As most true heroes will tell you, if you can get them to talk about themselves, they are drawn to running toward the fire rather than away from it -- not because they possess extraordinary courage or remarkable strength, but because of a deep sense of purpose.
One week ago, a handful of strangers that included Vlad Finn, Tyler Merritt and a small group of U.S. veterans volunteering with the Aerial Recovery Group walked across the border of Poland into Ukraine at the exact moment the sirens were blaring for the nightly curfew.
They had 72 hours to complete their mission of rescuing as many of the country's orphans as they could in areas under attack and bringing them to safety.
"More than 400 orphans have been rescued so far," said Merritt, a retired member of the Army's elite 160th Special Operations Aviation Regiment who is working with ARG, a team of battle-tested U.S. veterans. The United Nations Children's Fund has reported that over 1 million children have escaped from Ukraine since Russia began the war a month ago. The deepest concern was that these children would be abducted, leading to child trafficking, exploitation or death.
Merritt is the kind of guy always driven by purpose. He founded his company, Nine Line Apparel, which makes patriotic and military-supportive clothing and gear, in part to employ area veterans in Savannah, Georgia. When his friend Scooter Brown said he was in the process of adopting a child in Ukraine when the war started, and consequently found out there were a lot of children in peril there, Merritt got involved.
Merritt arrived in Poland where he met up with several veteran volunteers from ARG, along with Finn, who is also driven by a higher purpose, albeit different than that of Merritt. While Merritt is a tactical warrior, Finn said he has a personal connection to the orphans in Ukraine -- because not that long ago, he was one of them.
"I was born and raised in Kharkiv, Ukraine, until I was 15 years old with my younger brother Denis," he explained from his home in California. "My father passed away when I was 6, and my mom started drinking heavily.
"I ended up on the streets and stayed on them for a couple of years, sleeping wherever I could find warmth and depending on the kindness of strangers," he said.
At age 11, he ended up in an orphanage. His brother was in a different one about 30 miles from him.
"I was able to visit with him a couple of times with my caregiver from the orphanage," he said.