Naperville’s Overwatch Foundation Aims to Help in Ukraine

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For years, Naperville’s BJJ Lab has been teaching Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu in the western suburbs. But the owners of the studio have been investing their time and skills to a greater cause through a recently launched nonprofit.

Origin of Overwatch

The Overwatch Foundation provides high value support and relief to victims of natural disasters, and non-conventional support to communities in need. 

The nonprofit was founded by Mark Turner, owner of the BJJ studio. Besides having ranked tenth in the world in Brazilian Jiu-jitsu in 2019, Turner was a Recon Marine in the United States military. That background was key in launching Overwatch.

The Overwatch Foundation has spent much of the last year in Ukraine, but the group’s first mission was in 2021 after Hurricane Ida hit the southern coast of the United States.

“I text we have a lot of guys here, veterans, military guys, former special operations guys. And I texted one of them and I said, Hey, what do you think about going to the hurricane instead and helping people?….. So we just grabbed like four guys, hopped in a truck and drove south. We don’t know where we’re going. We didn’t know what we were going to do. We just had four really kind, capable, savage guys that were going to go down there right when the hurricane hit and start helping people.”

Helping in Ukraine

Their current focus is on the conflict in Ukraine since Russia’s invasion in February of this year. August 24, 2022 marked the 6-month anniversary of Russian invasion, and Ukrainian Independence Day. When the news of invasion broke, a member of the BJJ studio from Ukraine wanted to return to help his family. But Turner knew his friend could not go back to Ukraine alone.

“I said, look, man, you can’t do that, you have no experience,” said Turner. “You can’t just go to a war zone. You don’t know what’s going on there. I said, Let me see if I can get some guys together and we can take you back. And, you know, maybe we can find some kind of medical supplies or something and we’ll tie in with what we’re doing, the Overwatch Foundation, but we’ll make sure you get back safe.”

Once there, with more and more civilians joining the Ukrainian army to fight the Russian invasion, Turner saw a way to help.

“So we started training these guys, these recruits basically basic tactics and just weapons handling and helping them out and medical. We were teaching them combat medical lifesaver type stuff, body type stuff.”

Since its inception, the Overwatch Foundation has made four separate trips to Ukraine, and plan to make their fifth soon. Turner and the members of Overwatch have provided extensive medical supplies including more than 1,000 tourniquets and 400 U.S. Navy-seal grade medical kits. They also provide Ukrainian soldiers with food, clean water, clothes and uniforms.

“Another thing that sets us apart is we don’t use middlemen when it comes to us getting supplies over. It’s us that does that right. I mean, if you give us a dollar, that dollar spent on a certain piece of equipment or a certain piece of gear, and we take that gear there, we’re not sending it through somebody else, we’re not buying it through someone else.”

Future of the Foundation

The Overwatch Foundation is an Illinois based nonprofit corporation which is awaiting approval of its 501(c)(3) status. They are currently raising funds through their website for their fifth trip to Ukraine

“But we’ll go anywhere, right? Whenever anything pops off, we have the caliber of people that can and will go anywhere. You know, within a few hours of a phone call. So that’s kind of what sets us apart from everybody else is kind of the speed and efficiency of how we can get stuff done, and that’s why we’re just going to keep running with it.”

Reporting for Naperville News 17, I’m Will Payne.