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Remembering 33-year-old Pete Reed, a frontline humanitarian medic killed in Ukraine

AILSA CHANG, HOST:

Pete Reed was a humanitarian aid worker and former U.S. Marine who served in Afghanistan. He's also one of the many thousands who lost their lives in Ukraine as the world notes the one-year mark since Russia's full-scale invasion on February 24. Reed founded a group called Global Response Medicine, which gave lifesaving first aid to civilians on the front lines of conflict zones. In 2016, Reed described his work to a Fox News reporter in Mosul, Iraq.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

PETE REED: To the end of the day, they're just people. We're just trying to make it so a few more people come home, a few more kids live.

CHANG: And that is exactly what Reed was doing in Ukraine this month, just a few weeks ago, when he was killed by a Russian missile. Here he is, as described by some of the people who knew and loved him.

ALEX POTTER: My name is Alex Potter, and Pete Reed was my husband.

(SOUNDBITE OF DUSTIN O'HALLORAN'S "AN ENDING, A BEGINNING")

POTTER: So we met in Iraq - in Mosul - in 2016. I went over there as a journalist to cover the battle. But when I got there, there was very little front-line trauma care going on except by this one small group of people, which was headed up by Pete.

(SOUNDBITE OF DUSTIN O'HALLORAN'S "AN ENDING, A BEGINNING")

POTTER: We didn't know each other ahead of time, but I Facebook messaged him and asked if I could join. I worked at these trauma stabilization points with him throughout the battle, and we spent one week in the field together, and then he was just like, I'm in love with you. And I was like, oh, my God (laughter). That was fast. It was mutual and very, very quick.

(SOUNDBITE OF DUSTIN O'HALLORAN'S "AN ENDING, A BEGINNING")

POTTER: What I thought was going to be a two-week trip turned into the whole year in Iraq, treating patients together, and we were just perfect for each other. Even before I knew him, from what I've heard from other people, he always had a really huge heart.

(SOUNDBITE OF DUSTIN O'HALLORAN'S "AN ENDING, A BEGINNING")

ANDREW LUSTIG: Pete is somebody that has spent, you know, the majority of his 33 years on the planet helping other people - first in Afghanistan for the Marines and then soon after as a humanitarian medical provider as a paramedic.

(SOUNDBITE OF DUSTIN O'HALLORAN'S "AN ENDING, A BEGINNING")

LUSTIG: I'm Andrew Lustig, president and founder of Global Outreach Doctors. I met Pete Reed about seven years ago. We had collaborated in the Battle of Mosul in Iraq, and we've been in touch ever since. Pete is the kind of guy that is really organized, and he's very much a collaborator, which means that he engages other NGOs and other actors in the region. I knew Pete was the right man for the Ukraine country director for Global Outreach Doctors.

(SOUNDBITE OF DUSTIN O'HALLORAN'S "AN ENDING, A BEGINNING")

POTTER: When I was looking back through our messages, he was very happy to be going over. And one of the things that he said is, I'm excited to prove my worth again. And I tried to be, like, you know, you are worthy of all these things, but I don't know if he believed it.

(SOUNDBITE OF DUSTIN O'HALLORAN'S "AN ENDING, A BEGINNING")

LUSTIG: The beginning of the day when Pete was alive - give me a minute.

MAX: My name is Max, and I worked from the first day with Pete Reed when he arrived to Donbas, Ukraine. So on the day when everything happened and went wrong - awfully wrong - we were driving to Bakhmut in the morning. And I was in the vehicle with Pete, and he asked me to put some music.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "ALL THE SMALL THINGS")

BLINK-182: (Singing) The night will go on, my little windmill.

MAX: I turned on some good-old pop-punk bands like Blink-182.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "ALL THE SMALL THINGS")

BLINK-182: (Singing) Keep your head still. I'll be your thrill. The night will go on...

MAX: We just loved driving through cold, Donbas morning. It was amazing.

(SOUNDBITE OF BLINK-182'S, "ALL THE SMALL THINGS")

LUSTIG: The first - the beginning of the day when Pete was alive started with meeting a mayor about 45 minutes from Bakhmut, getting ready to set up critical care points. A military vehicle drove up and screamed, we need medics. We need medics. And at that point, Pete led his team to Bakhmut. Pete was involved in the care and rescue of an elderly woman, and it's at that point, when his vehicle - an ambulance of sort - was targeted, that Pete lost his life.

(SOUNDBITE OF DUSTIN O'HALLORAN'S "AN ENDING, A BEGINNING")

MAX: For me, as a Ukrainian, the thing that Pete Reed came here to Ukraine to help Ukraine with its struggle for freedom and independence is the most admirable thing. But especially knowing his background - that he went through several wars - but still, nevertheless, he chose to come here and to go to the hottest spot on the front line. This is the thing to admire for me.

(SOUNDBITE OF DUSTIN O'HALLORAN'S "AN ENDING, A BEGINNING")

POTTER: I'm just feeling very numb right now, honestly. My sympathetic nervous system was in overdrive for, like, six days until I could go get him. I just know that it seems like a horrific death, and it was. But it was immediate, and he died doing what he loved, honestly.

(SOUNDBITE OF DUSTIN O'HALLORAN'S "AN ENDING, A BEGINNING")

POTTER: He was just a - can I swear on-air? Is that fine (laughter)? He was just a really f***ing incredible person. Like, I loved him so, so much. And he was the - truly, like, the brightest light in my life as a husband and a person and my best friend and adventure buddy. He was the best.

(SOUNDBITE OF DUSTIN O'HALLORAN'S "AN ENDING, A BEGINNING")

CHANG: Those were the voices of Alex Potter, Pete Reed's widow; Andrew Lustig, who worked with him; and Reed's Ukrainian colleague Max, whose full name is being withheld for his safety. Pete Reed was 33 years old when he was killed in Ukraine this month by a Russian laser-guided missile. Independent video analysis has suggested the targeting of Reed's ambulance crew was intentional and could be considered a potential war crime.

This story was produced by Matt Ozug and Quil Lawrence.

(SOUNDBITE OF STORMZY'S, "FIRE + WATER") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Quil Lawrence is a New York-based correspondent for NPR News, covering veterans' issues nationwide. He won a Robert F. Kennedy Award for his coverage of American veterans and a Gracie Award for coverage of female combat veterans. In 2019 Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America honored Quil with its IAVA Salutes Award for Leadership in Journalism.