Doug Barnett and Jonathan "Monty" Montgomery are two Iraq War veterans who have since left the military and are now employed with the U.S. Postal Service in Malvern.
“I served in Iraq in the first tour in ’03, I was on a Civil Affairs Special Ops team attached to the 101st Airborne,” Barnett said. Barnett was in the initial convoy television viewers saw rolling into the country from Kuwait. Montgomery was a fellow Army corporal who served two tours in Iraq, beginning in 2004.
Barnett and Montgomery often reflect on their time in the military and discuss the current state of military operations around the world, and their conversation as of late always turns to the ongoing Russian invasion of Ukraine.
Ukraine has been in recurrent combat with Russia for almost a decade now, since Russia annexed Crimea back in early 2014 and Russian-backed separatists declared regions of eastern Ukraine to be "independent republics." Russian President Vladimir Putin argued at the time that Ukraine is now and forever part of Mother Russia as weak justification for the annexation, never mind the fact that Ukraine has staunchly fought for independence from Russia since 1917.
Ukraine officially became sovereign from Russia after the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991 and enjoyed a thriving independent economy and culture for decades, before the growing conflict with Russia escalated to all-out war earlier this year.
The two countries had been in an uneasy stalemate until this February, when Putin decided to make it official and sent troops to invade Ukraine, en masse. Barnett and Montgomery have kept a watchful eye on the unfolding events in Ukraine, and both men wished they could help, but their military stints were wrapped up years ago.
“We both served, and this whole thing going on in Ukraine, we wish we could still do something,” Barnett said. “But our military days are pretty much behind us, with age and families and all that.”
“We’ve been talking about this since the war began in February,” Montgomery said. “And when you serve in a conflict and then you see a conflict happening, and you want to help but you can’t go physically, there’s just this drive to find another way to help.”
Barnett and Montgomery aren't the only veterans looking for a way to make a difference. The North American Fellas Organization (NAFO) is a coordinated online effort to fight Russian misinformation and propaganda about the conflict in Ukraine, as well as raise money to aid soldiers on the battlefield.
The NAFO movement began in late May of this year, when Twitter artist @Kama_Kamilia posted an image of a Shiba Inu dog dubbed a "Fella," which was added to an image introducing NAFO. Subsequent social media posts featuring the Fella avatar focused on undermining Russian propaganda efforts, dogging Putin himself, and promoting support for all the troops that are united on the front lines in Ukraine, fighting to end the Russian advance.
“What the Fellas do is, they go after pro-Russian content on Twitter and just, pretty much hammers them until they have to delete their account,” Barnett said.
Shiba Inu memes have been hugely popular online since about 2010, and the NAFO movement found a fast following in the Twitterverse after Kama encouraged others to donate to the soldiers who are fighting for Ukraine.
Soon after posting the first NAFO meme, Kama began creating custom "Fella" avatars for anyone donating money to the Georgian Legion, which is a badass military unit made up mostly of ethnic Georgians and other foreign volunteers, including many American vets.
“The Poles and the Georgians are very passionate about defending Europe and defending against Russia because they’ve seen what’s happened before, you know, with the Russians,” Montgomery said.
The Georgian Legion formed during the initial conflict in 2014 and are now under control of the Ukrainian Army and in the thick of the fight, currently.
"We are united by our desire to stop Russian aggression," said Van Kakviashvili, a Georgian Army veteran who now serves in the Georgian Legion, in a December 2021 interview. "This is our generation's struggle. We have to fight for Ukraine's freedom."
Barnett and Montgomery couldn't agree more. After donating to the Georgian Legion and securing their own Fellas as a way to help the cause, and after buying other items online to otherwise benefit the soldiers on the front lines, they decided they wanted to do more, simply put.
