Small Wars Journal

Fortune's Workings and Virtue's Contribution: How a Chance Meeting in a Miami Restaurant Influenced the Course of the War in Ukraine

Tue, 06/11/2024 - 5:03pm

Fortune's Workings and Virtue's Contribution: How a Chance Meeting in a Miami Restaurant Influenced the Course of the War in Ukraine


By Colonel Joerg Stenzel and Wayne Culbreth


Niccolò Machiavelli, the famed 16th century political philosopher, in his book "Il Principe," describes how a leader should successfully navigate a complex and dynamic environment, seizing sudden and often fleeting opportunities to his advantage. Dan Rice's story exemplifies this principle, transforming a fortuitous encounter into a significant strategic advantage that has influenced the course of the ongoing war in Ukraine. This narrative explores how a chance meeting in a Miami restaurant shaped Rice's involvement in securing vital military support for the Ukrainian Army, while also acknowledging the broader context of the conflict and the collective efforts of various stakeholders in the largest war in Europe in 80 years, and the 3rd largest war in Europe in 150 years, behind World War II and World War I. 


Building Relationships and Arriving in Ukraine


Rice's journey began March 6th 2022 with a chance meeting in a Miami restaurant. Rice noticed a woman sitting nearby was visibly distressed over photos and on her phone.   He engaged her in conversation, and discovered she was watching videos of her family in Kyiv under fire. Concerned for them, he encouraged her to evacuate her family to safety in the West, which she did.  Weeks later, the woman, named Jean, informed him that her family had escaped Ukraine and were headed to Miami, but she had no place to house her sister, mother and grandmother. Dan immediately offered them his Miami home as a temporary refuge. Upon arriving in Miami, one of his guests, Jean’s mother, a former restaurant owner in Kyiv, personally knew Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy and, recognizing Rice’s military background, facilitated a Zoom introduction to the Commander in Chief Ukraine Armed Forces, General Valeriy Zaluzhnyi.


Rice’s military and corporate career is distinguished. He is a West Point graduate, an alumnus of the U.S. Airborne and Ranger Schools, and a decorated combat veteran. After his active service, he ventured into the corporate world, co-founding several companies including Thayer Leadership at West Point[1], which employs military leadership models for civilian leader development globally. He holds three master’s degrees from Northwestern (2) and University of Pennsylvania (1) in business, marketing and education, and has completed his doctorate classes in leadership at the University of Pennsylvania.  His business acumen and leadership skills were well established by the time he volunteered for the New York National Guard after the 9/11 attacks, serving as Captain in Iraq, where he was wounded and awarded the Purple Heart.


This diverse experience set the stage for his pivotal role in Ukraine advocating and marketing for more U.S. support. Following a Zoom call with General Zaluzhnyi, the Commander-in-Chief of the Ukrainian Armed Forces, Rice voluntarily traveled alone as a civilian to Ukraine in the spring of 2022. His journey to Kraków, then to Lviv and finally to Kyiv brought him face-to-face with the war's grim realities and the dire situation facing Ukraine against the much larger Russian military.  Rice built trust and relationships at the highest levels within a short period of time.  He was granted the first interview of General Zaluznhyi since the invasion and published The Untold Story of the Battle of Kyiv”[2] in May 2022 after traveling the battlefields at General Zaluzhnyi’s request with the victorious commanders who led the defense.  


Impressed by his skills and background, General Zaluzhnyi and his Advisor of Strategic Communications offered Rice the position as Special Advisor to the Commander to bridge critical information gaps as an American officer and marketing expert.  Rice asked what his role would be “we need to maintain U.S. support or we’re dead. Anything you can do to help increase U.S. support is your job.”   Knowing that the U.S. Embassy and all U.S. military personnel had been evacuated prior to the full-scale Russian invasion, Rice identified the critical place on the battlefield, for him, would be going back and forth between the two nations and helping to gain U.S. support for critical weapons.    With experience gained from time spent in Iraq and Afghanistan, he knew the host nation had certain rights and responsibilities.  He also had the audacity to take the initiative to invite the U.S. Armed Forces to return to Ukraine, and crafted an official letter that was signed by General Zaluznhyi and sent it to General Milley in May 2022. 


