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British Military Instructor Sean Ardron: Ukraine Is Transitioning to NATO Standards Much Faster Because There Is a Direct Link Between Learning and Practice in the ATO


Original Censor.NET

Sean interview

Censor.NET spoke with British military instructor Sean Ardron, who since 2014 has been teaching combat first aid courses using NATO standards to special forces in Ukraine. Sean is a retired corporal and served in multiple NATO campaigns.

He recently returned from a project with Patriot Defence, an NGO that with help from the Ukrainian diaspora in the West has been providing NATO standard tactical medicine courses in Ukraine. Over these three years, Sean has trained hundreds of Ukrainian soldiers and developed a special medical backpack for Ukrainians based on NATO standards.

A similar program, this one organized by the military, is being introduced in the Ukrainian army. The 169 Training Centre “Desna” will be providing specialized tactical medicine training based on the program used in the U.S. Armed Forces. The program is similar to what Sean teaches.

Sean’s assessment of the situation was both expected and unexpected. How was the Ukrainian army in 2014 similar to the British army in Iraq and Afghanistan ten years ago? Why are NATO standards appearing faster in Ukraine than in other countries? And how to overcome the existing animosity between different units in the Ukrainian armed forces?

Sean interview


—  Sean, tell us about your combat experience and work as an instructor.

—  I was a non-commissioned officer in the British army. After that, I worked for the British Embassy in Baghdad. I was part of the British military training team. We trained militaries all over the world, so I understand differences in militaries and differences in structure. When I came to Ukraine I had almost 19 years of experience training militaries all over the world. I have been able to use my experience and knowledge and transfer it here in Ukraine.

—  How did you start working with Patriot Defence and how did you develop the course you teach?

—  The starting point for me was 2014 after the Maidan. Patriot Defence was providing ordinary soldiers with first aid kits and doing combat first aid training. But there was no specialized medical training in the Ukrainian army at the time. Soldiers were being taught civilian first aid. You can’t teach that in the military because these are different situations and you need different skills.

Essentially, the main difference is that in civilian life there is no bad guy shooting at you. The nature of the wounds is different, as are the conditions in which medical care is provided. We developed our “Long Range Patrol Medic” training course along those lines. As of June 2017, 384 soldiers went through the course, and they were given 214 medical backpacks. Another Patriot Defence program “Trauma Life Support” has trained 126 military and 216 civilian doctors. In total, more than 28,000 soldiers and more than 5,000 cadets have taken the Combat Lifesaver Course.

—  So you based your “Long Range Patrol Medic” course on the realities of the Ukrainian army, but according to international standards?

—  We used NATO standards because in Ukraine each unit has a slightly different structure. So, rather than try to adapt to each unit, rather than change every time we go to a unit, we work with the NATO standards which will give interoperability.

Sean interview

— In these three years, you have seen many different Ukrainian units. What changes have you noticed in the Ukrainian forces?

 Things have been slow to change in general. But I think the main discipline I have seen changed is the change in rank structure and coordination. The units that are progressing further and have significant combat experience are giving less emphasis to officers and giving more responsibility to non-commissioned officers: sergeants and corporals. This has had a positive effect on unit cohesion.

— What about medical training?

 I can’t say much about the changes in tactical medicine training. Most of the training I’ve seen is the training done by us and other NGOs. The training that we deliver is world class.

Here in Ukraine, we can deliver better medical training than I could have in the British military. Firstly, it’s being done by an NGO, so we don’t have to go through a lot of the red tape we would have to in the British military.

— It’s possible that in the future this course will be taught not by volunteers but by military instructors. If, as you say, red tape can make it less efficient, how do you ensure that it does, in fact, stay effective?

 I don’t see a problem. I think we are just going to continue providing our course. And the instructors that go through our course will teach based on this experience.

Sean interview


 Can you give more details about the course?

— I can’t tell you the course content. It’s a 7-day course. We work with all the special forces: Special Operations, Security Service of Ukraine, Defence Intelligence, KORD Police Rapid Response Unit. We have delivered around 35 courses. We do refresher courses for some units. Ideally, soldiers should repeat the course every 2-3 years. Every soldier should also stay up-to-date on protocols. It is their responsibility to maintain and develop their skills.

