I had been in Kurdistan, northern Iraq, for about a whole two weeks and was probably as “green” as I could possibly be. The region was still engaged in a heated conflict with IS and attacks of all kinds were occurring daily. I had just arrived at the Peshmerga‘s 9th Brigade, one of the only known Kurdish military units taking in foreigners in Iraqi Kurdistan. 9th Brigade was located in Daquq, a city just outside Kirkuk, and had a main forward operations base located about 5 kilometers from the front lines with the Islamic State. Little did I know that when I woke up, I would be involved in the most significant firefight of my life that following night.

We were given a summarized brief by our elected “platoon leader” the previous night. Our objective as a unit would be to assault and gain control of two Islamic State controlled villages consecutively. While we did this, other Peshmerga units would do the same on our right and left flanks across some several kilometers of terrain. We were broken down into two squads and would move out in our two armored pick-up trucks when the green light was given in the morning. Well, Murphy’s Law is a thing and unfortunately no plan survives first contact.

The next morning we all got up early and shuffled around the base restlessly, squaring gear away and stuffing food into our faces. Now, the Kurdish people are not known for their punctuality but holy shit is it time to go when the powers that be say it’s time to go! When the little Kurd that was the PSD (Personal Security Detail) Chief for the General of 9th Brigade opened the door to our room out of nowhere and said something to the effect of “let’s go now,” we got our kits on and hurried to the trucks. That’s when I noticed we were missing a few of our guys, so I ran back to gather them up. Having found them, we came running back to the trucks only to watch them haul ass out the front gate without us. Those of us left behind were partially to blame for this, but the Kurds gave zero warning of when mission launch would actually be.

Well I wasn’t there for the first day, but I did hear it straight from the guys who went when they got back later. Apparently our team of dudes rolled up to the farthest point from the battle to retake the villages where they had to sit and watch under the General’s orders. I was told that a few pot shots were fired and a VBIED (Vehicle-Borne Improvised Explosive Device) was taken out as it rushed Peshmerga forces. All in all it sounded like a boring day and I didn’t feel like I missed much. Despite this I was pretty upset, at no one in particular, about being left behind and missing out on the “action.” That was all about to change.

The following day our Peshmerga Lieutenant/handler rallied us mid-day to go out to the villages that had been captured the day prior. This time we loaded up in our black Humvees with all of our crew served weapons and ammo. When we were good and ready, we bounced out the front gate in a column doing communications checks with each other over our Motorola radios. Driving through the city in the turret of the Humvee, I observed the daily activities of Daquq from behind my M240G machine gun. We soon made a hard right and started heading through an outlying village full of farmers and people from humble dwellings. Civilians came out to observe our convoy passing through their village with curiosity; children smiled and waved with enthusiasm on occasion. Everyone seemed to be fascinated with the foreign westerners riding under the Peshmerga flag out to the front lines. We eventually reached the beginning of the farthest war-torn village after passing through the countryside and isolated dwellings; several ruined buildings still stood smoldering from coalition ordinance. Peshmerga stood around nonchalantly observing us with mild curiosity.