Soldier goes AWOL to fight ISIS in Iraq

An Iowa National guardsman has headed back to war for the third time, against the advice of his family and government officials, and without the authority from the US Army.

Ryan O’Leary, a veteran of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars, told Tony Leys of The DesMoines Register, that he believes it’s his duty to volunteer to train Kurdish forces to battle ISIS in Iraq.  Despite the real possibility of losing his life, or his military benefits, O’Leary returned to Iraq last month.

O’Leary went on to say, “ISIS isn’t just a fight for them, it’s a fight for all of us.  We need to help them out, and we’re not doing it. The only thing I’m getting out of it is knowing that I’m helping make change in a country that deserves it and for a people that deserve it.”

In an interview via Skype this week, The 28 year old National Guard corporal explained plans to help train members of the Peshmerga, which is the Kurdish army.  O’Leary said he made contact with the Peshmerga a few months ago through a Kurdish friend who served as a translator for the Iowa National Guard in Iraq. The former translator introduced him via Facebook with a British veteran who was helping train a Kurdish unit, he said. The British veteran helped him figure out how to link up with the Kurdish army in a town about 200 miles northeast of Baghdad.

According to the article, the FBI and State Department have said what he’s doing is legal, but they’ve urged him to consider the danger. They worry he could be kidnapped, used as a hostage or killed.

Meanwhile, a State Department official has confirmed that 36 year old Keith Broomfield has been killed in Syria.  Social Media accounts linked to Kurdish fighters were first to report his death, calling Broomfield a “martyr” and saying he was killed in the Syrian countryside while helping Kurdish forces fight ISIS in that country.

In an interview with CBS news, Donna Broomfield said that her son had left to join the Kurds about four months ago.  There have been numerous cases reported of Americans believed to have traveled overseas to join the Kurdish People’s Protection Union, also known by the initials YPG, in their fight against ISIS. However, Broomfield is believed to be the first U.S. citizen to die fighting alongside the YPG.

According to the Register, in returning to Iraq last month, O’Leary walked away from the U.S. military. He stripped all insignia off his camouflage uniforms before packing them into two green duffel bags. He attached Kurdish patches after he arrived in Iraq.   The Peshmerga has been praised for standing its ground against the extremists in its region of the country. Their forces have proven to be more effective than the official Iraqi Army, which abandoned its weapons and fled last month when ISIS fighters stormed the city of Ramadi, 250 miles south of where O’Leary landed.

When asked by the USA Today how he expects fighting there to be different this time around, O’Leary responded, “It’s more direct combat, more WWI style where you can see your enemy.”

O’Leary joined the Iowa National Guard in 2004 and transferred in 2011 to the National Guard in Louisiana, where his then-wife was from. He had hoped to transfer back to the Iowa Guard. A military spokesman confirmed that O’Leary is still a part-time member of the Louisiana National Guard.  But the next time he’s due to participate in training, O’Leary admits he’ll probably be declared absent without leave, better known as AWOL.


  • Christopher Ross is journalist and creative fiction writer based in Florida. Ross studied Journalism and English at Florida Atlantic University and currently writes for several different blogs and websites.

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