Birkenstein.
“Argumentative writing” is writing that tries to convince someone of something. In scientific writing, you are trying to convince your reader that (1) your topic is worth the trouble, (2) your data is appropriate for exploring it, (3) your methods could answer the question that your paper is asking, and (4) your results mean what you think they mean.
2. How to complete and survive a doctoral dissertation: this book is probably older than you are, and some of its technical aspects are charmingly out of date, but much of its advice is timeless: the pluses and minuses of choosing a dissertation advisor who is an internationally-known scholar, versus going with a freshly-minted PhD; how to demonstrate the novelty of your work even in what you believe to be the worst of circumstances; the worst thing you could possibly do in the midst of writing your dissertation; whose responsibility it actually is to get you through graduate school (spoiler alert: yours)… Author: David Sternberg.
Remember what I said about sucking at endings? This is what me sucking at an ending looks like. Read the books, and if you’re too poor to buy them, do a rotation in my lab–I hand them out like candy.
Bring these medications to Ukraine when you come to volunteer and your contribution will be even bigger.
Moxifloxacin is what an American combat medic will give you if you have a penetrating wound. I have no idea how to find it in Ukraine, but your doctor can give you a prescription for it. I was very, very happy to have some with me here when a frightened cat sunk a fang very, very deep into my arm. (I was also very, very happy to have clear ballistic glasses with me when I was trying to get her out from under a bathtub while she was trying to scratch me to death, but that’s a topic for a post about ballistic glasses, right? Fang explained in the English notes at the end of the post.)
Do not bring aspirin or ibuprofen. US Department of Defense guidelines say not to take them for a week before entering a war zone. And, yes: since Putin deliberately targets civilian targets of no military value, all of Ukraine is a war zone.
Meloxicam is what an American combat medic will give you for any battlefield injury. See above regarding the situation in Ukraine.
Acetaminophen (sold in the US as Tylenol or in generic form) is the third thing that an American medic will give you if you are injured.
The antidiarrheal medication of your choice. You shouldn’t travel ANYWHERE without this anyway.
All medications that you normally take. Bring more than you think you will need. All problems in Ukraine are supply chain problems, so do not assume that you will be able to buy ANYTHING wherever it is that you happen to find yourself. Yes, I do understand that it is difficult to get more than your allotted quantity of prescription medications in the US, since your insurance company rations your health care.
fang: “A fang is a long, pointed tooth.” (Wikipedia) Fang often occurs with the verbs to bare and to sink into. Examples from Sketch Engine, purveyor of fine linguistic corpora and tools for searching them:
He sank his fangs into her shoulder.
Spike longed to sink his fangs into Xander’s hot flesh.
“Then you deserve this,” he said as he sunk his fangs into the man’s throat and drank hungrily.
Sink those fangs into one of our mini milk chocolate caskets.
How I used it in the post: A frightened cat sunk a fang very, very deep into my arm.
Volunteering in Ukraine? Choose your clothes carefully and your life will go smoother.
No English notes for this post, sorry… For those of you who read this blog to learn new English-language vocabulary, you will find links to the definitions of the words that I would have talked about if I had the time.
Don’t bring cammies unless you are pretty sure you will be joining a military unit. There is currently a regulation against wearing camouflage unless you are officially associated with the military. Also, if you are doing hot extractions, it scares the civilians who you most want to reassure.
Do bring obviously American t-shirts, a ballcap with an American flag or similar insignia, and whatever else you wear that marks you as obviously American. It is a big morale boost for the locals, and they will be very nice to you. (Note that many men wear a ballcap and a “tactical beard” here, so don’t rely on those alone to communicate to people that you are an American.)
Don’t bring 100% cotton t-shirts. You will be hanging up your clothes to dry, and 100% cotton t-shirts take way too long to dry.
Do bring kneepads. Whether you’re fighting, doing hot extractions, or teaching TCCC, you’re going to spend a lot of time kneeling on the ground. Elbow pads might be less necessary–depends on what you’re doing.
Do bring shower shoes–not for showering, but to wear in your living quarters. Ukrainians tend to be maniacal about keeping floors clean, and they don’t wear outdoor shoes inside except in public places. I have even seen guys wearing shower shoes in military headquarters! One US military veteran doing hot extractions here with me commented that he had never seen more Crocs in his life than in Ukraine–this is why. Shower shoes can be bought in Ukraine, but not necessarily in the areas where there’s fighting (most stores are closed there).
Do bring hearing protection. Disposable ear plugs will probably suffice. You might not wear them in the field, but if you find yourself on a firing range without them, you’ll wish you’d found room for a couple pairs…
Do bring a Camelbak or canteen. Bottles of water are currently easy to find except in the areas with the most active fighting, but they are hard to carry. Personally, I have never used my Camelbak because (a) I feel guilty having it when none of my Ukrainian buddies do, and (b) a lot of the time, there isn’t enough drinking water available to fill one anyway. But, my canteen does travel with me–it’s wearable, and small enough that I can usually fill it.
