Vet From Ocean County Volunteered To Fight For Ukraine, Turned Down

Barnegat resident Fred Rubenstein attended a recent Barnegat Township Committee meeting. (Photo by Stephanie Faughnan)

  BARNEGAT – Barnegat resident Fred Rubenstein says he’s heartbroken that the Embassy of Ukraine turned down his offer to join the Foreign Legion of Ukraine Defense Forces.

  Apparently, “gray armies” aren’t exactly in demand when it comes to signing up to fighting foreign wars. In the private sector, employers wouldn’t even consider rejecting an application with anything suggestive of ageism.

  “Thank you for volunteering to defend the people and land of Ukraine,” wrote the Embassy of Ukraine in the USA. “After considering your application, we cannot accept it due to your age.”

  An article in the Military Times first prompted Rubenstein to send an email volunteering his services to join the Foreign Legion of Ukraine Defense Forces. An automated response requested particular documentation. When Rubenstein answered, he added that he would pay his own transportation costs to Ukraine and would need just three days’ notice.

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  Three or four days after his submittal, Rubenstein answered his cell phone to the voices of three separate people. One had a Ukrainian accent – the others did not.

  “We were only on the line for six minutes at the most,” Rubenstein said. “One of them raised the factor of my age and asked what I expected to do.”

  After assuring the interviewers he didn’t expect to take on a commando role, Rubenstein explained how he felt he might be the most useful. He thought the interview went well and expected to hear back within a week.

  The ultimate rejection represented a first for 73-year-old Rubenstein, who was certain his experience would prove beneficial. After all, the United States government had no problem with his volunteer services nearly six decades ago.

  “In June of 1966, when I got of high school, I was 17 years old,” shared Rubenstein. “I would have gotten my draft card after my birthday in December of that year. I never got a draft card because I enlisted in October of 1966.”

  “I just decided that this was something I needed to do because I’m American,” Rubenstein continued. “I bask in the protections in the freedom of liberty, and I have to stand up for what I believe in – even though it might be on foreign soil.”

  During his service in Vietnam, Rubenstein participated in rescue missions. While he acknowledged his age might deter from doing the same in Ukraine, he had other ideas.

  For one, Rubenstein’s military service included extensive medical training that started as a hospital medic. He learned to do all types of wound care and assist on surgical procedures.

  When Rubenstein returned to the states, he recognized the value of education and even went to law school. For 49 years, Rubenstein served in the bus industry in both New Jersey and New York. His skills proved invaluable when the planes struck the Twin Towers, and it became critical to transport emergency responders.

  “You never forget how to drive a bus,” said Rubenstein. “We’ve seen caravans of buses in Ukraine. I could have helped drive or organize them.”

  Rubenstein said that Russian President Vladimir Putin’s leadership in the invasion of Ukraine reminded him strongly of another bad time in history. He compared Putin to Hitler, citing atrocities he found to be outrageous.

  First, Rubenstein found it incredulous that the Russian forces claimed they did not realize they were hitting civilian buildings such as a children’s hospital.

  “It’s 2022 and you have weapon systems literally with pinpoint accuracy,” said Rubenstein. “It takes a lot to get me to start bawling, but when I saw them carrying a pregnant woman out, I couldn’t stop.”

  Rubenstein said he was further moved by scenes of bodies dumped into mass graves as parallel to the work of Hitler and the Nazis. He referred to it all as extermination.

  As a child, Rubenstein noticed family pictures of relatives he never met. When he asked about them, he learned they lost their lives in the Holocaust.

  Ironically, Rubenstein suspected the Embassy was turning him down just before he received their email. As he was reading the news online, Rubenstein came across an article about Americans seeking to fight in the war.

  “Half the potential volunteers were quickly rejected and didn’t even make it to the Zoom interview,” Ukraine’s military attaché, Maj. Gen. Borys Kremenetskyi said. “They lacked the required military experience, had a criminal background or weren’t suitable for other reasons such as age, including a 16-year-old boy and a 73-year-old man.”

  Rubenstein strongly suspects he is the 73-year-old man referenced by the Ukrainian general.

  Despite his disappointment that he can’t be there in person, Rubenstein considers himself a man of conviction.

  “Genny (Rubenstein’s wife) and I have decided to make a $5,000 donation to the Ukrainian Defense Force,” said Rubenstein. “It is what’s in our hearts to do.”