If you want to have some fun while avoiding cold weather this winter, then the world’s first indoor slide park, Slick City, is now open here in Colorado!
Slick City at the Colorado Mills Mall in Lakewood, CO, is a 40,000-square-foot action park with eleven special slides open to various ages. I had the pleasure of visiting this new attraction and started looking into the Instagram account before visiting so that I knew what to expect. However, nothing prepared me for what I experienced.
Walking through the doors I was taken away by all the fun, colorful slides and kids running around. I was greeted by an employee who took me to large iPads where I signed the waiver and got a wristband.
Sliders can choose between 90 minutes or 120 minutes of action-packed entertainment. As a new slider, I wisely picked the 90-minute package. The staff gave me special socks with grips on the bottom to prevent any slipping or injury during my hopefully fun-filled time sliding. They also showed me how to use black sliding pads that have handles. These pads are designed to help sliders gain speed on the slides which have a slippery bottom.
After I climbed around the giant playground of slides looking for a good slide, I went down my first one. I mistakenly chose the bright yellow “Launch” slide which drops straight down and flings you off onto a big soft blow-up cushion breaking your landing.
My stomach dropped and I gripped the handle, holding on for dear life, while gravity pulled me down and shot me off the ramp at the end. Before I knew it, I was airborne and smacked reassuringly against a huge pillow-like object.
Resting after my slide, I watched amused as sliders were even trying to do tricks off the end of the slide in the air, spinning 360s, doing flips, or making funny poses in mid-air. I wasn’t as brave as some of the people going down but watching was so much fun. It was still worth the thrill and made me eager to explore all eleven slides.
The array of slides for all ages included racing slides where up to four people can go at the same time and you can see who makes it to the bottom the fastest. Slides like the launch and big drop that shoot you off and up into the air. The scoop slide, which is like a half pipe takes you on an exciting path of travel.
Then, there’s the berm slide that will remind you of a luge track where you slide up onto the walls of the slide. It takes you on a journey filled with speed and curves with this winding slide.
I talked to several of the other sliders who were waiting in line and my little brother who joined me on my adventure. They all said their favorites were the launch slide, scoop slide, and “air courts” - basketball courts with bouncy flooring and padded rims.
Slick City has a rope swing, multiple air courts, and a soft play multi-level play area for children ages 0 to 7 which offers different soft obstacles and elements so children can play while also staying safe from dangerous surfaces.
The air courts are perfect for practicing your jump shot and dunking skills or even enjoy the designated area for tumbling/flipping, parkour tricks, and more! While this is the first location, they are preparing to open three more locations soon.
Plus, there are arcade games for families with kids who might not want to participate in the slides. There are even pizza, snacks, and drinks at the concessions area that are available for purchase.
It seemed like a great place for birthday parties or other events you may want to have there too. I saw three different birthday parties within the little time I was there and everyone appeared to be having a blast. All of this, along with the slides and activities make up this new action park!
During my time at Slick City climbing around the giant playground of slides, I was taken back to the nostalgic days of running around the playground at school…but the extreme version is way more exciting.
For me, 90 minutes was plenty of time because I was worn out after nearly just 30 minutes of sliding and bouncing around the air courts. With winter coming up I would highly suggest either taking your kids here or going yourself with some friends for a good time. With so much to do you’re bound to be entertained!
Saturday night, October 15th, I headed to Boulder to see MUNA, an indie pop band based in Los Angeles, California. The Boulder Theater was full of excited fans ready to hear the band’s third studio album self-titled MUNA, released over this past summer. The trio delivered an electrifying performance with their most popular songs and fan favorites, including Number One Fan. Pictures to show: Katie Gavin lead vocals, Josette Maskin guitar, Naomi McPherson keyboard/guitar.
Nestled between the Conspiracy Theory Tattoos and Rocky Mountain Punk stores, the Learned Lemur on Colfax is an eccentric oddities shop featuring macabre art pieces and even a taxidermized giraffe named Geoffrey.
Once a month, the Learned Lemur and Geoffery host the “Conspiracy Circus” show. October 2022 marked their one-year anniversary.
One of my favorite parts of these shows is the variety of acts performed, not only from the constantly shifting cast, but also the acts themselves. No two shows are alike. There is just a delightful mixture of burlesque and sideshow acts.
Burlesque is a form of seductive performance art involving dancing, skits, and comedy. While the sideshow acts are often associated with a wide range of circus-like performances from jugglers, contortionists, fire eaters, clowns, hoopers, and strong men and women.
At the “Conspiracy Circus”, this mixture of seduction and circus is balanced on a core cast of must-see performers and acts. They include: “Three Feral Cats in a G-string", “Woman of One Thousand Acts”, “Alabaster”, Circus Strongman – “Babyface Reid”, resident stage kitten and burlesque performer - “Cassy Cyanide”, and the one and only ringmaster of the show, “Gio the Ordinary”.
The show itself takes place in an intimate setting across from Bruz Off Fax, a brewery featuring a variety of Belgian-style beers. Since the show building is not connected to the brewery, the “Conspiracy Circus” is an 18+ age limit event, as compared to the usual 21+ age limit required by most clubs and bars that host these types of events. As a result of the lower age limit, you get to experience the fun of the circus as an adult!
Audience involvement is also a significant feature of the intimate setting of the “Conspiracy Circus”. Performers frequently venture out into the crowd to playfully tease or invite volunteers on stage for certain acts.