Fireproof/fire-resistant clothes are always a good idea… That said, I don’t know how to buy them without spending phenomenally large amounts of money, and I have exactly no fireproof clothing whatsoever… If you have some insight into this, please tell us about it in the Comments section.
Heavy gloves, tactical or otherwise. No matter what your job is, you’re likely to be moving large amounts of humanitarian aid, and if you are doing hot extractions, there will be rubble everywhere. Hand injuries are actually the thing that I have treated the most here–avoid them if you can.
Do bring tactical pants. You will want to carry some things on your person at all times, such as your passport. My 5.11 Defender jeans have held up OK here, but my tactical pants are definitely more practical.
Do bring shirts that you can wear comfortably under body armor. That means a pullover shirt with a smooth front and no pockets. Rationale: things on the front of your shirt can get pretty uncomfortable when your armor has been pressing on them for a few hours. Probably obvious to you younger kids, but definitely not to us old guys who grew up wearing Vietnam-era jungle fatigues with those four big, baggy pockets on the front.
Do invest in some merino wool clothing. See above regarding how long it takes for 100% cotton garments to dry here…
Do bring clear ballistic glasses. Everyone knows to bring ballistic sunglasses, but clear glasses are crucial in unlit buildings (there is highly unlikely to be electricity in buildings from which people need to be evacuated) and at night. Ophthalmological surgery materials are in short supply here… Much wiser to just wear your fucking eye protection.
Do bring your heavy-duty belt. We might need to drag you to safety by it… If you have a shooting belt with MOLLE attachments, it wouldn’t be a terrible idea to bring it–who ever has enough space on their plate carrier to clip gloves, ballistic glasses, a Leatherman, a magazine pouch full of snacks and cigarettes…?
Do bring full kit! Be careful about export restrictions, e.g. for night vision goggles. The Polish Customs officials are absolute assholes–they even confiscated a buddy’s IFAK (tactical first aid kit).
Do bring patches. People love to know that Americans support Ukraine, and of course soldiers will want to trade them.
Do bring a shemagh if you normally wear one. I often give mine away as a present, and then I miss it until I can find another one… If you don’t know what a shemagh is: you don’t need to bring one.
Do avoid bulk whenever possible. Depending on what your job is, you might spend a lot of time getting in and out of tight vehicles, spaces, etc.
Do bring a poncho/poncho liner.
Do inform yourself about the typical weather during the period when you will be incountry, but don’t assume that you know where you’ll be. Life is unpredictable here, and many foreign volunteers find themselves in multiple regions of the country even during a relatively short stay.
This feels less to me like a war of one country against another than of the Russian army versus a bunch of defenseless grandmothers…
This message from a friend who is volunteering as a medic in Ukraine showed up in my Inbox the other day…
Yes, I’ve been in Ukraine since the beginning of May. I’m a medic, as I was in the Navy. You asked about my safety. “Safe” is a very relative concept… When I’m not in the field, my morning routine consists of making a cup of coffee, grabbing a pack of cigarettes, and then sitting on the balcony to watch the morning rocket attack on my entirely residential neighborhood. I say “morning rocket attack” because there has been one almost every day since I got here. Probably sounds horrifying, but since the only people carrying guns around here are soldiers, I actually feel safer in the city than I do in the US. When I’m in the field, it’s a different story. I mostly do evacuations of civilians from the front. The Russians enthusiastically shell refugee collection points and clearly marked emergency vehicles, and evacuating civilians from the front means going to refugee collection points in clearly marked emergency vehicles. As it happens, I have a relatively high tolerance for danger, so although it’s certainly not “safe,” that’s fine. What’s not OK is that because the Russians hit those places and vehicles so hard, and by this point a large proportion of the people who have not yet left the front are old folks, this feels less to me like a war of one country against another than of the Russian army versus a bunch of defenseless grandmothers…
in the field: In a military context, this means being out doing whatever it is that you do. Examples:
Your service member is headed out into the field and it looks like the entire military gear issuing office is located in your living room. No matter what their training mission might be, they will want to prepare and pack a few things for the field that will make things a little bit easier while they are “work camping.” These are things that have been suggested by actual service members who have been in the field for countless hours, days, weeks, and even months. Source: 35 things every service member needs for the field, from the Daily Mom web site.
A good razor with a shave gel that protects throughout the day is key for a service member who is shaving in the field. Source: the Daily Mom web site.
I received this photo and the accompanying note from a friend who has been evacuating civilians in the Donbas region of Ukraine.
I’m not much of a picture-taker— pulling out a camera here feels sordid, and I’m not sure that I would want to remember anything about this experience anyway. But, this struck me. In a small town looking for a place to pee—there’s been no running water here for a long time, so it’s better to do your business outside—I came across a bunch of rusting barbed wire with vines grown around it. I saw those vines as a material reflection of just how many years the people in the region have been under attack: not since February 24th, but for eight years now.
It’s one thing to do something bad—we all fuck up sometimes. It’s another thing altogether to PERSIST in doing something bad. Eight years—that’s a lot of persistence in doing something bad.