Barnett and Montgomery decided to design a limited-edition Challenge Coin to raise money for the Georgian Legion. Challenge Coins in the military are informal tokens of reward, traditionally given by unit commanders to recognize a soldier's special achievement or exemplary service. The practice of awarding Challenge Coins dates back to the Roman Empire, but the tokens are still coveted by servicemen and -women to this day.
The coins come in all shapes and sizes. Most are pocket-sized but surprisingly hefty tokens, and extremely meaningful to the recipient. Challenge Coins are points of pride for military members, past and present.
And if you’re going out for the evening, be sure to carry the biggest Challenge Coin you’ve been presented—as the serviceman at the bar with the smallest coin, or no coin at all, has to buy the next round.
The rectangular-shaped coins Barnett and Montgomery custom-ordered are a bit larger than a standard business card and of substantial weight. The men obtained permission from an artist in Poland to utilize his original artwork for the endeavor.
On one side, the coins depict a Fella decked out in military gear in the foreground, framed by the blue and yellow colors of the Ukrainian flag and a unique numbering at the Fella's feet. The opposite side depicts the original NAFO logo.
The men ordered 100 coins with the same design and their own unique numbering. Once the coins arrived, Barnett and Montgomery offered them up for auction on Twitter for a brief 24-hour period, minus 10 coins reserved for those associated with the fundraising endeavor.
“We had 100 made and we had them numbered, which, that’s unusual, most of them are not numbered,” Barnett said. They wanted to make the coins special as an extra incentive to bidders, and their attention to detail paid off, big time.
Barnett and Montgomery were able to raise around $10,000 in 24 hours, and both men are thrilled with the outcome and excited to get the funds into the hands of the Georgian Legion, as soon as all donations are officially in the bank.
Barnett and Montgomery got the idea to auction Challenge Coins for charity after perusing the Saint Javelin website, one of many organizations that have sprung up from a common desire to see an end to the Ukrainian conflict.
Saint Javelin started out as a meme gone viral earlier this year, similar to NAFO. The Saint Javelin image depicts a Virgin Mary-like religious figure holding an anti-tank weapon instead of the standard baby Jesus. The weapon she holds is a US-made FGM-148 Javelin, which has reportedly been used in large numbers, and with great success, against Russian forces.
The Saint Javelin meme quickly morphed into merchandise offered on a website that has raised over $1 million, to date, for humanitarian efforts and military forces in Ukraine, namely the Georgian Legion.
The items sold at www.saintjavelin.com gave Barnett and Montgomery the inspiration to create and sell the Challenge Coins for a similar purpose. The website boasts cool designs for stickers, mugs, hats, patches, hoodies, t-shirts, and much more. All proceeds go towards things like humanitarian aid, medical supplies, and first responder equipment, all of which are desperately needed in the current situation.
Barnett and Montgomery have both purchased items on the Saint Javelin website, including the Army-green Georgian Legion t-shirts they wore for the accompanying picture. The shirts and other items available are of excellent quality, but the men are thrilled that the Challenge Coins are unique and made to last.
“These coins if you properly care for them, could be around 1,000 years from now,” Montgomery said.
Anyone who would like to help Ukraine and the people caught up in the current conflict can buy items from www.saintjavelin.com.
“100% of net profits from all our merchandise is being donated to organizations, causes & charities to support the people and defenders of Ukraine,” the website states.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy is well aware of Saint Javelin, NAFO and other organizations involved in the fight against Russian aggression. Ukraine’s Minister of Defence, Oleksiy Reznikov, is another official highly invested in the fight against Russia.
Barnett and Montgomery hope to get one of their unique Challenge Coins into Zelenskyy’s or Reznikov’s hands, through cooperation with another charitable organization that is traveling to Ukraine in the next few weeks.
“What this is all about, is Ukrainians kicking Russians back to where they belong, and helping the Georgian Legion do that,” Montgomery said. “And if our money raised saves one Georgian soldier’s life because of body armor they purchased or a hemostat bandage that they were able to use, or if it saves one Ukrainian life, then it’s all worth it.”