Consent is mandatory for all parties involved, and if you’re shy like me and would rather remain in your seat, it is a relief to know that you will not be pressured into anything.
The cast of the “Conspiracy Circus” is made up of a diverse group of creatives. Many of the performers are also members of the LGBTQ+, queer, and disabled communities. They are committed to creating a safe and welcoming environment for all.
If you are interested in attending a show, tickets are available on the Learned Lemur’s website. After ten sold out shows, tickets tend to go fast. Fortunately, the show occurs monthly, and tickets are usually available within the first week of the month.
To make sure you don’t miss when tickets are available, the Learned Lemur shop and the “Conspiracy Circus” show both have active Instagram pages. The cast of each months’ show, along with their social media handles, are also posted.
Check them out! Geoffery would be so grateful to you for supporting local artists and performers.
Some people believe excavating a piece of land is the same as grave robbing. Others see it as sacrilegious to disturb sacred ground. When properly done with the blessing of the community excavating can be a good thing, educating people of a forgotten history.
On Friday, September 2, 2022, students, and professors from the Anthropology and Archaeology departments of CCD, MSU of Denver and CU-Denver began a two-month archaeological dig of two carefully selected spots in the 9th Street Historic Park on the Auraria campus with a healing ceremony.
Every Friday for the next two months students would dig, sift through soil, measure, and document every artifact they would find. Their mission is to learn about Auraria’s history and possibly uncover artifacts they could place in a museum.
After years of discussion between the Auraria Historical Advisory Council, History Colorado and the University of Colorado, the conversations began to move towards how to educate others of the complicated history of this land.
A member of the Indigenous community that carried out the healing ceremony opening the archaeological dig project, was Michael Redman from the Northern Arapahoe Tribe. He shared that it was an honor to travel from Wyoming to pray and bless the land before they started digging. Redman reminded the large crowd gathered for the well-attended ceremony that this land was revered and used ages ago by his ancestors.
He reflected on the tantalizing possibility of finding any artifacts and how to properly handle them, “These objects are considered an inanimate object. They're alive, so they must be treated and cared for as a living, like a living person. You can't be disrespecting. That must be respected and must be honored. It must be taken cared, in handling them when they're found. Proper protocols must be taken care of and when they're discovered, and proper care must be put to them in place for them.”
Redman supported the idea of a Auraria campus museum where artifacts could be displayed, versus given back to the tribe, he explained, “Because a lot of our artifacts don't get put in a proper place while they do but they go to the museum in Chicago, or in DC and then who sees them? Nobody. Nobody sees them. If they if they could have them in a place and then agree with the tribes of this origin of this ground here. Arapaho and Cheyenne. Come together and whatever tribes that lived here, come together. And honor that.”
Students on this commuter campus may not be aware that before Auraria Higher Education Center (AHEC) was built, stood Auraria. This one-time mining settlement in the 1860s evolved into Denver’s oldest neighborhood eventually replaced by the Auraria campus during the 1960s and 1970s urban renewal movement.
During the effort to replace a thriving neighborhood with a campus, over 300 families were displaced, each given a promise that their descendants would receive a free education on the future campus. Although the construction was completed in 1976, the scholarship was not honored until 1988.
Sheila Perez Kendall, a displaced resident of Auraria, grew up in the Ninth District. She shared her memories of growing up and pointed out the different areas where businesses once stood.
This ground is still very sacred to Sheila and she feels strongly about the dig and establishing a museum. When asked about how she felt about the effort, she blinked away tears, put her hands over her heart, and replied, “Very touching to me. Acknowledged…it touches my heart.” Sheila is part of the Auraria Historical Advisory Council and strives to educate as many as she can about this story of gentrification.
One of the professors leading the excavation is Dr. Gene Wheaton from CCD’s Anthropology Department. He shared how the articles would explain to others how the people lived and tell their story. Students are just unaware they are walking through what was once Denver’s oldest neighborhood. He hopes they find artifacts to fill a museum to educate people on an important part of Denver history.
When asked why he was so adamant about getting the site excavated, he looked around the site and at students walking by. With a look of determination, he replied, “Because most of them don’t know.”
Respected community leader and educator, Virginia Castro, was also present during the healing ceremony. She supports the dig, placing artifacts in a museum and believes the excavation is just like digging up data. When asked what she hopes will happen from the excavation project she was optimistic. “I think good things are already happening. The students are enjoying themselves and they're learning a lot. I think this is just one more thing that brings the displaced peoples back to life, so to speak. You know, the fact that that they're coming to the campus and getting involved with us and talking about how we can memorialize the people that were forced out of there.”
Castro believes the museum should be an important portion of that education. When asked where the museum might be, she excitedly shared, “We're at the point right now, just waiting, to see which space we're going to get.”
She hopes the museum will be large enough to have a welcome center to assist descendants of displaced Aurarians to get connected with the scholarships. Virginia also believes the research and artifacts found come become a type of curriculum that would be available to incoming students. “New students that come on the campus, they will be able to access history of what happened on campus or in that space and everybody will eventually know the history of the campus and the people that lived there.”
Being a kid in the 90s, especially a girl, is an almost guarantee that you’d be following along in Gwen Stefani’s rise to pop-punk fashion and fame. At the time, Gwen’s act gave girls the permission to act out and own their own idiosyncrasies, to use it to rebel in style. Over the decades in music and fashion, she polished away much of the edginess that she embraced as a young musician. Nadia MacKinnon grew up watching Gwen. She too eventually entered the fashion industry, yet, in contrast, has only matured further into the eclectic self-ownership modeled by Stefani to her as a teenager.
