'The Depths of War': Norwalk resident fights on the front lines of Ukraine
WELCOME TO UKRAINE
It's a never-before-seen vantage point of the war in Ukraine. The view is from Norwalk resident James Vasquez's Go-Pro mounted to his helmet on March 24, when he says he was clearing and monitoring villages outside of Kyiv, the capital of Ukraine.
"I go left, you guys stay right," says Vasquez in one of the clips. The vantage point shows a new lens of the complexities, tactics, yet comradery of war.
What appears to be a Ukrainian soldier in front of James in one of the clips, greeted him while they were hiding behind a home in a village.
"Where are you from," says the soldier.
"America," replies James.
"God bless you... Welcome to Ukraine."
WATCH THE VIDEO: 'The Depths of War': Welcome to Ukraine
Once Vasquez got home from fighting, he sold his home and all his belongings to permanently move back to Ukraine. He told News 12 in this exclusive interview that aired back in June that he wanted to move back to Ukraine to continue fighting and help rebuild the country.
Now that Vasquez has been home, he's teamed up with retired Lt. Col. Rip Rawlings, a former U.S. Marine Corps Infantry and Reconnaissance Officer. Rawlings has deployed more than 10 times in military career and tells News 12 the atrocities in Ukraine don't compare. "This is a lot worse," he says. Vasquez and Rawlings linked up in Lviv and have since been trying to figure out ways to help former military and veterans fighting on the front lines.
"About four months ago, I went over to Ukraine, saw what was happening and decided to do something," Rawlings tells News 12. "I had an opportunity to go up near Bucha and Irpin pretty much right after James had left. He was fighting in that area. And you know I had left awhile afterwards but saw the damage and destruction and decided I couldn't stand for it, and we needed to do something about it."
The two have joined forces to create Ripley's Heroes, which says it's providing logistical support and nonlethal equipment to combat units on the ground.
"We supplied night vision goggles... we supplied vehicles we were able to crowdsource through people's generosity," says Rawlings.
Both Vasquez and Rawlings tell News 12 their common goal of helping those on the ground was ignited after seeing the dismay and horror while being in towns outside of Kyiv, like Bucha and Irpin.
"If it was 1939 and Germany was doing what it was doing at the head of World War II, what would you do? We're there right now. This is it," says Rawlings. "We have a megalomaniac ruler who is killing them wholesale, raping them, slaughtering them and stealing everything in their country," he adds.
WATCH THE VIDEO: 'The Depths of War': Banding Together
THE HELSINKI COMMISION
The duo is now bringing their fight to the doorstep of Congress.
"We have James Vasquez, who is a former U.S. Army vet. He has actually fought in Ukraine already, fought alongside Ukrainians," says Paul Massaro, a senior policy advisor, who introduced them at the congressional Helsinki Commission. "We have Lt. Col. Rip Rawlings, former U.S. Marine Corp, who has been heading up logistical support," he said.
Vasquez and Rawlings discussed their experience inside Ukraine and how the United States government can better support them. They're pushing to update laws that they say right now restricts the movement of certain military technology.
"The biggest issue we have is that a U.S. citizen can go purchase a set of level 3 body armor but cannot purchase it and give it to a Ukrainian," explains Rawlings. "When James goes down range, he's technically allowed to carry level 3 body armor helmet, but he's not allowed to carry ITAR regulated thermal sight systems with him. The difference between us and the Russians is that thermal system in a lot of instances."
But despite the obstacles, Vasquez says his fight is far from over.
"Once I got there [Ukraine], I didn't realize how much this was going to really impact my life and how impactful it's been to me... which is why I'm going back."
WATCH THE VIDEO: 'The Depths of War': The Helsinki Commission
News 12 stopped by Vasquez's home while he was packing the rest of his belongings and clearing his home for his return to Ukraine.
"All I have left is my military gear, some suitcases I have to pack, and that's what I'm going back with," he says.
"Now that you're leaving, what's your final message, the last message you have for people that have been following your story?" asked News 12's Shosh Bedrosian.
"Everybody gets pretty complacent and when they're home sitting on the couch and start watching 'Family Guy' and forget what's going on, I just want people to remember this is not going away," says Vasquez.
WATCH VIDEO: 'The Depths of War': The Return