He then created an integrated marketing plan and presented a PowerPoint to the General Staff which was approved called “Influencing the Influencers.”  Rice used his marketing background to segment the US decision makers into five segments:  Department of Defense, Defense Industry, Politicians, Press and Government officials and identified roughly 800 key Americans, many of whom he already knew.  After approval he spent the next 2+ years implementing the plan.  


Rice was uniquely suited to design this “Influencing the Influencers” campaign and to implement it for the benefit of both the United States and Ukraine.   As one of the co-Founders of Thayer Leadership at West Point and one of the owners of the Thayer Hotel, he was incredibly networked throughout the West Point alumni network, which included the U.S. government, the Army and politicians, but also through the senior leadership of most major defense companies.  He was an award-winning author of “West Point Leadership: Profiles of Courage” a 2013 book that included the authorized biographies of such esteemed West Point graduates such as Secretary Lloyd Austin, General Petraeus, Senator Jack Reed, Coach K, Buzz Aldrin, and many of West Point’s finest.     A regular speaker on most major networks, he had developed a network of many journalists and military correspondents. 


Once the marketing campaign was designed, he needed to craft the key messages. 


Strategic Problem Identification

Rice's visits to the front lines, including a significant trip to Donbas with COL (ret) Lee Van Arsdale, revealed the strategic needs of the Ukrainian forces. During these visits, Rice's ability to quickly grasp and address complex military challenges became evident. Van Arsdale, a career special forces officer and former Delta Squadron commander, highlighted Rice's adaptability and insight: "Dan has a keen business sense, and while others talk about thinking outside of the box, Dan defines the concept."[3]


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Rice and Colonel Lee Van Arsdale (retired) on patrol with a Ukrainian T-72 tank in the Donbas July 2022. 


The Ukrainian Army, though dedicated and motivated, was at a severe disadvantage against numerically superior Russian artillery. The 68th Mechanized Brigade, stationed in the Donbas, was particularly hard-hit, with limited small arms and mortars against superior Russian firepower. The brigade commander, Colonel Oleksii, and his troops expressed a desperate need for more artillery and armored vehicles to evacuate wounded soldiers. The visit revealed the harsh reality: the Ukrainian forces were taking significant casualties daily, unable to effectively counter the long-range Russian artillery.


Through over 20 trips spanning two years, at his own expense, Rice maintained regular briefings with U.S. Army leadership at the Pentagon and in Germany, such as with the XVIII Airborne Corps. MG (ret) Brian Mennes, Deputy Commander. Mennes noted Rice's contributions: "Dan's selfless actions significantly contributed to the Ukrainian Defense Capacity which, has thus far, defeated a numerically superior military force. Without question Dan has indirectly saved thousands of Ukrainian soldiers and civilians' lives."[4] These briefings were instrumental in conveying the urgent needs of Ukraine and strategic insights directly to U.S. military decision-makers.


Advocacy and Action


Recognizing the critical need for advanced weaponry, Rice embarked on a concerted effort to secure support, embodying Machiavelli's concept of virtù—the ability to adapt to changing circumstances and seize opportunities. Central to his advocacy was a controversial yet strategically vital campaign to introduce U.S.-made cluster munitions into the arsenal provided to Ukraine. This type of munition had been largely shunned due to international concerns over their impact in civilian areas. 112 countries had signed what Rice believe was a naïve and foolish Cluster Munitions Convention, banning the use of these powerful weapons.   However, Rice perceived their tactical necessity against a numerically superior adversary in a densely contested battlefield. 


Obtaining the full family of cluster munitions for Ukraine became his mission. 


Rice's approach was multifaceted, including drafting letters from Zaluzhnyi to General Milley and to defense contractors, attending meetings, and making corporate and international media appearances such as on CNN with Erin Burnett[5] to highlight the Ukrainian plight and the strategic necessity of additional support. He particularly focused on changing the narrative around cluster munitions, and credits Erin Burnett as the only journalist in 2022 willing to touch the controversial subject of cluster munitions.  His efforts to change the narrative involved detailed discussions with policymakers, rigorous engagement with defense analysts, publishing countless articles and strategic media interventions to alter the public perception that resulted in him being quoted for over two years as a subject matter expert and advocate for more weapons and ammo for Ukraine.