Nadia now operates the 90s-aesthetic resale shop Strawberry Mountain, located in the Santa Fe Arts District, using it as a platform to champion her vision of what fashion can and should be. She is part of the sustainable and norm-breaking Slow Fashion movement.
Strawberry Mountain opened in Jan of 2021 (when masking was in full force and vaccines were barely available), and through the highs and lows of creating a secondhand fashion business, she has a hard-won sense of reality of what it takes to build something worthwhile. Still the stylish rebel dreams of a hopeful teenager are thriving within her, vivid and bright.
“I want people to feel successful, to be empowered to be their best self. I want people to be healthy. I want people to be supported and feel supported. I kind of have this utopian mindset in my mind that whatever I can do to get closer to that kind of utopia in my own personal reality, I’ll do it.” Visiting Strawberry Mountain and meeting Nadia is to experience the weight and sincerity behind her vision of fashion and community.
Often Slow Fashion gets defined in juxtaposition of its opposite, Fast Fashion. If Fast Fashion is about corporate success, Slow Fashion is about taking care of the community. If fast is about making money, slow is about anti-consumerism. Fast is wasteful, slow is sustainable.
Kate Fletcher, the design and sustainability expert who coined the term, in more positive terms defines it as “designing, producing, consuming and living better. Slow Fashion is not time-based but quality-based… a different approach in which designers, buyers, retailers and consumers are more aware of the impacts of products on workers, communities and ecosystems… Slow Fashion is about choice, information, cultural diversity and identity.”
Slow Fashion in all its forms gathers about it a deeply sensed intentionality about our place in relationship with each other and to the world. It begins at sustainability and takes into consideration a more holistic view of fashion consumerism.
Nadia’s upbringing was maximally conducive to a life in fashion and the arts. As a toddler she had already begun to tastefully put together her own outfits. Her father was a photography enthusiast, a dedicated documentarian parent with camcorder always to hand. Though shy with other kids, she learned to love the lens, always posing, smiling, and hamming it up for the camera.
All the adults closest to her knew how to sew. Mom, Dad, and Grandma were always mending stitches and sewing patches, so at around eight years old she too picked up the practice. Transitioning into her teenage years, she was enrolled into a private school. “I definitely was the girl who got in trouble for showing midriff or having spikes on my belt or just little things that were technically contraband or ‘illegal’ at school.” Her teenage boundary pushing, encouraged by a variety of musical influences beyond just Gwen Stefani, has remained strongly encoded in her DIY fashion DNA.
In college she initially majored in dance and business. After transferring to a fashion degree, she studied abroad in Italy under teachers who, as their day jobs, worked for established fashion houses such as Roberto Cavalli. A pivotal moment in her education was when she was assigned to do an upcycle fashion show. Like in Master Chef, her teachers revealed the thrifted materials they were to work with and then told the students to “Take what you want and make a line.”
Through a series of serendipitous jobs at resale clothing companies, she grew, leveraging her natural confidence, and earned experience to start Strawberry Mountain where she has preserved that edgy punk thread of teenage yester-year into the vision she has of her business. “It is my personal belief and mission to slow down fashion because clearly it is a huge problem. 99% of our inventory, if not more, is affordable. That’s going to be a fraction of the price that you could find somewhere else, and again that's to combat fast fashion and make sure that people have places that they can shop both locally and sustainably.”
Many clothing companies do their diligence to Slow Fashion in their sustainability practices in the clothes they produce. Strawberry Mountain encapsulates the slowest elements of Slow Fashion, not producing new clothing at all in favor of reselling clothes that otherwise would have ended up in the garbage.
The secondhand fashion industry puts resale at the forefront as a more impactful principle. “If I want to make a difference and actually slow down fashion, I need to compete with what those fast fashion prices are. If I'm going to offer you a sweater, but you can get the same sweater for, you know, a quarter of the price at H&M, you’re probably going to buy that one.”
Nadia pushes this agenda with a store that features clothes in all sizes, all styles, and trends, but the shop itself oozes with the nostalgic 90s vibes that she knows so well. Every corner maintains pre-millennium intentionality and integrity. Soft pastel tones adorn the walls upon which are hung era appropriate prints and posters (think of sharply jaw lined models wearing blazers with shoulder-pads alongside a warm Disney welcome from Mickey and the gang).
On the famous First Friday Art Walks on Santa Fe, she uses the space to give a platform to local artists. Every third Thursday of the month she clears the racks from the floor to make room for a community yoga class. Her blog features educational pieces that encourage smart and intentional consumption. She gives a portion of her profits monthly to local charities (e.g. Planned Parenthood and Denver Community Fridges). The space itself smells of strawberry incense! Every detail is created to welcome and support a wide community of mindful fashion enthusiasts.
Nadia at heart remains “just a girl in the world,” but continues to persevere and grow this dream of people together—beautiful, stylish people—supporting each other in a world sustained by what we love, in this case, no doubt, by what we choose to wear.
When I learned I’d be interviewing Tyler Raymond – described only to me as a Marine and current journalism student – about his 57 days in Ukraine, I expected to find myself across from the repetitive image of a bearded politically former military far-right activist, overflowing in opinions I’d have to tight lip my way through. However, the egregious caricature my paranoia concocted could not have been further from the long-haired, leather-briefcase-carrying model (no, really, he’s a signed model.) who would later tell me he wishes his name was James because, “no one can pronounce ‘Tyler.’ When I travel, everybody knows how to pronounce James.”
