Erwin is one of my closest friends and brings a fresh perspective to the world. He genuinely creates a welcoming atmosphere for the people around him. I’m glad I was able to do this interview with him and pick his brain. Keep an eye out for his book “CAB Hunter”; it’s going to be a best-seller worth reading. Here’s our quick conversation.
Kurt: What’s your full name and military background?
Erwin: Erwin Stran. I spent five years in the U.S. Army as an MP.
What made you want to fight the Islamic State?
Besides all the normal and reasonable answers, I wasn’t done fighting after my tour in 2009-2010 (not that I experienced any engagements on that tour). I thought, “Hey, I’m still young, Daesh are assholes, let’s go.”
What was it like volunteering and getting over to Kurdistan?
Freakishly easy, first of all. Granted, we had a contact prior to leaving who picked us up at the airport, but it was very strange that we could just show up in a country, then boom, we were on the front in two weeks. It was nerve-racking because you weren’t sure if you’d go to the base or a cage, but exciting for the same reason.
Which forces did you volunteer with and how were you received by the Kurds there?
I was with the Peshmerga from March until mid September 2015, then I jumped to Rojava with the YPG from October to late January. Both were very welcoming, though the YPG aren’t too impressed with the Peshmerga.
Why is there animosity between the two?
It’s strictly political…well, a bit of ideology differences as well. Honestly, you can write a book on why it is the way it is (which will be a chapter in my book—once I fully understand the concept myself, that is). But let’s just say there’s too much for one article.
What were some of the greatest challenges you faced?
Honestly, trying to figure out why we fight. Everyone over there has their own personal agenda aside from fighting Daesh and helping Kurdistan. Well, 85 percent of my purpose was to fight. Once that finally happened, I started asking myself why the hell I ever wanted to fight. I began learning there is more to it than just getting stories or medals. That was the hardest thing for me—trying to figure that out. I wanted it so badly on my tour, but for all the wrong reasons. I learned what the right reasons were. The hardest part was learning I was doing so much with my life for all the wrong reasons.
I think a lot of guys come over here searching for something in themselves.
Exactly. Hell, I was always a fighter. I only accidentally became a soldier. Really, I’m just a musician. (Laughs)
What was your first engagement with Daesh like?
It was back in March 2015. There was actually a video of it featured on Funker. There were 28 dead from Pesh fire, and 37 injured Pesh, including two Americans. What I gather was there was a complete breakdown in communication, forcing us to fall back from one of the five villages we were taking that day. I got stuck in a trench under fire for two hours. We received no order to move until we fell back.
Sounds pretty wild.
What was the most memorable moment of the whole experience for you?
Man, that’s like asking me who my favorite band is. That whole 11 months from Bashur to Rojava was an experience I won’t soon forget for the next 1,000 lifetimes.
Well how about a couple of them?
Well, I do remember a guy on our team fucking around with another guy on the radio. Both were American. The dude playing spoke a bit of Russian. So before relieving the dude on post, he called up and said in Russian, “I’ll be there in a minute; I’m making a sandwich.” Dude flipped out, obviously, because there have been reports of Russians in the country and we have seen Chechens in Daesh ranks. Pretty funny. (Laughs)
Awesome! General fuckery on post. Love it.
You know as well as I do, brother. If you can’t find humor out there, you’re practically dead.
Oh, for sure, dude.
And everyone giving me shit for digging Taylor swift. (Laughs)
What was your favorite weapon and why?
AK. Light, ammo everywhere, and if something breaks, just strip down one not being used. Irons, too. Don’t need all that high-speed hooah shit.
I like your style. What sucked most?
Eating rotting tomatoes or not eating at all from time to time. But it wasn’t too bad because you always had chai to curb your appetite. In fact, I can’t remember ever running out of chai or sugar (laughs). Wasn’t too bad, I mean. Because of chai.
How has the whole experience changed your perspective on the conflict and situation?
That’s an answer I’m still working on myself. Because once you back up, you’ll see the whole thing going on over there is much bigger than just Daesh. But short answer, I got to send some hate downrange at some evil fucking people. I’m happy.
Amen brother. What are you doing now that you’re home? What has the transition been like?
Right now, I’m having to start completely over. No job, hardly any money, no car, but it’s not a big deal, really. Got some projects lined up. Want to start on my book and definitely want to get back into writing and playing music. It sure is strange coming back this time around. The reintegration is much different. I keep finding myself saying “spas” (Kurdish for “thanks”) to everyone, not even realizing it. Things like that.
Any final thoughts you want to add?
Just be cool to each other, man. The Kurds have it right. Though they may have their differences just like everyone, they are still very much united. More so than (in my opinion) what America is today. In the words of Abraham Lincoln from Bill and Ted, “Be excellent to each other.” That means everyone…you Trump supporters.
I dig it. Thanks for taking the time to share with me, bro!
Thank you, brother.