Fighting Spirit Vol. I






“The Syrian man was notorious for stealing Syrian government tanks and using it against them. The kicker is that he also bought ammo for the tanks he stole from the Syrian regime.”

    Justin served in the United States Marine Corps as a Logistics Marine, joining the Delayed Entry Program in 2013 and graduating Recruit Training “Boot Camp” in June 2014. Upon completion of his job school he was assigned to the 7th Communications Battalion, commonly and unofficially referred to as “7th Crime” by the Marines at that unit. He spent two years garrisoned in Okinawa, Japan. After his tour there he was assigned to 3rd Marine Special Operations Battalion (3rd Raider Battalion) as support. He would go to support the SOCCE-SAM mission in Africa. Though motivated and influenced during this tour with 3MSOB, he would end his uniformed service to his country after four years.

    Honorably discharged, Justin began studying at UCCS, University of Colorado Colorado Springs for a Criminal Justice degree. “Is it true you get drunk faster in Colorado because of the altitude?” “That is 100% true.” He studied for 2 years before seeking employment and finding work with Clandestine Media Group, this affording him a most certainly unique opportunity. Freedom Research Foundation reached out requesting media support for their ongoing work in Syria.

    The Freedom Research Foundation was founded in 1984 by Doctor Jack Wheeler, the main architect of the Reagan Doctrine. The FRF has had personnel on the ground in Syria since 2015, establishing and creating connections, primarily with marginalized groups and other groups seeking a more democratic future. The Mission Statement of the FRF is as follows per their site: “The Mission of the Freedom Research Foundation is to send Americans to confront our enemies by empowering those who share our values. We believe in the foundational principles that made America the greatest political achievement in human civilization. We work globally with those who share these ideals. Since 1984 we go where we see our enemies trying to establish power through political, military, economic or civil means.” These forward FRF members work closely with local groups to help them establish legitimacy and support. More specifically, on the ground in Syria, they work with the AANES, Autonomous Administration of North and East Syria.

    The AANES is considered a multi-ethnic, multi-religious administration pushing for a legitimate place in the future of Syria. Their end goal is essentially to establish themselves similarly to the autonomous Kurdistan in Iraq. The goal of Clandestine Media Group’s mission in Syria was to showcase the mission and goals of both Freedom Research Foundation and the AANES with heavy emphasis on the AANES in hopes to bring attention and light to the ongoing Syrian conflict and the various groups struggling in the region. Justin and his crew were treated as official guests of the land. This was his first time in a highly active combat zone, out of the comforts and support of the American military. While in this fluid environment Justin taught local journalists, both Arab and Kurdish the importance of utilizing social media and digital resources to empower their means of information spreading and reporting. The groups learned from one another and shared valuable experience. In the Age of Information and in Information Warfare / Information Operations it is critical to not only to push information and updates to the rest of the world, but also allows you to give a voice to your people.

    “Black Stadium” The sun beat down on the westerners as they moved through the streets of Raqqa. Justin was in the heart of of a historic city and a city that had felt tremendous suffering. Raqqa was a stronghold for ISIL and in the days of the offensive against that stronghold, Marine artillery supported US special operations and Syrian Democratic Forces as they pushed into the city. The Marine artillery battery supporting the operation fired more rounds in the offensive than any other battalion since Vietnam - it resulted in them burning through two guns entirely. “Every minute of every hour we were putting some kind of fire on ISIS in Raqqa, whether it was mortars, artillery, rockets, [High Mobility Artillery Rocket Systems], Hellfires, armed drones, you name it,” said Army Sergeant Major John Wayne Troxell. The city was in extreme ruin yet the sun still shone through the cracks and crevices of desolation. Justin stood in the empty stadium, though it was empty now, it had gone under a recent transformation. Young boys played soccer and practiced a form of martial arts in what’s known as “Black Stadium”, a soccer (football) stadium in Raqqa that took a dark transformation. Under ISIL rule, Black Stadium turned into a makeshift hellscape colossus of terror and torture. Torture, imprisonment, executions all took place under the Islamic State rule there. Now, young children washed away memories of hell with dreams of a better future, masking the echoed screams with laughs and joy. They also played near an SDF base by the “Green Women’s Council” a woman run organization helping teach skilled labor to women who had lost their men to war.

    Working in these places reminded Justin of a lesson learned before in the Marine Corps. The lesson that while there are strifes and issues in the United States, your average American is vastly sheltered and well enough comparatively to the rest of the world. “It was surreal being in Raqqa. Speaking with the locals and hearing their stories, walking by damage done by an ISIL car bomb, just being there and witnessing it.” Syrian Democratic Guards escorted Justin and his team around Syria while they were there as precaution. Though fighting had drastically died down, ISIL still operated in various ways. That was not the only issue however. Turkey had already begun its incursions in the North and a Russian military and paramilitary presence was still in the land. Justin watched as Russian military convoys buzzed down the same roads American convoys zipped down. Empires of influence. The Russians were backing the Syrian Regime, the Americans historically backing various rebel factions but primarily the Syrian Democratic Forces (predominantly Kurdish), both combatting Islamist groups like ISIL or Al-Nusra. “Seeing people who genuinely want to do good.” He recalls meeting people of various backgrounds, people who were local or from abroad who genuinely wanted to do good, however they could. This remains a common factor in the decision making process veterans make prior to continuing their service out of uniform. Genuine Care. Many will not understand unless they have been tired, hungry, and slept inches away from a brother, or a sister, while working ruthlessly towards a greater objective meant for the common good. Helping the under privileged in environments most wouldn’t go to, and volunteering to do it. He found himself appreciating the things back home, the small things, and respected the different perspectives lended to him. “Would you return?” — “Absolutely. I’d love to go back there some day. I’d love to do more to help.” — “Any memories stick out to you, aside from what you’d expect to hear about Syria?” — “Oh yeah. Me and my buddy ended up getting an AK tattooed on our arm by a Lebanese herd and spice dealer. [The perfect seasoning for the perfect kabob] But honestly, above everything else, it was just the people. The people I worked with and met made it what it was.”

    Justin has since retrograded back to the United States and looks to continue classes in college. His end goal is to become more proficient and educated in film and one day be a war correspondent abroad. He rediscovered his passion over there, found what gives his life purpose and felt his travels and work in Syria was life changing. Telling the stories of warfighters is something he wishes to continue later down the road. “Although if I make millions off making music videos, I won’t complain about that either.”

Semper Fidelis