As far as first impressions go, the 26-year-old Mississippi native harbors an enviable amount of license. Eight years have passed since he joined the Marine Corps as an infantryman and left his hometown of Gulfport. In that time, he has trained ally militaries in Eastern Europe, deployed to Afghanistan as a private military contractor, traveled through Peruvian Amazonia – “I went there to try ayahuasca, for the story” – climbed the Andes, spent two months as a deckhand on an Alaskan fishing boat, and earlier this year, he volunteered in the Ukrainian war effort.
Tyler’s youthful, Kerouacian predisposition to seek and lunge at any opportunity that offers the chance for a new adventure carries an undercurrent of orphan malcontent, too ancient to stabilize itself within the 26-year-old it vexes.
There is a matter of fact marionetting to what Tyler allows himself to confess – a tried-and-true protective maneuver that serves as conversational guiderails, positioning him in line with indisputable facts and related necessary evils. His opinions are unimposing, and his tone is an energetic modulation without so much as a heavy A to corroborate his southern origins. His storytelling is focused on the intricacies of being a Marine, and the pride he carries as a former infantryman (the Eagle, Globe and Anchor he was given after graduating bootcamp in 2015 has a permanent spot above his ever-migrating fireplace).
Almost as if he can sense my preconceived image of who I’d be speaking to, Tyler makes it a point to tell me, “I am not the super American patriotic man. I’m not saying I hate this country. I still think we have a few things we can work on, but I think we’re privileged to be able to have the right to work on those things.” In illustrating his point, he references the ongoing murders of Iranian protesters who – as Tyler puts it – are only demanding basic freedoms.
He begins to tell me about how enthusiastic people around him were – people who were “otherwise big hippies” – when they learned he planned to volunteer in the early days of the Ukrainian-Russian war. “You know, it’s interesting,” he muses, pulling his hair (which he refuses to cut) from his face. “People supported the hell out of me going over there to fight and potentially kill. I wonder what makes people say that, like, ‘this is good’ and being okay participating in this versus…really anything else of the same caliber. I’m not saying it’s bad to kill people in war,” he continues, glancing up at me, “but I’m not saying it’s good, either.”
“You know,” says Tyler, gradually becoming more Tyler the Person – and less Tyler the Marine– as our conversation continues, “I went to Ukraine because it was the right thing to do. That’s the only reason I have. It was the right thing to do.”
I ask him what else he’s done with only this moral sense as justification for action, and when he tells me he tries to live his life in such a way that he’s always acting on the right thing, I catch a veneer of faithlessness creeping behind his ambition – the kind that suggests a conflict of the internal sort; a budding metamorphosis that hasn’t yet communicated to its host that the only way out is through. There are no missiles or rocket launchers conflict like this one – one of the conscience – and I can’t help but wonder if Tyler has begun the necessary exploration into enemy lines.
I ask Tyler what’s next for him and watch him immediately perk up with the opportunity to talk about the future. It’s kind of his thing.
“You said you ‘still have loose ends to tie up in Ukraine.’ Are you going back?”
“If I do, it’s as a humanitarian only. I don’t want to go over there fighting and end up dying. I’m working toward a good life now. I want to keep traveling, sure, but I don’t need a war zone to go do crazy stuff around the globe and tell stories about it. So that’s what’s next, you know? Get my degree, keep traveling, and write about all the places I go to,” Tyler says, calmer now than he’d been at any point earlier in the interview. “Just be a journalist and tell stories about places people wouldn’t normally go to or experience.”
He is searching for an answer to fill the gap between doing the right thing and living with the consequences that occupy the underbelly of what exists on the other side of that intoxicating honor code. Much like the subject of his favorite novel, All Quiet on the Western Front, Tyler is a young man in the throes of his own evolution – holding in one hand his fragmented patriotism, and with the other, he is reaching beyond civilian boundaries, hungrily grabbing at an ideal only he can define through empirical story telling.
This story telling, Tyler tells me as I close my notebook and stop the recording, is how he plans to keep fighting.
Open and bright, with sunlight streaming through windows onto stairs winding between levels of floors. The welcoming bookstore is warm and comfy. Colorful books line every shelf and table in sight, and despite the sprawling amount of space present, it somehow manages to feel close and secluded, with reading nooks and lounging corners tucked away in different spots throughout the store.
People stream in and out all day. It’s busy. Any bookworm would be happy to spend time lost in their reading amid a place like this. It’s clearly a hotspot for readers and writers alike. The Tattered Cover has the atmosphere anyone would want in any classic old bookstore.
Denver’s Tattered Cover Bookstore, one of the nation’s largest independent bookstore chains, celebrated its 50th year anniversary this year. And yet, it seems like it’s just the beginning due to new ownership and new surprising areas of growth.
The bookstore has persevered through the competition from digital expansion and online media, and now it’s expanding beyond Denver. Yet despite being rivaled by the world of online expansion, it is growing in business, and excitedly enough, it may be partially thanks to a new growth from flourishing youthful interest in the establishment.
In fact, just this past June, the Tattered Cover opened its first official location outside of Denver in Colorado Springs. For a bookstore that has deep roots here, this is exciting, and raises the question of how an independent chain is doing so well even after a global pandemic and a transition in ownership.