We deal with NATO standards. We use the MARCH principles (Massive Haemorrhage - Airways - Respiration - Circulation – Hypothermia). Unlike most courses in Ukraine, our guys are not learning in a classroom. They’re learning it out in the field in combat conditions. This keeps them on their toes and gives them better practice.

We could teach them in a classroom, using presentations, but we go out to the forest, or whatever environment we’re in, we put them in tactical scenarios. Whatever the unit is, whatever they are most likely to come across, whatever their most likely casualties are, we will train and deal with that so that it is more relevant to that actual unit.

— Is there support from officers and top Ukrainian commanders for changes to personnel training?

— Some units are very receptive, and some units are not so helpful. I won’t say which ones.

Sean interview

— How would you explain the lack of support from some commanders for a course like this on NATO standards?

 The old guard gives us trouble. They think they know best, and if anyone tries to tell them differently, they don’t accept it. Whereas the younger guys understand that their system could be better. The last course we did was in military unit 3018 of the National Guard. Of all the training camps I’ve been to in Ukraine, that was by far the best. They had good ground structure, good discipline. They use the NATO system. There are good guys there.

If there were more training camps like that, there would not be as many problems in the military as there are. But today I see a lack of cooperation. They told me about an incident, but I don’t know what unit was involved. One of the soldiers on our course left because he didn’t like taking orders from a senior officer from a different unit. Now imagine that situation in the ATO.

You can’t have a military that operates in such a fashion - that if I’m the commander of one unit, I only command my unit. Other units have to have respect for that commander. Units in Ukraine can’t operate between each other because there’s a feeling that you are from this battalion, I will not work for you. We have to remember that we’re all in the same army.

— How do you change this situation?

— There needs to be a standardized basic training, using NATO standards. Every unit that I’ve been to has a different method of operating. What that does is it stops units from being able to work together.

Standardized training gives the commanders a framework to operate, know how their men will operate. So a commander from another unit can come over and he knows how those guys are going to react, he knows how to deploy them. That’s very important for large-scale military operations.

Sean interview


— How would you rate the medical equipment in the Ukrainian army?

— They’re very underfunded. Medically and all of it as well, the military should be paying for this. They shouldn’t be leaving it to NGOs. I don’t know what the Ukrainian medical chain is in the Ukrainian army because we only deal with our side of it.

But again, NATO standard equipment is there because it’s tried and tested. We developed for our course a backpack that has in it everything to deal with battlefield casualties. This is not something that we just invented in the last six months. This comes from the last 10-15 years of battlefield experience in other countries. This backpack is a good example of standardized NATO equipment.

Sean interview

When I was working in Iraq and Afghanistan we had the very limited medical equipment. We had a bandage, rubber tourniquet, and that’s it. Previously to that, the last war the British army fought was in 1982. It reminds me somewhat of the situation in Ukraine in 2014, but it was slightly different here. Through Patriot Defence we’ve been able to give Ukrainian soldiers the sort of equipment that we didn’t have 10 years ago, without them having to go through the lessons we learned in Iraq and Afghanistan. We had nobody teaching us. We learned a lot of lessons really quickly of what we need. It took us 5-7 years to develop this kind of equipment. And we’ve been able to transfer what we learned directly to Ukraine.

Sean interview

— What critically important medical equipment was introduced in the British army and other NATO armies as a result of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan?

— The tourniquet and chest seal. That is what the Ukrainian army lacked in 2014. But that equipment wasn’t developed and tested immediately after the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. It was developed gradually over the years based on battlefield experience.

— How would you compare the way militaries in other countries, such as Georgia, adopted NATO standards with the same processes in Ukraine? Do you see a difference?

— In other countries, the transition was slower. In Ukraine, it’s been a lot faster because there is a direct link between teaching and practice. Soldiers go out to the ATO and practice what they learned. If I was teaching a unit in another country, and they’re not in a conflict, they may not pay as much attention. Ukrainian soldiers are often very motivated.


Olga Skorokhod, Censor.NET
Photo by Nataliia Sharomova, Censor.NET