Kurt: What’s your military background?

Mike:
So 2 years in the Marines and 2 years in the Army. I’ve realized I’m young and impatient so everywhere I’m at I’m always convinced I should be doing something better. Got bored in the Marines as a radio guy, so I tried to go SF in the Army and that fell through because too many people going through the current massive pipeline JSOC is having trying to bolster SOF numbers. Ended up leaving 173rd airborne in Italy to go to Kurdistan.

YPG foreign volunteer unit “223”

Kurt: What made you decide to leave and fight ISIS?

Mike:
What got me the idea to be a volunteer was the last deployment in the Army in Turkey. We were near the Syrian border training their “counter-terror” guys and doing base security at a couple compounds in the mountains. That slow realization that the Turks are helping ISIS, and what we were providing training for was COIN ops against the Kurds in southeast Turkey. The local towns were all demographically Kurdish, and the few times we went to the towns I always ended up meeting Kurds explaining what’s actually happening. I was just a poor infantryman who was told all combat deployments are finished. This was around the time the battle for Kobane was big in the news, and I basically spent every night in the mountains staring south over the border realizing I was in the wrong place to be a soldier. So when we got back to home station I did literally whatever I could to get out early without overtly trying to get kicked out. Ended up getting out in April 2015 and within 3 days of being stateside I was boarding a plane for Sulaymaniah. Through the internet, the “safest” route I could find was that group of guys in the Pesh (9th Brigade). I thought why not, then as you know it turned out to be a static shit show.

Mike utilizes a “murder hole” to provide overwatch

Kurt: Having served with both YPG and Peshmerga, what was that like and how do they differ?

Mike:
The Pesh was like a pathetic attempt to become a conventional army, but as you know I didn’t do shit with the Pesh. So It’s a little difficult to give a true comparison of the combat environments. The YPG is a self-proclaimed “guerilla” organization, that realistically are a simple militia due to the nature of operations in Rojava. The Pesh is “Oh, I look cooler than you do therefore I am a higher-class warrior,” and it almost seems as if the YPG are “Oh, I’ve been shot or blown up more times than you, I’ve lost more fighters under my command because I truly am in the shit more than you.” Though I whole-heartedly admire their warrior spirit, they do still reside in the Middle East. So the sort of professionalism that you and I are used to essentially doesn’t exist. When it comes to the effectiveness of both branches, given equal capabilities, I think the YPG holds the award 5 to 1.

Kurt: It seems like the YPG embodies the warrior ethos while the Pesh just want to say they do.

Interview with an American YPG fighter: Straight Outta Raqqa

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Mike:
From what I’ve seen, yeah. Obviously the individual and the entire group differ, the YPG’s core values and default mentality on what actually needs to be done is what trumps the Pesh.

Kurt: Which operations were you involved in?

Mike:
Mainly Al Hasekeh and Manbij. The others were too short in duration for me to consider actually being a working part in the operation.

Mike scanning for targets of opportunity

Kurt: Did you interact with special operations at all and what was their part in these battles?

Mike:
A lot. As you probably know, there were US, UK and French guys all over the place. Priority one was purely forward observation, and advising major movements in the campaign. But in Manbij they actually played a role of escorting in MK 6 CRRCs the entire attacking force across the Euphrates, then building a bridge after the initial 5km or so was cleared. My craft almost sank in the middle of the km wide river btw. Also small medical station set up near the AOs. In fact one of the SEALs out there actually sewed my dick together outside Manbij.

Kurt: How many times were you injured and under what circumstances?

Mike:
Some shrapnel throughout my body from a mine in the Hol Op. A round in my leg from Hasekeh while moving out of a BMP. Then the rest was from Manbij while clearing those large apt buildings.

Kurt: Can you break down what happened in Manbij?