According to a recent article from The Denver Post, this blossoming expansion is mainly due to local support. CEO Kwame Spearman said that the Tattered Cover’s growth is thanks to the pleasant experiences of customers and the love of supporting local businesses that Coloradans possess.
This is undoubtedly important and appears to be true if we go by the independent culture craze in Colorado’s city hubs. However, a deeper look at the support of Tattered Cover may reveal to us another possible perspective on why it’s been so successful in recent years.
It has to do with young people’s passion for nostalgia.
A recent article from Business Insider on the bookstore’s expansion, cited the ever-increasing statistics of book sales in the US, and how it appeared to be the youth of today driving the growth.
Bookstore chains are becoming fashionably cool again, thanks to the nostalgia-obsessed Millennials and Gen Z trendsetters online. This romanticization of the times that preceded the digital age and offered a more simplistic lifestyle is giving life to old school entertainment attractions such as enjoying physical bookstores like the Tattered Cover.
Upon visiting one of the bookstore’s locations, to find out if the frequent visitors felt that this was the case, it was clear that the general crowd regularly passing through the store was comprised of younger people.
One regular said, "I think it's a good mix of children and maybe some middle-aged, some older people..." This was coming from Brinda, a long-term customer of the Tattered Cover, and a member of an older generation. Her observations were the result of frequenting the store she described as having "a bright atmosphere."
So, perhaps the demographic has more often been mixed? Consisting of people of all ages? Have families and the elderly also been drawn to the warm, homey feel of Tattered Cover? It would be likely.
However, another key bit of insight came from two high school students, Adella and Sylvia, absorbed in their studies tucked into a sequestered corner of the store.
“I come here like every single day for lunch and get a tea while I do homework or whatever,” one of the students said. “It’s really nice here. I like it,” the other student added.
Both students thought they observed more people their age coming to the store.
It was interesting thing to note, just after these comments were made, a flock of college and high school students flew in to settle on different perches around the store. Instead of populating their campus libraries and studying at home, they had chosen to meet up for homework and reading sessions at the Tattered Cover instead.
In fact, more than one Tattered Cover bookstore location was seen to host youths who had taken up their spots in the in-store corners to study and enjoy their reading.
Whether they are the driving force behind the Tattered Cover’s expansion or not, it was something pleasant to see, especially when taking into consideration how dramatically large the impact of the Internet and online reading have been on bookstores.
But if the observations made by Business Insider and other sources are accurate, and if there truly is a correlation between escalating book sales and the nostalgia-inspired trends that have overtaken the younger generations today, then it would only make sense for the Tattered Cover to become a hotspot.
Though in the end, what matters most is that there are still bookstores being populated by people from newer generations. It matters that bookstores like the Tattered Cover are still growing, because in the wake of the new digital era, not every independent company that prioritizes the relevance of physical media will remain as strong as they used to.
If it’s nostalgia keeping places like this alive, then we can hope the trend continues. And in the mean time, cheers to the lively expansion of Colorado’s iconic bookstore!
We craned our necks and watched as a Russian cruise missile cut through the late March sky overhead and exploded into a building that sat an unnervingly modest distance ahead of our small convoy, snarled in traffic. In the blink of an eye, the building became yet another innocent casualty of Russia’s guilty march through Ukraine.
Our convoy held a band of battle-hardened American combat veterans returning from a Ukrainian mission. Each of us had made the journey from the States to help after hearing about the Russian invasion and to bear witness to the destruction.
This is a story about my journey from Colorado to the Eastern Front, and how the time I spent as a volunteer in the Ukrainian war challenged my belief system and shaped how I’ll approach helping defensive nations in conflicts to come.
Less than a month earlier, I had been a bartender living in Fort Collins, Colorado, where I’d spent the last two years, following my discharge from military service.
On February 23rd, 2022, I was sitting in a downtown bar, scrolling through my phone when I saw the news. After months of escalating tensions, Russia had invaded Ukraine. In an instant, all plans I had for that evening – and the foreseeable future – shifted. I wanted to help.
As a former Marine Corps Infantryman, I was competent in armed combat and tactical strategies. I imagined the Ukrainian military would need volunteers, and a United States Marine is a skilled asset in any battle.
My decision to help in Ukraine might seem instantaneous, but that was hardly the case. After the 2014 Crimean Crisis when Russia invaded and then annexed the Crimea peninsula of Ukraine, I was deployed to Eastern Europe with the mission to train the United States’ Eastern European allies for a possible Russian invasion. I had firsthand experience with Russia-Ukraine relations, and I’d kept up with the news. I knew this was coming.
Sitting at the bar, I immediately began contacting former Marines I’d served with through a Facebook group chat on my phone.
I told them I was going to Ukraine, and if anyone wanted to come, they should let me know. I knew they’d feel the same way I did about the invasion and were equipped with the same skill set and desire to defend the defenseless as me.
While I finished my drink, their replies started to come in. As circumstances would have it, most of the group could not go. They cited new, more civilian priorities of life after the military: their careers, their families, and if I had to guess, enjoying good lives away from conflict. Of course, I understood.
But I was more than pleased to learn by the end of the night, two of my old friends, Mike and Andy, would be joining me in Ukraine.
Mike is a firefighter, and fortunately, he was able to put his job on hold until he returned from volunteering. Andy is a celebrity bodyguard in his home state of California. He gave his notice hours after committing to Ukraine.
A number of veterans maintain a network which enables them to stay in touch with fellow warfighters around the world. Andy is one of these veterans, and utilizing various outlets, he put me in contact with individuals already in Ukraine, who were forming an organization that would aid in the Ukrainian effort. Thus, we became a three-man team, and focused on planning our mission.
