Assignment to a NATO military base “way below ground” in Italy surprised Orange County Executive Steve Neuhaus when he was deployed with U.S. Navy Reserves in March.
“When I left here I had the idea we’d do more humanitarian work,” he said. “We were told that Ukraine would probably not exist as a country by the time we were in theater.”
But Ukraine persisted, and Neuhaus said that, as lieutenant commander, he had three objectives—to prevent Russians from attacking other countries in Eastern Europe, to provide Ukraine with weapons, and to support Eastern Europeans with caring for refugees.
To protect Europe’s eastern flank, 100,000 troops had been sent there, he said. He worked 12-hour days for five to six days each week as battle watch captain for his section, going over reports of where fighting had ignited and following Russian troop movement.
His daily work also included “executing presidential drawdown authority,” which, for him, meant communications to facilitate movement of American weaponry to Ukraine, particularly the Javelin anti-tank and Stinger anti-aircraft missiles. Neuhaus identified where needed weaponry was, whether on another base or elsewhere, and helped arrange transport. Every morning he took part in a Zoom-like meeting with the Joint Chiefs of Staff in various time zones.
Neuhaus also supported humanitarian efforts, arranging to get blankets, clothes and medical supplies where they were needed, particularly in the west, after Russians retreated from Kiev, and to Eastern European countries.
“The Polish did a good job,” he said. “Polish citizens adopted Ukrainian families, since their needs were only temporary--Ukrainians didn’t want to move there. The situation was different from having a mass of refugees.”
On days off, Neuhaus was on “three-hour call back,” meaning that, if called, he had to be able to return to work within three hours.
He noted the contrast between his recent deployment and the previous one in Iraq, from November of 2018 to June of 2019.
In Iraq, he said, “The U.S. worked with the Combined Joint Special Operations Task Force . I flew around in a helicopter, looking for ISIS, trying to capture or kill them.”
Did he kill anyone?
“We’re not allowed to talk about it,” said Neuhaus.
However he could describe the different fears he felt in each place.
“In Iraq the anxiety was fear of harm. We understood what we faced. But in Ukraine we didn’t know where Putin would go, whether he would go nuclear. It was a game changer. With the Russian setbacks, we didn’t know what would happen.”