Former American special operator died early Thursday morning after being wounded days earlier fighting alongside the Ukrainian military during intense fighting in the eastern frontline town of Bakhmut.
Daniel Swift, 35, has lived mostly in the Pacific Northwest and served as a Navy SEAL. The US Navy said A rolling stone on Friday that Swift is currently designated as an active deserter and has been since March 2019.
Divorced, he leaves behind four children. Swift represents a growing number of US military veterans who have been killed in the past year fighting Russian forces, despite President Biden’s pleas for Americans to stand aside. The news of his death was first reported by TIME magazine.
Adam Tiemann – Former US Army Ranger who previously fought Ukraine with Swift and kept in touch with his platoon through phone calls and late-night text messages – said A rolling stone that during an operation in Bakhmut on the night of January 14 and early morning of January 15, Russian forces fired an anti-personnel rocket-propelled grenade at Swift and two other soldiers, knocking them down.
A US intelligence official who first spoke A rolling stone of Swift’s death said he suffered a massive brain injury and died early Thursday morning. The official asked not to be named because he was not authorized to speak publicly.
Thiman wrote on Facebook that Ukrainian troops are doing everything they can to keep Swift alive, but their resources are exhausted as they try to take in all the wounded.
Swift was left in critical condition with severe head trauma, according to Thiemann, who was not in surgery at the time but was informed by his platoon mates. The other two soldiers are stable and recovering.
Connect with A rolling stoneSwift’s sister confirmed his death but declined to make a statement on behalf of the family.
For months, intense fighting around the small town of Bakhmut in Ukraine’s Donetsk region has looked more like a World War I battlefield than the insurgency of the post-9/11 era.
Ukrainian soldiers fight from trenches as waves of Russian troops and hired guns from the Wagner Group – a nominally private military company run by Putin confidant Yevgeny Prigozhin – attack open ground. This war of attrition is raw and ugly as skirmishes rage for hours amid heavy artillery bombardment. Success is measured in dirt stains and whether someone has cheated death to see another day.
Retired Lt. Gen. Ben Hodges, who previously served as the head of the U.S. military in Europe, said A rolling stone that Bakhmut had become a test of Prigozhin’s influence in the Russian military hierarchy.
“His mercenary organization PWC Wagner has been focused on this area for months, without much success, putting thousands of Russian soldiers through the ‘meat grinder,'” Hodges said. “His forces consist of PWC Wagner veterans, but include a large percentage who are newly mobilized and poorly trained, in an attempt to overwhelm the Ukrainian defenders with mass.”
He added: “The ability of Ukrainian soldiers to withstand multiple human wave attacks every day, backed up by seemingly endless Russian artillery barrages, is remarkable. It also shows the Ukrainian General Staff that Ukraine can hold off Russian attacks, despite superior numbers of Russian troops, with what they have, albeit at a very high cost. This is important because it will allow Ukraine to build up new forces for a major counteroffensive in the spring, rather than pushing every new soldier or weapon system into the Bakhmut area. The incredible resistance at the tactical level will enable the offensive at the operational level.
White House National Security Council spokesman John Kirby said Friday that the U.S. Treasury Department will impose additional sanctions on the Wagner Group next week and designate the private military company as a transnational criminal organization.
Before he died in Ukraine, Swift joined the U.S. Navy after a high school career in both football and wrestling, according to a memoir posted on Amazon that Swift wrote in August 2020 under what appears to be a pseudonym. The book is called: “The Fall of a Man.”
Ironically, he arrived at boot camp on June 28, 2005, the day of Operation Red Wings in Afghanistan and the subject of the 2013 film Lone Survivor, starring actor Mark Wahlberg. 19 US servicemen died during this operation.
By the time he turned 30, Swift claimed to have served five combat missions in Iraq, Afghanistan and Yemen in 2018. Swift was decorated with medals such as the Legion of Merit and numerous personal and campaign awards. He later served as a police officer for the Washington State Patrol and the Medford Police Department in Oregon.
Yet by April 2019, a felony warrant was issued against Swift for the underlying false imprisonment charge related to his divorce. A Northern District judge set his bail at $250,000. The San Diego County Sheriff’s Department said A rolling stone the order is still active. A month before the US Navy listed him as an active deserter.
Thiman said A rolling stone that when Swift unexpectedly showed up in Irpin, Ukraine, he didn’t have his own equipment, but was still going to operations.
“He only had one uniform … He used duct tape to stick armor plates to his chest and back to go on target until he was given a plate carrier,” Tiemann said. “After our SEAL Team Six guy left, he led our team in Crimea, Severodonetsk and Svyatokhirsk, and continued to lead the team after I left. He was one of the toughest and most tactically skilled men I have ever met.”
Swift served in the same platoon as another volunteer soldier who was killed this past weekend: Canadian citizen Gregory “Greg” Tsechmistrenko, who served as their medic.
“Even though he had no military experience, Greg was one of the best soldiers I’ve ever met,” Tiemann said. “Under constant bombardment by the Russians in Hostomel on the first day of the war, with no rifle, no weapon and little chance of survival, there he was – with only his medicine bag – ready to die for his country. No matter how bad or dark things got, Greg was positive.”
Greg’s father, Vitaly Tsekhmistrenko, said CBC News from Kyiv on Monday that his son “wanted to build a house on the water after the war.” At Gregg’s funeral Friday in Kyiv, the platoon commander said Gregg died trying to save Swift, said Tiemann, who attended the memorial service.
The life of a fighter provides little time to take stock of all that has been lost in wartime. You miss birthdays. You miss wedding anniversaries. Baseball games and dance recitals. The first steps of your child and the warmth of a husband under the cool sheets. Often, foot soldiers are left with divorce and debt. Bad memories and another funeral. And then another one.
Asked how he was dealing with losing friends to the war in Afghanistan and Ukraine, Thiman said: “I’m just tired of it. I want the war to end because the cost will only increase, but even worse I want to stand up for what is right. It’s a really terrible thing that’s happening. It breaks my heart that most people will never understand the depth of their sacrifice and it breaks my heart that they had to make that sacrifice.”
Jim LaPorta covers national security and military affairs. He is a former US Marine and a veteran of the war in Afghanistan. You can follow him on Twitter @JimLaPorta
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