Opinion: Seven Chattanoogans deliver magnificent grace to Ukraine

We need good news. Now more than ever.

Well, meet a new Magnificent (for everyone) Seven, that is rooted right here in Chattanooga. And how this collection of mission-driven do-gooders carried the great will of our city across the globe.

"Maybe the most moving was the support from Chattanooga," Brad Cobb said in a phone interview Thursday, "and I think that's because so many wanted to give, and they wanted their dollars to go directly to help the people of Ukraine."

OK, a rewind is in order.

Chattanooga police SWAT team member Jeremiah Cook was desperate to find ways to help the war-weary people in Ukraine. He connected with fellow SWAT member Sgt. Clay Tolson, and they added officers Juan Cuba, Hunter Morgan and Lt. Danny Jones. Then comes Harris Looney, a former Navy Seal, and and those six could have easily headed to Ukraine to kick more Russian backside since Rocky toppled Drago.

Theirs was a relief effort crafted with the commitment of giving of their time as much as Chattanooga's donations. "This was totally expenses out of their pocket, with no backing," Cobb said. "I can't stress enough how Chattanooga's finest did this on their own time to give back, but that's what they sign up for.

"They are truly heroes."

Cobb, who was buddies with Tolson and was intrigued by the idea of joining the relief trip, entered the picture at the 11th hour. Ultimately, for Cobb, a national bike racer, the go-ahead sign came when he crashed into a pro car in the Rock City parking lot, which allowed Cobb to jump start the fundraising.

Once energized, the GoFundMe goal of $10,000 was shredded. All told, this Magnificent Seven raised more than $136,000 for relief efforts for Ukraine.

From the GoFundMe page, Cobb posted: "Any donation you make will be used to purchase the needed supplies for the refugees and those providing aid and support." He pledged to cover the GoFundMe.com 3% site fees.

With six-figures of relief, our Magnificent Seven headed out, looking to give away life-altering amounts of aid and a lifetime amount of grace.

"You know, we did not see a lot of devastation," Cobb said, "because we stayed away from most of it and moved in and out as quickly as we could.

"We saw bombs and heard air raid sirens almost every night off in the distance, but my biggest memory was the people and how kind they were and how they got so much done with so little."

Cobb recounted his dealings with two Ukrainians - Tonya, 24, who served as the Seven's translator, and a preacher named Sasha, 27, who helped them navigate checkpoints and customs.

Tonya, according to Cobb, said she's been fighting Russians since she was 16 and has lost siblings and her father to this war long before it started, before the rest of the world saw what was really happening. Sasha returned to Ukraine after helping his wife and children evacuate to Europe. He wanted to remain with his congregation and to continue to fight for his homeland.

"When you see them first-hand, you can't help but be really impressed with what they are willing to do to fight for their country," Cobb said. "Then you see what's happening here, and are just so saddened by where we are as a country and the division and the excess and blessings, and everything we have and what we fight over.

"And then you look at our freedoms and their freedoms, and ..."

Cobb didn't finish the sentence but he didn't need to.

The requests for help from the Chattanooga group included bullet-proof vest, drones and other safety equipment measures, but Cobb said their effort focused on food, clothes and medicine.

The group brought 200 first-aid kits for the soldiers on the fighting lines and bought 300 more. They were among the most popular items they offered.

And those kits will likely be high in demand when the group returns to the region later this summer.

That's right. Cobb said the group is already looking at dates in July or August.

And while the overwhelming generosity of the area was greatly appreciated, the group's plans this time will be more under wraps.

"We don't want this to be about us or publicized," Cobb said. "And I know how supportive Chattanooga is and countless folks have told us if we need money to let them know so the sky would be the limit on what we could raise. But we want to make sure we stay true to our commitment that all of the money is going to help the people of Ukraine.

"When we go back, we'll have a lot better understanding of how all this works, and I really think we can do in five days what took us two weeks last time."

Contact Jay Greeson at [email protected] or 423-757-6273. Follow him on Twitter @jgreesontfp.

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photo Jay Greeson