It’s the strangest thing in the world ya know? Stumbling through this way of life, figuring it all out as I go. I don’t want fame, fortune or glory (….ok a little bit of fortune would be nice, a man has to eat); I just enjoy what I’m doing and oddly enough seem to be getting it right, at least that’s what I’m told. I’m not particularly above average in any particular combat skill; except for marksmanship, I can shoot well enough I guess. The fact of the matter is that I’m drawn to it like so many other wandering souls who have found their way to the Middle East in search of something.
I have always spent a great deal of my time pursuing the craft of a modern warrior, I research and study everything and anything I can about modern tactics and techniques. Through my eager tenacity I have developed a wide range of knowledge and skills just through research and obviously training in them as often as I can. I’m certain I would not be standing where I am today without this and credit is due to the many people who have helped me along the way.
It all started with what I would call the “Volunteer Surge”, when dozens of Westerners were traveling to Syria and Iraq to join Kurdish forces in their fight against the Islamic State. It’s hard to put a timeline on it but I’d have to say it was around mid 2014. I remember seeing Jordan Matson’s face plastered all over the place and on every major media outlet. It kind of hit me then that this was something I needed to do, I can’t give any one particular reason but next thing I knew had purchased a plane ticket and had made contact with a group of foreign fighters based out of Kirkuk with the Peshmerga.
I had no back-up plan, around $500 to my name and very little knowledge about the dynamics of the conflict I was jumping into; maybe amateur is too exalting a title for myself? But hey my foot was in the door, all I had to do was step through.
The learning curve was hard and required a great deal of adaptation on my part. Customs and courtesies had to be learned, adapting to an entirely foreign and unique style of warfare was probably the most important thing. Sure the training the Marine Corps had given me came in handy, but for the most part much of it was hard to apply to this strange new world.
Language skills had to be cultivated and developed as I went along but in the beginning it was all slow English and talking with my hands mixed with the 5 Kurdish words I knew. Geography was all learned from going places and getting my bearings off of experience in each new location while occasionally referencing a map; thank Allah for WiFi and the 21st century.
Several firefights later I was confident in my skills and had learned a thing or two along the way about what it meant to fight a war as Peshmerga, it was about that time that operations ceased due to Ramadan kicking off and we found ourselves sitting on our asses with nothing to do.
Eventually I found my way to a different unit, not without a great deal of help of course, where several other mercs and myself found ourselves thrown into a training role. Thankfully I had spent some time in training billets and situations in the past so this wasn’t entirely foreign or irresponsible of me.
With a small team we were able to pool our unique skills to dish out quality basic training for these new Peshmerga. Eventually people parted ways in search of new endeavors while myself and a close friend stayed behind to continue on our current path.
At this point we’ve spent over a year doing this and have trained over 2000 men to a basic standard of combat-ready Peshmerga. We’ve taught everything from marksmanship and small unit tactics to basic first aid and CQB; It all depends on the level of experience of the group we receive, coupled with the particular needs of their commander. I’m proud to say that despite our idiosyncrasies and limited background we have been able to turn over quality products for the Kurdish forces.
In conjunction with the training we participate in any operation our unit is involved in. This is especially important for several reasons, besides the simple fact that we love to fight.
For starters it allows us to evaluate our future and past trainees unbiased, we get to observe them either employing the training they have received or take note of things that we need to be teaching in the future. We have literally watched the way our unit fights and wins battles evolve over the course of our stay.
Another important reason is that the Peshmerga see us out there alongside them. They see us out there utilizing the same skills we pass on to them sending a message that “this stuff works, we use it to great effect and so can you.”
Lastly courage is honored above all else in Kurdish culture, by going into harms way alongside these men they respect us and will listen to what we have to say or teach.
With the conflict in Iraq coming to a close, our time here in Iraqi Kurdistan is growing short and soon it will be time to move on to another task suitable for men of our craft. I’m sure I will learn just as much with whatever I stumble into next as I have with this recent experience.
I can only do my best to continue to grow, learn, improvise, adapt and overcome; as a good mentor once told me, “get the fuck on with it.” Call me naive but I just want to help the good guys kick the shit out of the bad guys, period.