We kept the mission simple. Mike and I would leave the second week of March, and Andy would meet us there by the end of the month. Since Ukraine did not have any commercial flights, we’d fly into Warsaw, Poland, then travel across the Polish-Ukrainian border into western Ukraine.
Once across the border, we would connect with an outfit of a little less than a thousand former veterans like us who were forming an organization to help in Ukraine. I was able to secure a spot for my team within the organization, making Mike, Andy, and I first-day members of the task force.
With foreign accommodations confirmed, the next thing we had to prepare was our cover story. The story needed to explain our travels to anyone who might challenge us, and we agreed that if we were probed about the business of our travel, we would reasonably tell them we were backpacking around Poland.
This cover story was necessary due to intel we’d received, alerting us to Russian spies in all major European airports, on the lookout for Westerners like us who were traveling to Ukraine to help fight against Russia. Because of this, using this cover story was a very real possibility and we all needed to be on the same page. I even carried a book about backpacking through Poland.
I was with friends the night before my flight left for Eastern Europe. My friends didn’t want me to leave. One friend had asked if I was sure, and said I was going to go potentially die for another country. The duty I felt toward the cause was more important than my comfort. I knew the risk, but it was the right thing to do, and when I told my friends I’d see them in a few months, there was a part of me that wondered if that were true. Would I make it back?
The flight to Warsaw was uneventful. When I landed, I met up with Mike at the airport and contacted my organization to let them know we’d arrived in Poland. They instructed us to make our way to one of their designated safe houses and stay there for the night before traveling over the border.
It was dark when we caught a cab and gave the driver the address of the safe house, where we stayed for about twelve hours before the bus that would take us to Ukraine arrived. It would take us almost 12 hours to get to Lviv, Ukraine, which functioned as a hub for international fighters, humanitarians, and journalists because of its proximity to the Polish border.
We were activated to fight the first day we arrived in Lviv. However, I was waiting on body armor. I wouldn’t go to the front without protection, so I had to stay in Lviv and spent the next two weeks organizing my gear and aiding in humanitarian work.
We collected supplies for hospitals, refugees, and frontline soldiers. Medical stock was hard to come by, so we took as much of whatever we could get our hands on, packed it up and sent it off to the front lines where it was needed most.
We gathered supplies for ourselves, too – things like food, tools, optics and attachments for our weapons and protection. Anything that might increase our odds of making it out alive.
Because vehicles in Poland were more reliable than they were in Ukraine, the head of the organization, myself and another teammate went to Poland to get some more vehicles for our use. We arrived in Poland by train, but traveled back to the Polish-Ukrainian border in a white van we’d managed to secure.
While returning from Poland, we knew we had to stay calm, but alert.
Shortly after we crossed into Lviv, a cruise missile hit the factory right in front of us. Lviv was far from the front and the worst of the fighting, but it was still Ukraine, and therefore a target for cruise missiles, drone- and airstrikes. Every night, the air raid alarms would scream at least twice every hour. The barrage was constant.
We decided offering our aid was more important than a timely vehicle delivery, and we took off, weaving through European traffic in the direction of the destruction. By the time we reached the location of the cruise missile strike, the chaos was under control. Local police and EMTs had arrived. They were busy consoling their community and with no casualties I could see, they sent us back to the highway.
Shortly after returning the vehicles to our organization, we were able to take an opportunity to go to a town in Northern Ukraine to train the Ukrainian military, as well as the police unit and the town militia for war.
When we reached the location, we learned that we would be training a few hundred people, many of whom had never held a gun. We had to teach them how to stand, how to shoot, how to move together and even how to move together without shooting each other.
Fortunately, the local police chief and his deputy both had experience in war, and they taught the hundreds of others alongside my team. It was only a few weeks before Mike, Andy and I have to stop being teachers and begin moving to the front to take part in the fighting. We’d grown fond of the men we were training, and we were sad to leave them. Our departure to the East was bittersweet.
On our way to the front, my team picked up some more volunteers from within our organization, taking us to a bigger squad of a little under a dozen men.
Our plan was for this new squad to travel to the southern front and stop the Russian offensive pushing into Ukraine. Due to logistical challenges of transportation, we had to split into two groups: Group 1, led by Mike, and Group 2, led by Andy and me. We decided that Group 1 would leave right away, and Group 2 would leave a week later, when transportation became available.
However, before transportation for Group 2 could arrive, an American liaison from the Ukrainian government approached our seven-man squad and invited us to form our own military unit so we might work with the Ukrainian Special Operations Forces (the Ukrainian Special Forces) in Eastern Ukraine. The opportunity to form our own unit and fight alongside the Ukrainian SOF wasn’t something we could pass up. We took the liaison’s offer, and we made our way to eastern Ukraine.
When we reached the eastern front, we arrived in our target location: a town rife with Russian sympathizers with no consideration that the destruction surrounding them was orchestrated by the neighboring country so many of the town’s citizens praised.
The town was near the Russian border. Because of this, it was under constant artillery barrages, air strikes, missile fire, and drone surveillance. For the same reasons, the location was strategic to the Ukrainian military – they wanted to use this town as a staging area from which to deploy missions.
Our mission in this town, with the Ukrainian SOF, was to redress the balance of the conflict – taking Ukraine from a constant state of defense and helping to push them into a more offensive position. This would require unrelenting, advancing combat against Russian tanks and armored vehicles.
