Kurt: Who are you and what’s your background besides YPG?

Mitchell: Mitchell Clark — I have a pretty typical small town AmericanAmericanAmerican story. I grew up playing football and got really serious about it in high school. I was planning on going to college to play, but I had a severe shoulder injury that pretty much ended any chance of that. So straight out of high school I joined the Army at the age of 17. In the back of my mind I kind of always knew that’s what I’d end up doing anyway. I had dreams of being a soldier from a young age, and it’s still a passion that’s never left me. I got out of the Army at age 20 and began competing in mixed martial arts. I pretty much dedicated the next few years of my life to that.

Kurt: What made you decide to go over to Kurdistan and join the YPG?

Mitchell: It was when I first started hearing about ISIS. I came across some videos that stick with me to this day. Also, I started hearing about them in the news, and just couldn’t stop the urge to do something about it. I found the YPG by googling “how to fight ISIS” and they were at the top of my results. From there I began learning about the revolution in northern Syria, and rather than just looking at it as a way to go fight this terror group, I started to sympathize with the Kurdish struggle. I emailed the address on the website that they used to contact volunteers and began speaking to them from there.

Kurt: So what was it like connecting with the contacts you made (no names or specifics that would compromise PERSEC) and ultimately making the trip to join the fight? Were there any significant aspects of traveling this way that stuck out to you?

Mitchell: It was a challenge. They are very busy people and it was hard to get timely responses to coordinate everything. I began contact with them in 2015 and arranged to go in April of 2016. I flew from Chicago To Jordan, then Jordan to Erbil. I stayed in Erbil for a few weeks with many failed attempts to contact them. I tried to join a Peshmerga unit while I was there, but ultimately ended up flying back home. It wasn’t until a few months after that when I began to try to reestablish contact with them. Their responses were more frequent the second time around and I was able to coordinate the trip properly. I took the same route this time. Traveling was way easier than I expected. I got absolutely zero questions the entire time. Keep in mind, I’m carrying all kinds of tactical gear in my bags, so any questions that they may have had for me would’ve been justified. That never happened though, so I strolled into Iraq like I belonged there. Both times.

Kurt: What was it like crossing the border? Into Rojava, that is.

Mitchell: I asked a few guys who had crossed before what it was like. They all had different experiences. I guess everyone does because it’s a situation that requires constant change. In my experience it was pretty simple, although I had no clue what was going on the entire time. We took a car to a mountain somewhere close to the border and got into a different car. From there we were taken to a field that led to a river. When we got to the river we inflated a paddle boat and crossed. All this while dodging spotlights and checkpoints. Once we crossed the river we walked for around 5 hours while still avoiding detection. At the time it didn’t seem as crazy as it sounds. I remember feeling oddly comfortable with the situation as we were crossing.

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