BAGHDAD (AP) — A decade after his first Iraq tour, former U.S. Marine Jamie Lane has returned to the battlefields of the Middle East to fight a still unvanquished enemy and wrestle with the demons of his past.
The 29-year old from Mt. Pleasant, Michigan served as a machine gunner from 2004 to 2008, mainly in the western Anbar province, where he saw fierce fighting against al-Qaida in Iraq. Now, as a private citizen suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder, he is back in the region to battle its successor, the Islamic State group.
“In order to aid my recovery from PTSD, I have taken it upon myself to fight on my terms, against an enemy I know is evil,” said Lane, who joined Kurdish militiamen in Syria. “It is redemption, in a sense.”
He is one of a small but growing number of Iraq war veterans who are making their way back to the Middle East, not as uniformed soldiers, but as individuals waging their own personal battles.
Many describe feeling a sense of unfinished business as they watched the Islamic State group rampage across the country last summer, seizing territory they had fought and bled for during the U.S.-led intervention. Some express remorse for taking part in that war, while others say they are driven by the same sense of moral obligation that brought them here in the first place, joining their fate to that of a deeply troubled country.
Scott Curley, another U.S veteran of the Iraq war, returned to join the Kurdish peshmerga fighters after Islamic State militants in Syria beheaded Peter Kassig, a former U.S. Army Ranger who had returned to the region to provide humanitarian aid to Syrian civilians.
“I’m just a man with a gun, but whatever little difference I can do,” he said. ‘There weren’t many Western volunteers (with the peshmerga), so I figured I could help here.”
A U.S.-led air campaign began targeting the Islamic State group in Iraq in August, helping Iraqi and Kurdish forces to halt the extremists’ advance and begin rolling them back. The Pentagon plans to supply some $1.6 billion worth of arms and training to Kurdish and Iraqi forces.
But after more than a decade of inconclusive wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, the United States has no interest in sending ground troops back to the Middle East. And as the vets learned at great cost on their various deployments, territory cannot be won and held by airstrikes and arms deliveries alone.
“I’m not a mercenary or in love with killing people,” said Bruce Windorski, a former Army Ranger and ex-police officer now training Kurdish fighters with the Syria-based People’s Protection Units (YPG). The Green Bay, Wisconsin native says he would rather see a “random Westerner” fighting alongside the Kurds than another full-scale invasion.
“I wouldn’t want our American servicemen and women to have to fight a third war in two decades,” Windorski said. “I’ve lived through the loss of loved ones fighting on foreign soil. I have seen families with deployed loved ones. It’s hell on everyone involved.”