Texan fights against ISIS in Syria as international volunteer
Warren Stoddard, 24, felt connected to the cause, fought alongside Kurds
SAN MARCOS, Texas – Fighting the Islamic State group on the front lines is a mission very few are willing to go at alone, if at all. But for a 24-year-old San Marcos man, fighting the terrorist group was a calling that he wouldn’t ignore, despite warnings from the U.S. government.
Warren Stoddard is not in the military. He is an everyday civilian from San Marcos, Texas, who put his life on hold to join a group of international volunteers to fight alongside the Kurdish military, a risk that nearly cost him his life.
“In the fight against ISIS—there’s not really a question in who is the good and bad in that,” Stoddard said. “What’s happening there is something everyone in America should care about.”
Following graduation from Texas State University, Stoddard, a former member of the ROTC, applied to join the Marine Corps but was discharged before he attended boot camp. He did some research and learned of a military group called the People’s Protection Units, or YPG, who fight alongside the Kurdish military. After some back-and-forth with the group, Stoddard made his decision to join. He applied for a visa, bought a plane ticket and left for Syria, where he began a seven-month journey.
“There were people there from all over the world,” Stoddard said. “Some people were there for the political revolution side, some people were there to fight ISIS and some people there were in the middle. And I kind of fell more in the middle of that range.”
In his first week overseas, Stoddard said Turkey began attacking northern Iraq, making the border unsafe to cross. As a result, Stoddard’s combat training at the academy was delayed. During that time, he turned his efforts to a reforestation project and helping some local Kurds develop a government they wanted, which was aimed at equality.
“They have this idea of a women’s liberation and, in this society, both men and women had to hold the same position of power. Women have to make up 40 percent of the government. Everyone is required to vote, and women and men stand beside each other and fight along the front lines,” Stoddard said.
Helping this group of Kurds became a passion as he prepared for combat, which he finally got to do following months of training.
“For the first five months, we basically begged to be sent down to the front lines,” Stoddard said. “But Kurdish leadership was really hesitant. They didn’t want internationals to only be in the news when they were dying. But after begging and begging and begging, they finally said, ‘Fine. We’ll send you to the front lines.’”
On New Year's Day, armed with an M16, Stoddard was sent to the front lines to fight the Islamic State group. It was a mission in which he risked it all and almost lost it all.
“I picked up my M16 and went up on the roof. I don’t know how long we were fighting for, but I shot a couple of rounds and right, and as I shot the second round, the wall in front of me blew up my face,” Stoddard said. “ A piece hit me here (in the chest), got stuck in my scarf and my armpit. Most of the bullet struck my leg. Blood started pooling in my boot.”
Following those injuries, Stoddard said he knew his combat days were over. But his desire to fight terrorism would always remain.
“You go over there and this whole society is actually doing something. It was the most alive I’ve ever felt, whenever everyone buys into something," Stoddard said. “And I think the whole world should buy into it because it would make the world a better place.”
Stoddard received medical care following the attack by the Islamic State group and then flew back to the United States. Upon landing on U.S. soil, he was escorted off the plane by agents from the Department of Homeland Security and interview by the FBI before he was released and able to return home to San Marcos. He is now writing a book about his experiences.
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