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Around the Florida National Guard

News | Jan. 7, 2024

Florida Guard Soldier helps train Ukrainian forces, receives award from senior official

By Sgt. 1st Class Shane Klestinski 50th Regional Support Group

Army Sgt. Iuliia Nichols, a culinary specialist assigned to the Florida Army National Guard’s (FLARNG) 927th Combat Sustainment Support Battalion (CSSB), received Ukraine’s Commander-in-Chief Award for her contributions in training Ukrainian soldiers from Ukrainian army Maj. Gen. Oleksiy Taran, head of the Main Department of Doctrine and Training of the General Staff of the Armed Forces of Ukraine, in Wiesbaden, Germany, in December 2023.

Originally born in Russia, Nichols graduated from the Russian State Pedagogical University by Herzen in Saint Petersburg where she earned a master’s degree in education and became a Russian language teacher. Nichols got what she called a “lucky chance” to come to the United States in 2015 while working a summer job as a nanny for a family who had dual citizenship, so they spent half the year in Russia, and half the year in the U.S.

Nichols joined the FLARNG in 2020 during the COVID-19 pandemic because she “wanted to do something to be helpful to the State of Florida,” and her military service helped her earn her American citizenship. She was specifically assigned to the Miramar-based 914th Quartermaster Platoon within the 927th CSSB.

According to Sgt. 1st Class Jonathan Douglas, Nichols’ platoon sergeant, he and Nichols learned about the mission to train Ukrainian forces when Nichols was researching possible opportunities in the intelligence field. Douglas made calls expressing Nichols’ interest in the mission, and officials from the Florida Guard’s state language program later reached out. Nichols speaks English, Russian and Ukrainian, and she was learning Italian when she deployed.

“From the first interview, they were saying, ‘We want her,’” Douglas said. “She looks and acts the part of a Soldier, she’s gifted at communicating figures of speech that don’t always translate well to foreign languages, and her personality makes her easy to work with.”

Nichols initially reported to Grafenwoehr, Germany, in June 2023, and she has served at locations throughout Germany and Poland since then. She received her award during the Joint Training Conference, a 14-nation summit in Wiesbaden.

“Because of her own life experiences and the oppression she’s faced under the Russian government, she’s not only there because she’s trying to help, but it’s personal to her,” Douglas said. “She’s invested in this mission more than the average Soldier, and the honor she received is for people who have gone above and beyond to support the Ukrainian military. It’s a pretty exclusive award.”

The Commander-in-Chief Award recognizes Nichols’ efforts that helped improve the Ukrainian army’s mission readiness by interpreting instructors’ class lectures to Ukrainian students on various weapons systems and conventional warfighting skills, such as infantry tactics and land navigation. While her duties have mainly involved working as an interpreter to facilitate field training, Nichols’ linguistic skills have also supported senior officers, and she has acted as a diplomatic escort for Ukrainian delegations and representatives of allied and partner nations.

“Without interpreters there would be no training,” Nichols said. “I’m proud to be where I am and that I can be helpful to the operation. I’m in the right place right now, and I hope to continue this mission.”

The 927th CSSB, headquartered in Camp Blanding, Florida, is a subordinate unit within the 50th Regional Support Group.