By methodically addressing the ethical and tactical dimensions of cluster munitions, Rice effectively de-demonized their use, framing them as a critical equalizer capable of significantly reducing Ukrainian casualties while maximizing operational impact against Russian forces. His efforts included direct lobbying and public advocacy, which utilized his deep military insights and leadership experience to sway opinion both in closed-door meetings and public forums.

Rice presciently identified in the book “Kyiv Rysing” published September 2022 that with over 80% of all casualties on both the Russian and Ukrainian sides “The key to winning this artillery duel is to increase the lethality of the artillery rounds”

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Rice’s meticulous advocacy was backed by concrete data and firsthand observations from the front lines. He highlighted the critical role that precision-guided and cluster munitions could play in leveling the playing field against the numerically superior Russian forces. His broad-reaching strategy helped build a compelling case for their inclusion, resonating with both policymakers and the public, eventually leading to their approval and deployment.


Rice's advocacy drew heavily on his military background and business leadership experience, enabling him to effectively communicate the urgency of the situation. His steadfast dedication to staying on message and relentlessly advocating for Ukraine required immense perseverance and moral conviction. General (Retired) Dennis Reimer, a long-time mentor of Rice and 33rd Chief of Staff of the Army, captured the essence of Rice's commitment: "Our Nation is fortunate to have leaders like Dan who are willing to put their life on the line for others. As the Cadet Prayer taught us all ' me to choose the harder right instead of the easier wrong and never to be content with the half-truth when the whole can be won.' Dan lived that prayer and the Nations—both the U.S. and Ukraine—are better because of his work with them."[6]


Rice's efforts contributed to the approval and delivery of critical weaponry, including additional M777 Howitzers, High Mobility Artillery Rocket Systems (HIMARS), and Dual-Purpose Improved Conventional Munitions (DPICM). However, it is important to note that Ukraine initially requested 300 M777 155mm Howitzers and 100 HIMARS, but received only a fraction of these numbers, highlighting the ongoing challenges in securing adequate support.


Impact and Results


The deployment of advanced weaponry marked a turning point in Ukraine's defense efforts, illustrating Machiavelli's concept of necessità—the need to take decisive action in the face of adversity. The M777 Howitzers with precision-guided munitions and the HIMARS allowed Ukrainian forces to target Russian command and control centers and logistical hubs, altering the battlefield dynamics. Ukrainian artillery units quickly adapted to the new weaponry, achieving notable successes in key regions.


One particularly illustrative example of the impact of these efforts was seen in the successful Ukrainian counteroffensives in key regions. The precision and range of the HIMARS allowed Ukrainian forces to dismantle critical Russian supply lines, significantly hampering their operational capabilities. This newfound capability to strike deep into enemy territory provided a much-needed boost to Ukrainian morale and demonstrated the tangible benefits of Rice's advocacy.


A critical component of Rice's strategy was the deployment of Dual-Purpose Improved Conventional Munitions (DPICM). These cluster munitions were significantly more effective than standard ammunition, dispersing multiple submunitions over a target area and dramatically increasing the likelihood of hitting enemy equipment and personnel.  There were three critical decisive moments for cluster munitions during the war, and Rice was instrumental in all three:  the fall of 2022 shipments from Turkey to Ukraine of 155mm DPICM, the July 2023 Presidential decision to send DPICM, and the October 2023 decision to send HIMARS cluster rockets and missiles.  


Rice met with General Milley in August 2022 in Washington, DC, and then flew to Kyiv and was able to get General Zaluzhnyi to request DPICM from General Milley the next day. From there Rice started advocating for DPICM, either from the U.S. or other NATO members.   In December 2022, during the Army-Navy game, General Milley informed Rice and House Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Mike McCaul that Turkey had started shipping DPICM rounds in November, with a commitment of 100,000 rounds in total. These munitions had a devastating effect on Russian casualties at the Battle of Bakhmut, showcasing their strategic value.