The Russian attacks came primarily during the night, making sleep a gamble. We typically slept about five hours each night, napping throughout the day when we were able. I never knew if artillery and missiles were going to hit the building I was sleeping in, and I was in a constant undertow of weariness, only partially sleeping, my mind beset with a scenario where Russians broke through the lines and I’d have to shoot awake, grab my rifle, and fight them off.
I developed a psychological system for dealing with this threat: If any glass broke in the buildings that my group and I were in, then that meant impact was close – too close – and I needed to get up from wherever I was sleeping and make my way to a safe area. If glass didn’t break, I could stay where I was sleeping. And if artillery or missiles hit my location while I was asleep and killed me, then dealing with that threat – or any other – would no longer be my problem.
We had received a supply of rocket-propelled grenade launchers, as well as American supplied rockets and equipment my organization was well-versed in: powerful anti-armor AT4s; one-shot, anti-tank M72 LAWs, as well as a few Javelin missiles. Because I had Marine Corps training and active combat experience using rockets of this caliber, I volunteered to carry them for my team.
It was in this town that the zeal my team and I felt during the earlier days of our time in Ukraine began to fade. This was due, more than anything, to the Ukrainian commander, Borysko, whose command we found ourselves under.
He was a thirty-something man of average height and build, with flat dark hair, a goatee that stretched down his chin, and thick fingers that tented around his mouth whenever he was irritated or thinking or both.
Borysko spoke some English, and combat, to him, was “going to work.” He was pridefully bull-headed and illogical, forcing his men to patrol at night, despite knowing they were blinded by the dark and without night vision (in contrast, the Russians had night vision capabilities, and Borysko knew this, too).
While he was perfectly content to let me carry the rockets, he only allowed his Ukrainian soldiers to fire them, telling me, “Ukraine needs to learn.” For that, I can’t fault him too much. However, he argued that we were doing things wrong in our areas of expertise and would routinely delay training until we did whatever it was his way – which was old-fashioned, Soviet, and dangerous.
To him, we were just subordinates; we had no expertise. This shocked my organization of Westerners. The Ukrainian SOF, the training ensemble near Lviv, and nearly every soldier we’d encountered prior to Borysko had all been eager to learn Western fighting techniques and develop their tactical warfare skills through our charge. They embraced us.
Yet Borysko seemed almost annoyed that we – a group of primarily Americans, Canadians, and English – were there. He had seen combat before, in the Ukrainian Army, but had volunteered to return after the Russian invasion. I respected him for that but was confused by his inconsideration that my team was much like him: volunteering to fight against the Russian invasion.
But, he kept intel from us. With a Soviet military mentality, he believed that the only individual who needed to know where the enemy was at any given time was the commander. I told him that’s how people get killed, and not something myself or any member of my team trained in Western warfare could deem tactically sound.
Despite the internal tensions, we improvised with Ukrainian supplied Avtomat Kalashnikova rifles (that’s what “AK” is short for; now you know), made do without night vision, and tried to stay focused on our mission. We worked with the Ukrainian SOF, did our best to train and practice with Borysko’s soldiers without his disruption, and confronted invading Russians throughout the day.
We used the rockets for hit-and-run attacks: blitzing the enemy forces, hitting our targets, and then getting the hell out of there. It was nerve-racking.
It was at this time that Borysko insisted his soldiers needed experience, and to allow them to fire the rockets during hit-and-run efforts. I obliged, and we continued these operations in the coming weeks, progressively migrating to a nearby town where we could utilize the natural concealment of forests and buildings, lessening our exposure when firing rockets at enemy tanks and armored vehicles.
No matter how many rockets we fired and Russian conveyances we destroyed, we were still wildly outnumbered, and my team watched as Borysko reacted by growing increasingly erratic and careless.
I was frustrated. Me, my friends, and so many others were volunteering in an effort that could cost us our lives, and this Ukrainian commander continued to force us into unnecessarily risky scenarios as if we were irritating him by helping, and giving our professional tactical advice. In his mind, it was as if we were just disobedient war volunteers and rebellious subordinates, rather than proven, successful (you’re successful if you don’t die), combat veterans. It didn’t make sense.
It was at this time that I began to lose trust in the Ukrainian leadership around us. I watched as morale declined and close calls that could have been avoided became a daily occurrence. When news of the next mission arrived, I had decided I was going to leave.
Borysko called anyone who left a “coward”, and I was sure I’d be no different. I asked Andy to come (Mike was still in the trenches on the southern front), but he still had hope that Borysko would adopt our tactical methods.
I realized I would be of a better service to Ukrainian citizens by offering humanitarian aid, and I wasn’t going to die in Ukraine because of the poor leadership of an egomaniacal commander. There is uncertainty in any war, but this was too much.
And…I was behind on bills.
The Journey Back
Within days of deciding I would leave, an unexpected and very fortunate supply delivery arrived at our base. I saw my chance and I took it. I asked the delivery drivers – an elderly Ukrainian couple – if I could catch a ride back west with them, and they welcomed me.
They didn’t speak English, and I only speak a little Ukrainian, so I used Google Translate to communicate with them. After 14 hours of driving interrupted by aggressive checkpoints (where the barrel of a gun was often pointed in my face by nervous Ukrainian guards, and I wasn’t sure if I was going to get shot), the couple dropped me off at the train station, which would be hit with a missile the day after I left.
