I just got back from a trip from Iraqi Kurdistan to help our Middle East field rep, Zack Bazzi with a donation to the female Peshmerga soldiers in response to a critical need identified by their U.S. Army advisors. These women are based in the Kurdistan region of Iraq, and trained to assist with the fight against ISIS. They are a heroic and powerful group of women fighters, and very determined to receive training and equality in a region where they have struggled with women’s rights for a very long time.
We travelled to their base approximately three hours south from Iraqi Kurdistan’s capital and met with these amazing warfighters. When we arrived they were training in the field with U.S. Army and Coalition advisors and a small cadre of female Peshmerga Officers. It was at this moment when I saw them sitting in a circle on the field that I had a flashback from my military days less than two years ago.
I was part of a very determined small group of women in the Navy that worked in culturally sensitive environments, engaging with women of many different religions and ethnic backgrounds around the world. Our goal was to build relationships with local key leaders where men were not allowed because of the cultural boundaries, and help women have a voice in some of the toughest environments. Much like the female Peshmerga, we were trained by men, led by men, and worked side by side the men. We were taught to keep up with them, operate and fight just like them and more importantly, contribute to the mission – just like them. We helped to create local radio broadcasts and educational outreach initiatives such as women’s voting rights in Ghazni, Afghanistan, and developed various humanitarian aid projects to help the local population. I saw this same determination in these women’s eyes as I met them on their training camp not too far from the front lines, sitting in a circle listening and learning intently.
We would sit in circles just like this very moment, discussing battle formations and techniques – what a rare coincidence! I was shaking in excitement as I held my video camera thinking that not too long ago I was patrolling with my teammate in Afghanistan using these similar formations in a war zone. The instructors lined up the bottles of water to simulate a patrol and the women sat intently listening to every single word as if it was the last time they would ever have this chance to absorb the information. But what stuck out to me the most was the sisterhood and camaraderie they had formed – something very special and easy for me to relate.
The women go through an intense three-week training where they learn weapon skills, infantry tactics, counter-improvised explosives devices (IED, also known as a homemade roadside bomb or destructive device), and medical treatment. These women will be employed throughout the border maintaining security and assisting with women’s shelters and refugee camps across the region. Zack and I delivered over 250 medical training kits that will help them to save lives in the field. Each soldier received their own medical kit. Afterward, they were so grateful to have probably the most important and valuable piece of their kit now strapped to their side. I had a great discussion with one of the counter-IED instructors about the participation of the women. He said that he loved training them because they listen, pay attention (most of the time better than the male Peshmerga soldiers) and they are tough. He said that while on patrol carrying heavy weight and looking for IED’s, they never complain or ask for breaks. And when the break is up, they are back at it and just as strong and motivated as before.
It is a great privilege to have met these amazing war fighters – to shake their hands, watch them train in the field so eager to defend their land and families, and to have such a connection to them. There was a time when women were not even allowed to leave their homes let alone hold a weapon and defend their land. Some of them turned to the military to escape abusive marriages, others to have an opportunity to contribute to the fight against ISIS, and now they are serving side by side the male soldiers. While speaking with one of the women, she mentioned to me that she was fighting because her four sisters joined and wanted to be close to them. Another said she joined because her brother was in the Peshmerga fighting on the front lines, and another joined because she was a woman and “women should have the right to know how to fight.” Such powerful statements, but all true and enlightening. Now they have formed a sisterhood, regardless of religion or background – they serve together. As a female combat veteran, I am proud to say I served with a sisterhood as well – and have never been more proud to say that.
When I first caught wind of the women fighting in Kurdistan, my goal was to meet these legendary female fighters who have secured their status and made many headlines in the fight against ISIS. It was such an honor to be able to travel so far and meet them. I have never felt so empowered and grateful by the work of Spirit of America to have the opportunity and means to get down on the ground with these women warriors and support their efforts against such a terrible enemy. I cannot express how grateful we are to have the assistance from generous Americans that gave to support this cause. It is because of your donation that we were able to provide these life saving materials to this legendary female force – paving the way for women to have an opportunity to defend their land and to do it with honor.
On behalf of the Spirit of America team – we thank you for helping to equip these women warriors in the fight against ISIS.
If you would like to continue to donate to this project, you can do that here.
Field Ops Project Manager – Latin America