Spending almost a week in western Ukraine, February 27, 2017 until March 3, 2017, with the men and women of Oklahoma's 45th Infantry Brigade Combat Team is easily one of the highlights of my long career as a journalist.
It's rare that you get to cover a story that is of great local, national and international significance all at once. Add to that the opportunity to travel to abroad to a fascinating and beautiful country, and you can see why I got so much enjoyment -- personal and professional -- out of this.
I have traveled many times to Europe in my life, but had never been to Ukraine prior to this trip. I came back with a very positive impression of the Ukrainian people, not to mention the Oklahomans who are over there helping them!
I am grateful to a lot of people for their help in making this happen. First and foremost, I'm grateful to work for a television station that understands the importance of coverage like this. Griffin Communications and my bosses supported this notion I had from the very beginning, and I appreciate that because I had no idea if there was even a chance it would work out. And, obviously, it would not have happened, if not for the cooperation and help of the Oklahoma National Guard.
Once I suggested the idea to them, they were as eager as I was to try and make it a reality. The public affairs staff in Oklahoma City were just a huge help, and I think them all, especially Lt. Col. Lindy White. In Ukraine, there are four people, in particular, who were rock stars: Andriana Zmysla, Darrin "DJ" Johnson, 1st Lt. Kayla Christopher and Sgt. Anthony Jones.
Kayla and Anthony, handling all the public affairs duties for the 45th in Ukraine, were amazing. They planned out a full schedule of video and interview opportunities for us, made sure we had everything we needed, and truly gave us the ride of our lives!
The roads around the base are an adventure, to say the least, and they made sure we got the full experience. They also made sure we got to sample their favorite local food: the gas station hotdogs. Top notch.
Andriana lives in Lviv, the closest large city, and serves as translator for the 45th's public affairs office. So, she helped us get, and then translate, all of
the interviews we did with non English-speaking Ukrainians. That is hard work, and she does a great job. She also was our tour guide in Lviv, which is where our hotel was, and our navigator, riding with us to and from the training center each day. I was driving and would certainly have become lost without her
Finally, DJ gets so much credit, as he is the one who shot all of the video that makes our stories so powerful. He and I have worked together at News 9 for almost 22 years now, and he is unquestionably one of the best. He has a great eye and he doesn't hesitate. We got stuff done! Oh, and it's hard work
carrying around all of the equipment, and brutally hard when you have to walk/run and shoot at the same time, as he did the morning I went on the 0500 march with Alpha Company. Truly amazing effort.