DENVER — While on active duty from 1995 to 2005, one of Michael Gropper's missions was stabilization, clean-up and protection of New York City after 9/11.
"I was running on the boardwalk in Brooklyn that morning and I could see the smoke,” Gropper said. “We secured tunnels, bridges and roads. Everybody was locked and loaded. Combat gear and everything."
Today, he's found renewed purpose as head chef and owner of Full Battle Rattle Deli.
"It makes me feel good,” Gropper said. “It makes me feel like I have a reason to be."
Not all veterans are so lucky after discharge.
"They’re back and saying, ‘I just got out of the military. I have no sense of purpose or mission of belonging,’ and that causes depression," Gropper said.
So, it's no surprise to Gropper and others, that all across America, small groups of U.S. veterans are gearing up, quite literally, to join the fight in Ukraine.
"It's like a rally cry and it's not just veterans from here,” Gropper said. “I've been listening to vets from the UK and from Ireland and from other democratic countries who are saying, 'There's an injustice being done here.' We're defending our ideals and beliefs."
While he says he can't speak for every veteran, Gropper said his years in the military condition service members into a "greater sense of good that's part of us."
“And you have these veterans saying, ‘We’re going to go and we’re going to support the Ukrainian people with their fight.’ It makes a lot of sense to me because now, when you get out of the military, you lose that sense of purpose and mission. I think that’s one of the biggest struggles.”
"There's veterans out there who think this is just wrong. These people need help and we're going to go do it,” said U.S. Army veteran Jeffrey Pitchford.
Pitchford is the commander of Denver's American Legion Post 1.
"The first and the oldest in Colorado," Pitchford said of his Post.
Pitchford says it's almost in a soldier's DNA to jump at a chance like this to defend democracy.
"Ukrainians want their freedom,” Pitchford said. “They are a democratic nation. There is corruption, but that exists even in democracies. And if there's something not balanced and veterans have the ability to join forces, I fully believe that's the American way. That’s the American soldier."
"When we have an opportunity to stand-up for the underdog - or stand up for what's right - we're going to do that," Gropper said.
A calling to serve and a hunger to join a righteous fight.
In addition to providing medical aid, soldiers have been running rescue missions to get Ukrainian civilians away from the fighting.
The plea came last week from Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy for foreigners to join the fight against the invasion by joining a volunteer battalion.