Sen. Tom Brewer Heading to Ukraine

June 22, 2022, 4 p.m. ·

Senator Tom Brewer with a map of Ukraine in his Nebraska Capitol office (Photo by Fred Knapp, Nebraska Public Media News)
Sen. Tom Brewer with a map of Ukraine in his Nebraska Capitol office (Photo by Fred Knapp, Nebraska Public Media News)

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A Nebraska state senator is headed for Ukraine to train soldiers there.

Before he was elected to the Nebraska Legislature in 2016, Sen. Tom Brewer’s career was in the Army. He served for 36 years, retiring as a colonel after six tours in Afghanistan, during which he was seriously wounded and received two Purple Hearts.

Now, he plans to draw on his experience to deliver medical supplies and help train Ukrainians to defend their country against the Russian invasion. On Friday, Brewer, traveling as a private citizen volunteer, is scheduled to fly to Poland. From there he’ll travel to Ukraine, to train soldiers to use 50 caliber Polish-made “Thor” sniper rifles.

Brewer saids Thor rifles have an effective range of more than a mile and a half, as opposed to the rifles currently in use, which have a range of about 700 yards.

Brewer said the current rifles were good earlier in the war. “But you’re in a situation now in this open country, you know, where they’ve shifted from the north where it was forested, a lot of the fighting was fairly close-quarter where a rifle like that would be effective. Now they’re in open country, where they need to be able to shoot from longer range,” he said.

Brewer described a deadly calculus of what the effects could be.

“If you were to, say, put 50 gun systems in the field it wouldn’t be unreasonable to think you could get probably five targets per day with each gun system. So that’s 250 targets a day, 30 days, now you’re starting to run up big numbers – into the thousands of targets that you could potentially take out on the Russian side. And If you train them properly so they could identify a vehicle commander, or the highest ranking officer, then they could take out targets that would really put the Russians in a bad situation,” he said.

That situation would be made all the worse, Brewer says, because the Russian Army lacks mid-level officers, so eliminating the local commanders can make soldiers remaining in the units ineffective.

Brewer said the U.S. is supplying $40 billion worth of aid to Ukraine, but a lot of it is just stacking up in Poland, and not it’s not getting to the battlefield. He downplayed President Joe Biden’s warning against Americans going to Ukraine, following the recent capture of three Americans fighting there. He said he thinks the U.S. government is less concerned about training missions, like his, than about people engaging directly in combat.

“I think in a perfect world they’d just (as) soon not have a single American there, l which I think is foolhardy because if we do nothing but throw money at it, I don’t think we’re ever going to solve the problems here. They gotta know we’ve got a little skin in the game and we care enough to come there and try and help them stand head to head against the Russians. Because I think if we don’t fight them here or help others fight them here, we will fight them as an American army somewhere,” he said.

Even though his itinerary skirts around areas currently occupied by Russians, Brewer acknowledges the risks. But he also said his trip will be an adventure

“It will be. We will travel an area bigger than Texas and we’ll do it through combat zones and cruise missiles and dumb bombs being dropped, and just hope you’re not in the same spot one of ‘em end(s) up,” he said.

Brewer is currently expecting to return around Labor Day, although he said he’ll come back earlier if the Legislature is called into special session. Either way, he said, he hopes his trip will have an impact beyond his return.

“What I’d like to do when I’m all done is write up a report and give it to the State Department saying ‘Listen: Here’s what you need to be doing if you really want to help these people.’ Because I don’t think anybody’s doing that. I think right now we’re just throwing stuff and seeing what sticks. And the problem right now is so much of that (equipment)’s stacking up in Poland and not getting forwarded and they’re losing the battle because they don’t have the tools they need to win. They’ve got the spirit but they just don’t have the equipment,” he said.