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Rice, Chairman McCaul, General Milley, Representative Walsh and former Attorney General Barr discussing Turkish DPICM 10 December 2022 at the Army-Navy game


The effectiveness of DPICM rounds at Bakhmut was a turning point in the war and helped halt the Russian offensive. The significant increase in Russian casualties due to these munitions demonstrated the critical role they played in leveling the battlefield, and the need for them in what was becoming a war of attrition. The success of these munitions further solidified the case for continued and increased military support to Ukraine, highlighting the practical results of Rice's relentless advocacy. As David Axe from Forbes noted, "It's not for no reason that Dan Rice, a former U.S. Army officer and advisor to the commander-in-chief of Ukrainian forces, last fall urged the Biden Administration to approve DPICM for Ukraine. More targets can be engaged in the same total time. 'We've sent [the CiC] the wrong ammo for this battlefield,' Rice wrote. 'Let's rectify that and start sending him the right ammo.'”[7]


Rice continued to advocate for cluster munitions from the United States and once General David Petraeus (retired) started advocating for the U.S. to provide cluster munitions, on video at the American University Kyiv in June 2023, Rice distributed that video throughout Congress.  Even though he was retired, Rice knew Petraeus still had tremendous influence in Congress.   Rice then met with Senator Jack Reed and informed him of General Petraeus’ support, which helped gain Senator Reed’s support.  Reed was able to get the President to sign authorization for DPICM in July 2023.  Ukraine media featured the story immediately “Dan Rice tells background behind Washington’s change of stance on cluster munitions for Ukraine.”[8]   



Newsweek’s David Brennan reported in August 2023 “Dan Rice, a former U.S. Army officer and West Point graduate was influential in the White House’s July decision to send 155mm, tube-fired Dual Purpose Conventional Munitions (DPICM) while serving as special advisor to Ukraine’s top commander, General Valeriy Zaluzhnyi.  Rice, who is now president of the American University Kyiv is among those pushing for DPICM rockets that can be fired from Ukraine’s High-Mobility Artillery Rocket Systems (HIMARS) and M270 Multiple Launch Rocket System. Such munitions, Rice believes, would be a ‘game changer’ in Kyiv’s efforts to shut down the ‘land corridor’ of occupied land linking Crimea to Russia.”[9]  


Rice then lobbied for HIMARS cluster rockets and missiles.  It was soon after a September 21, 2023 meeting with Senator Jack Reed, Chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, that the US secretly approved and shipped M-39 HIMARs cluster rockets, that were a compromise for those in Congress who were tied up in a ‘long range cluster rockets or nothing’ binary debate.    Those first missiles surprised the Russians and destroyed two airfields in Crimea and destroyed an estimated 24 Russian attack helicopters.  


While the use of cluster munitions has been controversial due to their potential impact on civilians, their strategic value in this context cannot be overlooked. However, it is crucial to acknowledge the ongoing challenges and limitations faced by Ukrainian forces, as well as the need for continued international support and diplomatic efforts to bring an end to the conflict.

Rice's influence extended beyond securing weaponry. His efforts contributed to a broader shift in U.S. policy and military support for Ukraine. The later approval of the MGM-140 Army Tactical Missile System (ATACMS) further bolstered Ukraine's capabilities, demonstrating the strategic value of Rice's persistent advocacy. This shift in policy not only enhanced Ukraine's immediate defensive capabilities but also set a precedent for ongoing support, ensuring that Ukraine would continue to receive the necessary resources to sustain its defense efforts.


Ongoing Contributions as AUK President


American General Dennis Reimer (retired) stated “He did such as great job over in Ukraine that he was asked to head up the American University of Kyiv- a great tribute to his intellectual abilities and his undaunted courage.”[10]  In addition to his military lobbying and support efforts, Rice assumed the role of President of the American University of Kyiv (AUK), in partnership with Arizona State University (ASU) in March 2023.  Rice believes AUK is an American footprint in the heart of Kyiv, flying both the Ukraine and U.S. flags above its campus.  AUK is the only 100% English speaking university in Ukraine, and is both a brick-and-mortar footprint, but also the most digitally advanced university in Ukraine. 


