Somebody has to say this: I am absolutely fed up with people coming to war zones with the wrong intentions and/or lack of qualifications and delusions about the situation. It is absolutely detrimental to progress over here, specifically in Kurdistan. I’m not alone in this outlook; anyone who’s been here long enough will tell you the same thing. You’re making Westerners look like unmanageable, unreliable, and unintelligent dicks.

To be blunt, stay home—we don’t want or need you. Wars, and volunteering in one, are not a game. People are relying on you to do your job to the letter. Many of your comrades have lost family and friends to the enemy. It’s their life on the line, and they will absolutely risk theirs to save your dumb ass. There are no respawns. The first time you watch a friend get cut in half by an IED or have a bullet whiz past your face, it becomes too real. No custom M4s here; you get issued whatever extra piece of shit weapon the unit had lying around because no one cares if you were special ops or special ed, you’re just some jackass who showed up.

War zones are not for tourism. Surprise! When people come for a couple months and leave, they waste everyone’s time and label themselves a massive, unreliable poser among the community of Westerners here who have sweat, bled, and suffered though hardships and long days. The Kurds will hate you for it and talk constant shit about you, as will those of us who are still here, because you’re not a real warrior. You’re a tourist.

It is not a movie. There is no glory to be had despite your experience with “Rambo.” Nothing goes the way it is supposed to. It’s not a script, and on more than one occasion, the good guys lose or die. Ammo is incredibly limited; no Hollywood mags here, and when you run out, it’s over, because supplies are limited. The food often sucks ass and there’s never enough, so if you’re incompetent, you’re just another mouth to feed instead of a force multiplier. Ninety-nine percent of the experience is something other than fighting. It’s mind-numbingly boring most of the time.

Nobody thinks you’re a badass or wants to bang you because you went to war. Again, you’re just another no-name jackass. Military service should be a prerequisite for anything involving combat. Now, that’s not to say I haven’t met or worked alongside a few kickass civilians, but believe me, they were the exception, not the rule. People don’t want to take the time to train you how to fight, shoot, duck, etc. when it could be better spent on other things. Besides, the opportunity for training will more than likely not be there, which means the indigenous forces or qualified volunteers have to rely on an imbecile to cover them when the proverbial shit hits the fan.

This is what gets people killed—incompetence regardless of good or bad intentions. The guy who fucks up is never the one who pays for it. If you’re coming to get the commando experience, just go join the military. If you’re barred from that, take that as a sign.

The wrong intentions are the next biggest problem, because at least a guy with training and experience can be depended on under fire when it counts. Too many people show up looking for fame, money, a place to die, a chance to kill someone, or some other narrow-minded, self-centered reason. There’s a big difference between being eager for a righteous fight and making it your sole purpose. If you’re coming to the aid of people in duress, then helping them should be your sole concern. Fighting isn’t everything, but neither is bullshit propaganda (too many jerks doing all media spotlight and no real work).

Media attention isn’t a negative because it raises awareness, but in my opinion, it should be spontaneous and not an objective. A volunteer should try to fill every facet of their role that is plausible. In other words, make yourself useful to the people you claim you want to aid.

Because of the influx of these individuals showing up and fucking up, it has become increasingly difficult to earn and keep the trust of the Kurdish fighters here. Aside from the unit and fighters we’ve built rapport and a relationship with, the Kurds are hesitant to utilize us properly, especially in units where they have very little experience with Westerners. The majority of Peshmerga units will not take volunteers for these very reasons. Honestly, I can’t blame them in the slightest.