He feels like he’s living in luxury. This Army Veteran is enjoying life as a father to a 3 year old and husband to his Ukrainian wife. His everyday life is routine and calm–and Tyler celebrates that gift of every day.
As the son of a Vietnam Marine, the grandson of a World War II and great grandson of World War I Army Veterans, Tyler was called to serve. He joined the Army after being denied in the Marines because of his tattoos. His military career was cut short after he sustained a debilitating spine injury when he was stationed at Fort Carson, Colorado.
After leaving the Army, Tyler’s life seemed to fall apart. He went through a divorce and felt unfulfilled after leaving the military without achieving his goals. During this time, Tyler enrolled at Millersville University and studied social work. His goal was to help other Veterans who experienced trauma.
A few years later, he summoned the courage to begin dating. His online search connected him with his current wife, Sasha. They got married and welcomed a daughter. Being a Dad had Tyler reflecting on his future with his family. Increasing violence in the USA and the high cost of living, Tyler and his wife moved to the Ukraine to raise their daughter.
Life wasn’t easy when they relocated to Kyiv. The big city life proved to be a dramatic change for this Lancaster, Pennsylvania born and raised Veteran. After a few months, they moved to Sasha’s hometown of Kremenchuk. It was a smaller city, with family nearby. It was an improvement from Kyiv, but it wasn’t easy. Since Kremenchuck was just a 6-hour drive to the Russian border, some people spoke Russian and others Ukrainian. It made it extremely difficult for Tyler to learn the language. “Russian speakers get angry if you speak Ukrainian and Ukrainian’s get angry if you speak Russian.”
In winter of 2022, Russian troops were conducting drills in the area. To Tyler it looked like an invasion was imminent. However, the Ukrainian people in the area weren’t concerned.
Tyler returned to the United States for a visit and remained in the United States for a few months. A shooting at a local mall, his personal health issues and the economic climate caused him to become reclusive and isolated.
Returning to Ukraine
They decided to return to Ukraine in October 2022. His wife used her experience as a project manager to secure a job in Kyiv. With her new job, they bought a new apartment and life seemed to be on track. Tyler’s view was different. He was on high alert as he saw an increase in military gear. His military training revealed the warning signs of a pre-invasion drill. “We need to leave,” were the words he uttered to his wife thinking they had time to flee the city.
Then one day, they woke up to the sounds of rockets hitting the city. In an instant they had to decide what they could take with them and what they would leave behind. They packed a few family heirlooms, medical supplies and some military supplies. “We had to limit military supplies because the Russians would have assumed I was an American mercenary,” added Tyler.
His mother-in-law chose to stay behind and Tyler and his family used her car to make the 14 hour trip to Rivne. They passed tanks in staging areas, experienced planes flying overhead as they traveled in one direction and the Russians in the opposite direction. They saw active fighting and feared that stopping could make them an instant target. They arrived in western Ukraine and that night the city got bombed. They remained there for a few days and knew they had to flee. Running out of gas and food, they didn’t know if they had enough supplies to make it to the border which now involved a 10-mile waiting line to cross.
Their journey took them to a friend’s home in the Carpathian Mountains on the border of Ukraine and Hungary. They could see the border. While they were there, his mother-in-law decided to flee and join them. The highway they used was destroyed and there was street fighting and paratroopers jeopardized her safety. She boarded a train to join them.
His wife, daughter and mother-in-law were reunited and crossed into Hungary, then Austria before arriving safely in Stuttgart, Germany. Tyler remained in Ukraine and became a combat volunteer.
At that time, the Ukrainian people were close to losing the capitol, Kyiv. “They had lots of volunteers with no military experience engaging in combat outside of the airport,” reported Tyler. They fought in street clothing. They didn’t know how to use the weapons that were given to them. For the next month and a half, Tyler shared his military experience with the civilians with whom he was fighting.
Tyler was helping refugees flee Ukraine. He got to know the refugees and listened to their stories. This made Tyler an integral contact for international journalists covering the war in Ukraine. He became friends with an American journalist who also was a Veteran. “Journalists needed to hear the stories from the people so they could share it with the world,” noted Tyler.
With no food, no equipment, no warm clothing and shedding 30 pounds fighting in Ukraine, Tyler decided to leave the war-torn area and reunite with his family. The journey started by taking a train to Lviv. There he made contact with journalists and they embarked on a bus trip to Poland. The bus broke down before reaching the border so Tyler and the journalists walked across the border. They hitchhiked from there to Warsaw because he was unable to get a train.
In Warsaw, Poland, Tyler stayed in a hotel with his American journalist, Tony. They planned to take a bus from Warsaw to Berlin, Germany but that bus trip was canceled. Tyler was able to take a train to Berlin where he reconnected with two French journalists. “It gave me a few days to decompress before I was reunited with my family. I needed that,” added Tyler.
He made his way to western Germany where he was eventually reunited with his family and they flew back to the United States.
Supportive Services for Veteran Families Was There for Tyler
The family returned to Lancaster with just the things they could carry with them. Once again the family had to split up to survive. His wife and daughter went with one family, his mother-in-law with another and he went to another family. The stress and trauma was intense and Tyler sought help from the VA to address his PTSD and to be able to function. The Veterans Administration connected him with the Supportive Services for Veteran Families program.
Kim Hartman, Lancaster case manager for Supportive Services for Veteran Families at Opportunity House provided the details of the program and how it helps Veterans get back on their feet. “I didn’t know the program existed. It was a huge help for us. We secured a townhouse and SSVF paid the security deposit and first month’s rent,” he added. Kim also enrolled him in the Shallow Subsidy program that pays 50% of the rent for 24 months. The goal of the program is to give Veterans time to focus on their goal and build up their income to return to self-sufficiency.
“Having a place to stay was the first part of my recovery. It gives me time to decompress and some breathing room to build my future,” noted Tyler. His future includes training to be a firefighter and EMT. “I like being part of a group and making a difference for others,” he added.
“I thought others deserved help more than I did. Then I realized I deserved help,” noted Tyler.
Supportive Services for Veteran Families at Opportunity House provide services to Veterans who are literally homeless or who are facing eviction. For most Veterans, the most challenging part of the process is asking for help. Kim Hartman, SSVF Lancaster case manager says “We’re here to help Veterans and make it easy to get the services and support they need.”