This position allows him to contribute to Ukraine's post-war reconstruction and economic development, with the university focusing on key developing future Ukrainian leaders and influencing policy in areas such as business administration, information technology, mine/UXO clearing, war crimes prosecution, increasing Ukraine’s defense industry production, and veteran affairs. AUK is designed to be a major implementing partner for both USAID and the Department of Defense programs in Ukraine and is working with both on multiple projects. 


Under Rice's leadership, and the leadership of Ambassador Kurt Volker, one of the AUK founders, AUK has launched initiatives aimed at rebuilding Ukraine's infrastructure and addressing the war's aftermath. These efforts are vital for Ukraine's long-term recovery and development, reflecting a comprehensive approach to the country's future. One of the university's key programs involves the clearance of unexploded ordnance (UXO) and mines, a critical task given the extensive contamination of Ukrainian land by these deadly remnants of war. By increasing public awareness of this enormous challenge, AUK is directly contributing to the safety and rehabilitation of affected areas.


Moreover, AUK is playing a significant role in supporting Ukrainian veterans. The university offers specialized programs designed to assist veterans in transitioning to civilian life, providing them with the skills and education necessary to thrive in a post-war economy. This holistic approach to veteran support underscores Rice's comprehensive vision for Ukraine's recovery, addressing both immediate needs and long-term development.


However, the challenges ahead are significant, and will require sustained support and collaboration from the international community. Rice's ongoing efforts through AUK demonstrate his commitment to Ukraine's future, recognizing that the country's recovery will be a long and complex process that requires a multifaceted approach.


Rice has been asked to speak before hundreds of audiences in the United States including twice to the students from around the world at the U.S. Army War College. These are all Colonels who will later lead the armies of democracy around the world. Dr. John Nagl, Professor of Warfighting Studies at the War College said, “If Ukraine survives as an independent country, Dan Rice will be a big part of the reason why. This is an amazing story; it’s ‘Charlie Wilson’s War’ except that Dan had way less of a base from which to change the war than did Congressman Wilson.”[11]  




Rice's story is a testament to the power of seizing opportunities and making significant contributions in times of crisis, embodying Machiavelli's principles of fortune, virtue, and necessity. His strategic insights, relentless advocacy, and dedicated efforts have had a profound impact on Ukraine's defense against Russian aggression, while also highlighting the broader context of the war and the collective efforts of various stakeholders.


As the conflict continues, it is essential to recognize the challenges and limitations faced by all parties involved, as well as the need for ongoing support and diplomatic efforts to achieve a peaceful resolution. Rice's ongoing contributions through the American University of Kyiv underscore the importance of a comprehensive approach to Ukraine's future, addressing both immediate needs and long-term development.


Ultimately, the enduring impact of Rice's work serves as a reminder of the potential for individual action to shape the course of history, while also highlighting the complexity and uncertainty inherent in any geopolitical crisis. His story invites us to reflect on the role of chance encounters, personal conviction, and strategic thinking in navigating the challenges of our time, and the importance of seizing opportunities to make a difference in the face of adversity.


Additional Photos and documents:


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Rice was granted the 1st Interview of General Zaluzhnyi since the full scale invasion in May 2022.  General Zaluzhnyi signed and gifted this historic portrait of the Moskva, the Russian flagship that had been sunk only weeks earlier. 

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Rice drafted this historic document from General Zaluzhnyi to General Milley- inviting the US Special Forces to return to Ukraine May 2022.  

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Rice at Nasdaq after being named President American University Kyiv.  


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An example of the letters Rice drafted to Defense CEOs on behalf of General Zaluzhnyi, that were then sent to all employees, lobbyists and eventually to the members of Congress, to help get more of their weapons.   This was to the CEO of Lockheed, which produced many weapons, including the HIMARS rocket launchers that have made a crucial difference in the war.   The CEO reportedly read this letter to all 114,000 employees personally.