Former Special Forces member Jeremy Locke – the Chief of Operations for Aerial Recovery – spearheads a dynamic relief mission in war torn Ukraine. Facilitating the rescue of vulnerable civilians – particularly orphaned children – from the front lines of the war to safe locations inside of Ukraine, Locke has applied the strategy of force multiplying to empower the local community and create lasting, meaningful relief.
The world didn’t know how to react when war came to Ukraine last spring. Many of us watched from the sidelines, moved by the fear and tragedy of the conflict, while being uncertain of how we can help – or even how great the need actually was.
Particularly troubling are reports from this summer showing that two thirds of Ukraine’s children have been displaced. In a war that’s already claimed thousands of lives – many of these children have now become orphaned adding to the over 100,000 Ukrainian children who were already living in orphanages prior to the invasion. These children are particularly vulnerable as Russia advances further into the country.
Aerial Recovery is a group of humanitarian operators who are leading a mission in Ukraine to get orphaned children and other vulnerable civilians in Ukraine to safety. Composed of qualified, trained, and elite military veterans – this is a team with the experience to execute in the chaos of an active war zone and the heart to care for the wellbeing of those they are serving. These operators work in partnership with Ukraine’s government, volunteers and the people of Ukraine and are led by Aerial Recovery’s Chief of Operations Jeremy Locke – a retired U.S. Army Special Forces Soldier.
Locke’s team has been in Ukraine since February 28th, 2022 – employing force multiplication: a special forces principle centric to Aerial Recovery that has furthered their effectiveness through strategic partnerships and providing training to and with the local communities and relevant government agencies of Ukraine. “When force multiplication is properly implemented you would be amazed at how effective a small team can be working by, with and through the local populace,” Locke says.
Locke recalls his first orders to the team when it was clear that action was needed. “Get inside, link up with the government, local NGOs, and churches,” he says. “Get a clearer picture on what’s going on. Find out exactly how we can fit in, what the need is, and how we can be most effective and responsible for those in our care.”
Within weeks of crossing into Ukraine, Aerial had forged a Memorandum of Understanding with the Regional Military Administration and Social Administration of the Lviv Oblast, Ukraine. The Social Administration is the government body of Ukraine responsible for overseeing affairs similar to Child Protective Services in the United States, this understanding ensures those being rescued are accounted for and limits the ability of bad actors to take advantage of the administrative chaos left by war.
The next step was vetting and training Ukrainians who would help facilitate the missions. These vetted Ukrainian partner enablers would bring a local understanding to Aerial’s preliminary work. “They were translating for us,” Locke recalls. “Connecting us with their people – family and friends who had been drafted in the military or were already currently in the military. We were able to receive information on what the biggest needs were and where Russian troops were moving. This on the ground information was combined with our intelligence which gave us a very clear operational picture and worked to keep our operators safe and most importantly those we evacuated as well.”
The first six weeks of the operation leaned heavily on Aerial’s active involvement in moving orphans and displaced, vulnerable people – for sustainable and lasting humanitarian relief. Force multiplication by working with and training Ukrainians was the proper course of action.
Military veterans reading this will be familiar with this kind of operation, known as an advise, assist, accompany, and enable – or A3E – mission.
“We took our enablers with us on these rescue missions,” Locke says. “They watched how we did it, everything from, acquiring vehicles that we needed to get the permissions to go travel across the country, to timing our operations around current Russian Troop Movements.”
As these enablers learned from the acumen of Locke and his elite team of veterans – they were able to take an active role in the mission. Joint operations were a way of instilling agency – while giving them the confidence of an elite team looking out for them in the field.
“After that,” Locke says, “we empowered our enablers to start doing the rescues on their own – with them being stationed out east and operating off our intelligence, guidance and oversight.”
At this point Aerial had transitioned from A3E to an A2E (advise and assist) mission set.
“Missions have been extremely successful,” Locke reports. “We’ve built up our operators out there, trained them, and are achieving a high level of effectiveness. There are over 5,500 internally displaced personnel that we’ve been able to move to safety inside the country using our networks. I’m very proud of the operation to this point. We have been on the ground for over 6 months now and have tried and tested mechanisms for humanitarian aid distribution as well as personnel evacuation. The best part is now our trained Ukrainian Partner Humanitarian Force is able to lead missions supplying as well as evacuating their fellow countrymen.
As this goes to press – the Aerial team is beginning to withdraw its American Humanitarian Operators from the country, having successfully developed the infrastructure and personnel for Ukrainian-led rescue operations. Aerial will now be able to conduct command and control remotely making the donations stretch farther without losing effectiveness on the ground.
“These Ukrainians are extremely grateful for any and all help they have received. They are inspiring people that really want to serve their country,” Locke says. “Teach them how to successfully lead these rescue operations, vet them to ensure that they are reliable, responsible, and they’re doing the right things, honoring our donors and the training that you give them. It’s their country – they want to do it and no one is more motivated than them.”
This is the process that has enabled Aerial Recovery to act as effective agents of meaningful and lasting relief on a global scale. From the destruction of natural disasters – in places such as Haiti, the Bahamas, and Southeast Lousianna – to the ensuing chaos of America’s withdrawal of troops in Afghanistan, and now in the vulnerability of the Ukrainian front line, Locke has led missions that enable local communities to move through disaster with agency and hope for tomorrow.
A testament to the benefit of helping others – Aerial’s missions work to the betterment of the retired military personnel, Locke included, who carry them out. Many leave careers in the Army, Navy, Marines and Air Force struggling to find new purpose – this Green Beret and his wife have opened a new pathway for their team through humanitarian work.
“So much healing is found in purpose and the ability to continue to serve,” Locke says. “These veterans are invaluable to saving lives, their skills are not obsolete once they have separated from the service and the people of Ukraine and those suffering across the world need them.”
There is still an immense level of need for resources and support in Ukraine – to support Aerial’s mission in this active conflict, those called can send donations here.