2 US military veterans killed in drone attack in Ukraine
Stars and Stripes August 4, 2023
Two U.S. military veterans were killed in a drone attack in Ukraine last month after volunteering to fight invading Russian forces alongside Ukrainian troops, according to the State Department and those who served with the men.
Andrew Irvin Webber, a former Army officer, and Lance Lawrence, a former machine gunner in the Marine Corps, died during a military operation in eastern Ukraine on July 29. The State Department on Friday confirmed the deaths of two unnamed American citizens in Ukraine that day.
The veterans are the latest casualties of a war that is believed to have claimed at least 16 American lives, though no official count is available.
Ryan O’Leary, an American who said he is serving as a company sergeant with the Ukrainian ground forces, tweeted Lawrence had been providing cover for fellow soldiers under heavy enemy fire when he was killed.
“Lance was enlisted into the Ukrainian armed forces,” O’Leary wrote on X, formerly known as Twitter. “He was not a mercenary out for blood or excited for combat. He came because he thought what was happening in Ukraine by Russia was wrong.”
A man from southern Florida who said he was wounded in the same operation that killed the veterans described Lawrence as “one of the hardest-charging dudes I’ve ever known who never failed to brighten the moods of anyone and everyone around him.”
“Lance was an integral part of Chosen Company, our friend, and our family,” wrote the man using the X handle @floridasoldat. “I wish I could’ve done something differently during the operation and have you still here with us. I’m proud to have called you a brother in arms, and a brother forever.”
He said Chosen Company is not part of the International Legion, a unit for foreign fighters within the Ukrainian military but is instead one element of Ukraine’s 59th Motorized Brigade. The formation was activated shortly after Russia’s first invasion of the country in 2014.
Lawrence joined the U.S. Marine Corps in 2013 and achieved the rank of private first class after serving for three years, according to Capt. Ryan Bruce, a spokesman for the Marine Corps. He deployed to the Red Sea and Mediterranean Sea in 2015 and last served with the 3rd Battalion, 6th Marine Regiment, 2nd Marine Division at Camp Lejeune, N.C.
His awards included a National Defense Service Medal, Global War on Terrorism Service Medal, Global War on Terrorism Expeditionary Medal, Sea Service Deployment Ribbon and Navy Meritorious Unit Commendation, according to Bruce.
Webber enlisted in the Ukrainian armed forces in May, volunteering with the 59th Motorized Brigade, according to his LinkedIn page. He graduated from the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, N.Y., in 2005 and served in the Army as a chemical officer and infantry officer for a decade.
He deployed to Iraq and twice to Afghanistan and held the rank of captain at the end of service, according to Heather Hagan, an Army spokeswoman. His numerous awards include a Bronze Star medal and a Purple Heart.
Webber earned a law degree from Northwestern University after leaving the military and was working as a corporate attorney in Seattle when he decided to go to Ukraine.
“He was a veteran education mentor, a relentless patriot and a defender of freedom who valued justice and liberty for others just as much as his own life,” wrote Kristen Edwards, the organizer of an online fundraiser for Webber’s family.
Webber leaves behind a wife and two young daughters.
O’Leary, the sergeant in Ukraine, said Webber brought a lot of knowledge and experience to planning operations and was a “cool head” in the thick of battle.
“His smile, humor, and caringness will be missed,” O’Leary wrote on X.
The volunteer from Florida said Webber was fighting for the people of Ukraine, who he “loved dearly.”
“The obligation to put his life on the line to help others in need was in Andrew’s blood,” he wrote on X. “Compassionate and kindhearted to the core, and a warrior through and through. He died a hero, he died our brother, and he will remain both forever.”
The State Department said it is in touch with the families of both men and is providing “all possible consular assistance.”
The U.S. government has repeatedly advised Americans from traveling to Ukraine to fight in the large-scale war launched by Russia last year. The warnings have not stopped Americans, especially former service members, from taking up arms on behalf of Ukrainians.