I boarded a train back to Lviv, staying for one night in the hotel above the train station where refugees slept anywhere, they could – the lobby, the hallways, on couches and mostly the floor. They were victims in all this, and they had floors for beds. I felt bad; I’d chosen to come here – the refugees didn’t – and I was in my own room.
The next day, I left my gear – including the kit I brought with me – at one of my organization’s safe houses and I delivered what remaining medical supplies I had to local hospitals and soldiers on their way to the front.
I eventually secured a ride to the Warsaw airport and boarded a sleepless flight back to the states, leaving a total of 57 days in Ukraine behind me.
Upon my return home to Fort Collins, I was part relieved, part detached – I didn’t feel like I was really back, but I didn’t feel like I was in Ukraine anymore, either.
I kept to myself for my first few weeks back in Colorado, and when I began to reintegrate into ‘normal’ life, I started reaching out to my friends again. Many of them confessed they’d been worried for me, and unsure if they’d ever see me again – they joked that they couldn’t believe they new someone who “just volunteers in wars in their spare time.” Some called me a hero, and one friend in particular – someone I would never expect to say such a thing – told me, “You’re a good human. For going over there to kill bad humans, I mean. It was a worthy cause.”
As for my thoughts, I still grapple with the reality that I did this. I can’t speak on how it’s going to end in Ukraine, but I know that what I did was principaled. If I ever go back, my plan is to stick to offering humanitarian aid and training the military.
It seems like a movie in the way that war – for most Americans, especially – is a traditionally foreign affair, and yet here I am, having fought in two separate wars before age 26. In both of those wars, I’ve made it back home. I consider that a pretty lucky statistic, and it forces me to admit to myself that I do not need to continue doing this.
But…if not me, then who else?
We live in a world made up moral ambiguities, which seems to only fuel the battle between good and evil. It is one thing to notice this, be upset for a moment, and change the channel. It is an entirely different thing to notice this, and in doing the honorable thing, take action.
I know that my skillset is a unique one – save my brothers of war – and I will always answer the call to act against injustices, whether it comes from Ukraine, Africa, or anywhere else in the world.
No matter how we act, I firmly believe that it is important to do so. It through action that we keep evil at bay.
After going live on YouTube for the first time, I got this message welcoming me to the world of Youtube creators. I was now officially a YouTuber!
I plan to inform my fellow students about my recent journey of becoming a YouTuber.
My journey started out as any other viewer on the YouTube platform, searching for informal videos, music videos and how to do-it-yourself videos.
On the memorable day of July 28, 2016, I was playing a Playstation 4 game called “Grand Theft Auto 5 (GTA5)” with a few of my friends. One of my buddies suggested an idea to me that would forever change my life. He said that I should start a YouTube channel.
He pointed out that I have more knowledge of the game than any of us within and without our friends list. He told me I could make benefits and profits from YouTube by uploading my “GTA5” gameplay to the platform.
I thought this was a great idea.
I started to do my own research on the YouTube platform about how to become a YouTuber and how to start making profits on their platform. I learned from my research that I needed the proper equipment and needed to gain an audience of 1,000 subscribers and 4,000 hours of watch time to my own channel to earn any special dividends.
My first thought was ‘How in the world am I to build an audience of that size and get that many people to watch my channel?’
I remembered a book that I had read written by Napoleon Hill called, “Think and Grow Rich.” This was the book that taught me to give something to receive a thing of equal value that I desired. That nothing is given without something being given in return.
I knew that I was an original player (OG) that started within the early days of “GTA5” back in 2013 upon the release date. I could teach newbie players (noobs) on how to become an OG. I notice that my buddy was right, I do have the expertise that I would even pay for to use within our gameplay.
After doing some more research, I learned that I already had some of the proper equipment to start a YouTube channel like a Playstation 4, a television and a phone.
While I thought that was all I needed was to upload a video. I quickly learned that I needed to fill out some paperwork.
I had to sign up for the YouTube partner program (YPP). Submit my identification card (ID) and give them my Social Security Number (SSN). There is an age requirement to be at least 18 years of age.
Then I waited patiently for a response to see if I am eligible for the YPP. While I waited for a response. I tried to upload a video to YouTube. But it said I had to wait at least 24 hours before uploading a video.
YouTube was making me become a patient, adaptive person and I did not even realize it at first. Once I was notified by the YPP, they let me know that I was accepted, but now I had to sign up for the Google AdSense Program (GAP).
The GAP required a banking account and routing number for me to become eligible for their program. This was to ensure if I earned any special dividends I could be properly compensated.
I also had to go to the DMV (also known as Division of Motor Vehicles) to get an ID, go to the Social Security Administration Office to get my social security number and go to the bank to create an account.
It was admittedly a bit tedious and overwhelming journey, but I followed through to its happy conclusion.
I had become a real YouTuber!
Since making this journey, I have really enjoyed becoming a YouTuber. My buddies and I have fun making content and going back to rewatch our past uploads and call each other out on points we would like to make to each other.
I really love to entertain my subscribers and they entertain me too by coming and spending their time and money with me. I enjoy our conversations and appreciate them being there for me when I need someone to talk to. There is always a subscriber around to talk to me when I go live.
Because of YouTube, I have a second income and I'm becoming financially stable and able to buy the things that I need for me and my family.
Becoming a YouTuber has been a great experience and an awesome opportunity for me. I believe that anyone that truly has the ambition to become a YouTuber will find that the subscribers are great and while there are always some bad viewers, it's worth the trip.