PJ and I were in the same Peshmerga units before he left to fight in Syria alongside the YPG. He is an exceptional warrior that embodies the spirit of the Marine Corps with a sense of humor that cannot be matched, Semper Fidelis brother.
Kurt: What’s your military background?
PJ: 0351 infantry assaultman UCMC 2005-2009. Two tours around Al-Anbar province. Squad R/O first tour, squad leader second tour.
Kurt: What made you decide to go over and fight ISIS?
PJ: Watching towns like Fallujah and Ramadi was a final straw for me. After watching closely how the stability of the region went after the Arab spring. Al-Nusra and the FSA causing trouble with the regime and giving rise to Daesh which gave rise to the idea of a caliphate. Raping and murdering all in their path led them into conflict with the Kurds in both Syria and Iraq. The Kurds, in turn, offered a chance for foreign volunteers to fight shan ba shan (shoulder to shoulder), an offer many of us couldn’t refuse.
Kurt: Which Kurdish forces were you with and how long were you with each respective entity?
PJ: Basically I gave six months to both the Peshmerga, and the YPG respectively.
Kurt: What are some of the differences between the two that stood out to you?
PJ: Their economic systems and lifestyles. The YPG, not unlike the PKK, are typically in it for life. They subscribe to a lifetime of fighting in the mountains of Basur. They adopt more of a socialist lifestyle in doing so. They don’t get paid, not even a notion of it. They do it to oppose who they consider an oppressive force (Turkish forces) whereas the Peshmerga are a bit more relaxed. They can come and go basically, they have no contract. The YPG don’t have families, it isn’t allowed. The Peshmerga don’t have these stipulations. Maybe a Sparta vs. Troy comparison.
Kurt: As I understand it, their approaches to combat are very different as well? What was it like as a Marine adapting to each one?
PJ: I had different missions. The unit I was with in Peshmerga was filling a defensive role. It was the same initially with YPG but we had the opportunity to go on some offensive maneuvers. Very well coordinated with coalition air support. Typical stuff; drop leaflets warning of an attack, coalition target softening and troop surge. One mind any weapon. The warrior ethos is a universal one.
Kurt: Were there any cultural differences you had to overcome?
PJ: Well no, not as a Marine who has deployed to the region before. Massive cultural differences though, as expected.
Kurt: You were with a wide variety of volunteers, what was that like and how do you feel about the people who come over to fight with the Kurds?
PJ: Half and half man. Half the guys I’ve met are of outstanding character. The other half are shit bags. Prior experience is another varying factor.
Kurt: Do you have a particularly memorable moment from your time in Kurdistan or story?
PJ: The Shedadi and to Tishrin operations. Working closely with AC-130s and A-10s overhead, myself and a handful of Kurds were the team to take “Village 47” the last village outside of Shedadi. We were outnumbered three to one but with air support we easily secured the entire village one early morning with zero casualties.
Kurt: How do you foresee the conflict in Syria playing out post ISIS and what will it mean for the YPG?
PJ: Things are going to be interesting from here on out. YPG boasts 50k armed men (exaggerated?) Throughout Syria and Turkey. Neither nation wants that to happen. The Kurds in Rojava want autonomy. They say they will fight for nothing less. In short, I see more fighting.
Kurt: When you left the YPG, you were detained by KDP Peshmerga. How did that play out?
PJ: 40 days in the Erbil prison. Illegally crossing the border between Iraq and Syria while having an expired Visa. It sucks man, prison sucks anywhere you go. We did get better food in there than on the front in Rojava.
Kurt: What was it like coming home after all that time?
PJ: Women, booze, bacon.
Kurt: Rah! Are you planning on returning to the YPG?
PJ: Yes, very soon actually.
Kurt: Why are you going back?
PJ: We’ve lost a lot of volunteers since I’ve come back, and far more Kurds. I’d like to get back in and focus on helping a combat medic unit over there in the hopes of saving some more lives.
Kurt: Anything you want to say or let people know about the Kurds, the war, ISIS or anything in general?
PJ: We can literally never die; Şehid Namirin. I would say for the record the Kurds are a beacon of Democracy in the Middle East. They should be essential allies over there.
Kurt: Thanks for taking the time to talk to me. Stay safe over there brother.
PJ: Yeah man of course.