ROCHESTER, Minn. – Persistence pays off for a Minnesota man looking to help soldiers in war zones.
Gary Steuart of Mabel, is the owner of Steuart’s Natural Health Products. The company started off by making udder ointment for dairy cows, but it evolved into health products for humans after Steuart says they realized the ointments worked well on wounds. They repackaged, and now manufacture several products that promote healing of wounds and relieve pain.
Steuart believed his wound cream would be an ideal product for military use, but found it difficult to get any attention from the U.S. military. But in February of 2014 when war broke out in Ukraine, he decided to take a trip overseas.
“In thinking about it I realized their economy was in shambles, they didn’t have money, they were desperate and I figured the Army was probably underfunded,” he explains.
During his first trip to Ukraine, Steuart made contact with a coordinator for the war volunteer effort.
“The government is fighting the war, but a lot of the supplies; uniforms, food, electronic gear, comes from private sources,” he adds.
By his third trip he was able to bring his products into the war zone with the help of the volunteers. Just like that, Steuart who had never been in a military setting before found himself being escorted through check points, right to the front lines. He noticed one thing the military had plenty of was old Soviet ordinances including tanks and weapons, but he says they were glad to get medical products.
“They like the wound product and they like the pain product because that’s always an issue for the soldiers; bumps and bruises, they’re like athletes.”
Steuart has now been to Ukraine five times. In addition to bringing his products, he began purchasing other military gear with private funds. “Basic stuff they don’t have,” he explains; like range finders, thermal vision units, uniforms, and portable generators.
He’s only ever dealt with volunteers and has never interacted with high level military personal. Steuart finds it motivating and inspirational to see the effort they’re making with so little help.
“They’re just doing everything they can to survive and they’re fighting the Russians and they’ve got a government that’s not always real helpful,” he adds.
Despite not knowing if it will ever generate a lot of business for the company in the long run, Steuart says he’ll keep going. He may even consider basing his company’s operations from there.
“They do have a trade agreement with Western Europe now, even though they’re not in the European Union and it’s very economical to do business there,” he says. “I think it would be a good place to manufacture and ship to Western Europe.”
Steuart plans to return to Ukraine this spring.