Interview with a YPG/Peshmerga foreign fighter

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Mike:
Sure, I was with that foreigner unit and we had gotten further into the city than anyone on our front had. Well.. firstly I wasn’t happy about only having a Glock, 15 rounds and 1 grenade on me during all my clearing… So Sehid Amed crossed the road first. Not a sound. I followed suit as 2nd man. My guess now is that the bad guys nearby got an alert reaction being able to hear Amed cross. And by the time the 2nd man went out (me), sights were trained and I was doomed. Once I hit the middle of this back alley street, a tornado of ricochet went off in my little concrete kill box. Btw I’m sure some of my rounds were ricochet rather than directs. Felt like somebody poking me with a hot stick in the hip and leg, fell on my face for what felt like a lifetime but was in reality probably about half a second. Got up and sprinted inside the doorway and had two bad guys with their backs to me. Was able to put them down in some quick adrenaline high with double taps center mass. I saw movement in the right corner of my vision and turned to engage but before I could get my barrel all the way rotated I felt a brick wall smack me into the stairwell. I dropped my weapon and as I was reaching for it he (the ISIS fighter) sprayed maybe 6-8 rounds at me. I don’t know if his weapon jammed or he ran out of ammo, but he fiddled with his rifle for a moment then charged at me. Before he got to me some hard charger from across the street put two into him from outside the building. I remember one slicing through his arm extended toward me and another through his neck. So after that all I could hear was one of the other Americans shouting, “come back! come back!” I got up and sprinted back across the street, taking another round I think, and made it down the long hallway where I found a backroom that I could just fall down in. Ha Ha I ran past the guys covering the doorway who were still in a firefight with the bad guys and in that selfish, shitbag moment I had no care in the world for what was going on with everyone else. I just laid down in that back room, took off literally all of my gear and stared at the ceiling for maybe a minute.

Reacting to enemy from a rooftop

Kurt: Sounds like they were covering your egress and you did what you had to do being combat ineffective at that point bro. Hardly shitbag, far from it.

Mike:
Bad guys moved up on our doorway and started throwing frags inside, so I had to pick up all my shit, go half way back toward the doorway and run up 5 flights of stairs before I started actually treating myself. After about 10-15 minutes bandaging myself and another American who took a round to the leg and another to the arm (who was covering the doorway) we had to crawl through the chain of five blown up rubbled out buildings through rat holes and cross several bad guy covered streets about a km out to get to one of those homemade BMPs to take us out of the city. About five local Arab fighters escorted us back and three of them were injured trying to cover our exit from that area.

Kurt: Fucking savage bro. Whats a memorable moment that stands out the most to you from over there, doesn’t have to be combat related?

Mike:
Well, for a while, after I had separated myself from other foreigners, I obtained this sort of Lawrence of Arabia feeling. Not riding around on a horse in the desert sorta thing, but an almost settling, content state of mind – as if I was a whole different person, in a different country, living a different life. No technology, no English, no dumb Americans. Simple people, living a simple life, and being perfectly happy. I’m sure you get what I’m trying to say.

Maybe also is watching crowds of women and children finally leave the holes they were hiding in. Having a mother hand me her baby as she throws off her cloak and gives me probably the most genuine kiss on the cheek I don’t think my own mother could even rival.

Kurt: What do you think the future of the conflict is?

Mike:
A continued shit show. Iraq and KRG aren’t going to get along, Rojava and whoever wins in Syria aren’t going to get along. Turks are always going to making shit difficult.. Your guess is as good as mine. All I know for sure is that the State in Islamic State is going to crumble. It’s inevitable. No radical group like IS, throughout all history, ever comes out on top.

Kurt: Lastly can you walk me through when John was killed?

Mike:
Yeah. But firstly, I wasn’t THERE there when it happened, I only helped make sure he was brought out of the area. He was with the foreigner unit. They were clearing an outer village in the Hol op. But after being with that foreigner unit a few months later, a couple people who actually saw it told me that there was a bad guy dressed in YPG garb, who essentially just did a little trickery. John had his rifle pointed at him, and the bad guy just threw one hand up and just kept saying “heval.” John wasn’t real educated in any language out there so he didn’t quite know what to do and didn’t want to shoot a heval that looked a little weird. He hesitated, bad guy sprayed into him from maybe 10 ft. That was the western unit’s literally very first op too. First village clearing on their own.

Mike conducting range drills with 223

Kurt: Are you going back?

Mike: As soon as my surgeries are complete.

Kurt: Respect brother, thanks for taking the time to speak with me and tell your story, you’re an absolute beast and I’m proud to call you my friend or at the very least have served in the Peshmerga with you briefly

Mike: You too bud. I’ll see you again out there, have fun doing your fun shit. I’ll be at a halt in rush hour traffic listening to Justin Bieber if you need me… Cus I’m a real American now.

The martyrs of 223