Lessons Learned in Ukraine Are Forcing the U.S. Army to Face an Uncomfortable Reality

Wes O'Donnell
9 min readNov 30, 2023

Let’s be clear: Putin’s invasion of Ukraine was a wake-up call to military leaders in the United States. As strong as the U.S. military is perceived, the Ukraine War has exposed serious gaps in American warfighting doctrine.

So, what lessons can the U.S. Army learn from Ukraine that will make it a better fighting force?

Georgian soldiers stand ready for the opening ceremony for Exercise Noble Partner 16, May 11, 2016, at Vaziani Training Area, Georgia. Photo by Sgt. Daniel Cole. Public domain

As a forty-year-old law student and veteran of two branches of the U.S. military, I often find myself in the most interesting conversations.

Last weekend I was sitting in my Civil Procedure class in Lansing, Michigan, and I overheard two young, fellow students talking:

“You know, the U.S. has, by far, the largest military budget on the planet. Think about how those billions of taxpayer dollars could help solve issues here at home,” said one student.

Then another student chimed in, “I know right?! Spending $877 billion on the military is more than the next nine countries combined! Why do we need all that firepower?”

I saw my opportunity to strike.

“Excuse me for interrupting, but I couldn’t help overhearing the discussion about the U.S. military budget and I’d like to provide a little color, if you’ll permit me.

[Heads nodded tentatively]

Can we all agree that the United States is a very rich nation?

[Heads nodded more]

… So rich and massively wealthy that you could combine the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) of the next top 4 countries inside the United States.

I noticed you threw out a big number there… What was it? $877 billion? Yes, that is indeed an amount of money that is difficult to conceive in our daily lives.

But did you know that $877 billion amounts to only 3.5 percent of the U.S. GDP, placing the U.S. lower in the ranking of military expenditure, as a percentage of GDP, than Saudi Arabia, Israel, Qatar, Algeria, Russia, and Greece among others?

In fact, Ukraine is the top military spender at 34%! The U.S. is ranked way down at number ten on the list.”

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Wes O'Donnell

Army & Air Force Veteran | Global Security guy at War is Boring, GEN, OneZero | Intel Forecaster | Law Student | TEDx Speaker | Pro-Democracy | Pro-Human Rights