One Who Confronts Death
By Warren Bujol
The Path Slightly Less Traveled
I left the United States Marine Corps in 2010, after eight years of service. It wasn’t necessarily by choice, but sometimes life has its own plans for you--if you know what I mean. I ended up returning to service in 2011 and apparently I got on the wrong bus ‘cause I ended up in the Army somehow.* I soon found myself in OCS (Officer Candidate School) followed by Infantry Officer’s Basic Leadership Course in Ft. Benning, GA. While I was there, I climbed on a tank, played with little remote control cars, looked all over the woods for a few thousand rounds of ammunition that our Ugandan didn’t feel like carrying around, and learned how much Moldovans hate gypsies and humor; but more importantly, I had the chance to meet some incredible people. Among those incredible people stood a Golden God who we called Ben. Ben is the kind of guy you pretend to be when no one is looking. He was a former fitness model (it’s like a bodybuilder, but they wear board-shorts instead of speedos). He is smart, selfless, and he doesn't have a tribal sleeve tattoo.
You Stay Golden
Over the course of four months, Stefan, Carmack (my best friends forever) and I accepted Ben into our Meerkat pack, making our graduation bittersweet. We cried as we watched him board the plane…we knew in the back of our minds that he would soon be in harm's way. Just before Ben was out of sight, Stefan yelled, “YOU STAY GOLDEN”, but he was sobbing, and it sounded stupid, so Ben pretended he didn’t hear it. We watched Ben travel to Afghanistan (through Facebook) and then to what looked like Thailand, or Malaysia or something, but then we saw him in Iraq. Turns out, Ben found another calling after leaving the Army…beating the shit out of ISIS. My new calling isn’t nearly as tough, but I figured I could at least write about his while I try to grow my Ben-Beard. I asked Ben a few questions about the whole extracurricular war thing. It went something like this:
What ultimately made you want to take action?
I've noticed this world has become all about money and power. I'm not interested in that. I ultimately decided to join the fight because I wanted my life to have purpose. I wanted to help others out regardless of race, religion, or nationality.
What was the process of recruitment? Did you seek them out?
I saw a Facebook post from a group called FRAME and initially contacted them. A few weeks before I was supposed to fly to Iraq, I found out that group had shut down and was renamed DAWN. I had a photo and phone number for pick up in Kurdistan, however that group also shut down and I was stranded. Both FRAME and DAWN were shut down due to severe relationship problems with the Peshmerga. Luckily, I found a group called Brothers of Kurdistan (now Legion). They asked for my military background and brought me in the very next day. Legion is a brotherhood. We have each other's backs. We are the only group that currently operates with Peshmerga permission and with the Sheik’s blessing. This organization has been highly revered by the locals and will continue to grow where others have failed. We do not show off who we are or whore ourselves out to the media. We are here solely to help out the people of Kurdistan and make a difference. Any money we raise goes straight to our gear and the Peshmerga.
What are the challenges involved in joining?
There is an obvious language problem. Besides that and being stranded by an organization that should have never existed, there aren't too many challenges.
Are there many foreigners in the fight with you?
For security reasons, I can't give exact names or numbers but by the end of June we will plenty. These guys are all volunteers using their own money to be here. We are the sheep-dogs, our lives are about helping others.
What is the American media failing to cover?
Honestly the biggest failure on the media’s part has nothing to do with the fighting - it has to do with who they interview and give credit to. If you see someone on CNN or other media outlets talking about what they're doing or trying to raise money for, you shouldn’t trust them. The American and British people have been fooled by certain individuals into contributing money. One particular individual raised $100,000 with promises of using it for the Kurdish people. That individual did not fight, did not give the money to the Kurds, but he has been partying with that money and is now wanted by more than two governments. The fighting covered by the media is fairly accurate. It is trench warfare. Giant berms with 600+ meters in between covered with IEDs (Improvised Explosive Devices). Another thing the media does not cover is the fact that the Kurdish people aren't getting government support while the fleeing Iraqi Army gets everything. The equipment the U.S. gives to the Iraqi Army ends up with ISIS while the equipment the Kurds get, from various countries, does not.
What are living conditions like compared to a normal deployment?
It’s a fairly similar experience depending on how your deployment was, and in some cases, better than the first waves of Afghanistan and Iraq deployments. The Bangladeshis cook you 2-3 meals a day. You have access to fresh water. Toilets are the squat pots, but you won't hear me complain as long as I don't have to dig my own hole. Showers are big, and tubs filled with water and dumped over your head. Once again, you won't hear me complain because I get a shower every day. The Kurdish people and Peshmergas are extremely nice. While they aren't rich in currency, they will help you out as much as possible.
What is your daily routine?
Days vary depending on mission times, etc. Unless we stay out on mission all night, it's usually a 6:30am wake up. Police call (pick shit up) our AO (Area of Operation)/motor pool. Eat breakfast. Then conduct vehicle and weapons maintenance till lunch. Eat lunch. If nothing pops up, then we continue vehicle maintenance. These HMMWVs (Humvees) and MRAPs (bigger Humvees, kind of) we have were initially given to the Iraqi Army from the U.S, but then ISIS seized them. Then the Peshmergas defeated ISIS and took them. So you can imagine the maintenance that has(n't) been conducted in the last 7 years before us.
Does the language barrier complicate your mission?
We have a Peshmerga lieutenant that is in charge of us. His English is better than most Americans. We’ve had very few problems since we take our orders from him.
Have you had any major success? Any major failures?
I've personally been here for less than 2 weeks but others that started the group have been here for 2 months. Those guys have used personal money to buy medical supplies for locals and have also conducted several operations. The most humbling, and greatest accomplishment, is that the Sheik (possibly the next Kurdistan President) has asked us to be his PSD (personal security detachment).
What are some challenges you face logistically?
The biggest logistical shortfall is the fact that we aren't being armed (other than rifles from Germany) by any other countries, unlike the Iraqi Army and ISIS.
How is it to work with a foreign force, without being backed by coalition forces?
I prefer it actually. You don't have someone breathing down your neck about not wearing a helmet when working on a HMMWV. We are similar to a special operations unit in the sense that we train a foreign military, operate in small groups, ride around in Toyota trucks, and most importantly grow beards.
Do they know you're a golden God?
They are starting to get suspicious. The beard is the talking point right now, but maybe one day I will inform them about my mastodon similarities.
Do you even Peshmerga, bro?
I do Peshmerga. The question is what are everyday Americans going to do to stop this evil force. Legion is so passionate about this cause that we are willing to die for it. Find something in your life you're that passionate about and pursue it.
Do you see an end to the current violence in the region?
There are two parts to this answer: 1) I believe the violence in Kurdistan in regards to ISIS will end and the Islamic State will be defeated leaving Kurdistan with its own country, and 2) I believe that the sectarian violence in the Middle East with never cease as long as power, money, and religious extremist are involved.
Readers Also Enjoyed...or, at least they clicked on...
Founded in Lake Charles, LA. Subscribe to Exposure today and receive a physical copy of Exposure Magazine mailed directly to your house every month. It's free to subscribe!