Fighting Spirit Vol. III
Fighting Spirit Vol. III
From Sinjar to the Black Sea
“… I woke up around 3am to this whooshing above and the sound of explosions nearby. The building was shaking from the blasts. I immediately took off running, our team making it out of the building and into a bunker. Cruise missiles were flying above us from the Maskva, just pounding the city around us. It looked unreal seeing so many explosions that large.”
Cory, often known to his brothers in arms as “Rodi” or known online as "CivDivision", started his adventure in the Marine Corps in 2015. Just four days after receiving his High School Diploma he’d be on his way to the Recruit Depot to begin three months of Marine Corps Boot Camp. After completing initial training, he attended the School of Infantry and graduated as an 0311, Rifleman, before heading to the Fleet Marine Force and being assigned to 3rd Battalion, 4th Marines in 29 Palms, California. His time in the Marines would unfortunately end quicker than expected. Due to a Traumatic Brain Injury he received in a physical training event as well as a hearing aid he had to receive for another training related incident he was administratively separated with a General under Honorable Discharge in 2017.
“It was rough man, it was a rough feeling. It was good in a way, because our unit was going to Australia and they wouldn’t allow me to go, so I’d be spending the next two years of my life on limited duty. The TBI affected me pretty badly and it made sense for me to get out. It sucked though because you always hear about the tribe and how you’ll always be a Marine and have these relations forever but I felt like as soon as I was separated I had been completely erased from the tribe.”
Cory began his journey in the civilian trying to find his way like so many before him. There remained though a calling, a nagging urge, an itch that needed to be scratch. Despite finding good employment and working well in the civilian sector, he would be departing the United States the next year in 2018 with a destination few Americans have arrived at; Syria. Cory had been in correspondence with a YPG International Representative, he would soon be on his way to joining an international unit within the Kurdish YPG fighting the Islamic State in Syria. Since the onset of the War against ISIL, hundreds to thousands of westerners had gone to Iraq and Syria to join the Kurds in their fight against the Islamic State.
“I flew into Sulaymaniyah International Airport and met up with about five other people who had also come to join the fight. A YPG fixer picked all of us up from the airport, smuggling us through backroads around checkpoints. After we spent some time dodging Iraqi and Turkish drones we finally arrived at a joint YPG-YPJ base nestled in Derik, within the northeast region of Syria. Turkey has been engaged with the Kurds for a long time, so a lot of Turkish drones will monitor the borders, you have to be really careful crossing. When we got there we actually had to go through a one month Boot Camp, not just regarding tactics but also learning their ideologies and beliefs. I was glad to be there but I was also eager to get put to good use.”
Rodi would spend 7 months working with the YPG in Syria in various capacities and then return home to the United States. His time in the region was not over, he returned again in 2021, this time to work with the YBS in Iraq, operating mainly out of the Sinjar Mountains, he would volunteer with the YBS for 13 months.
“This time was way different than before. Just getting to where I needed to was fucking crazy. Instead of taking back roads like I had before, we took a pretty direct route, taking us straight through the city of Mosul. The driver was fucking drunk, and we get stopped at this checkpoint. So, there are Iranian backed and financed militia groups there - Shia militia groups - the PMF (Popular Mobilization Force), they stopped us at a checkpoint. I kept my cool but it was a really sketchy situation. They ended up taking us and questioning me on why I was there and what I was doing, you know every possible worst case scenario is running through your head. Luckily everything checked out, they took me in some convoy the rest of the way to the Sinjar Mountains.”
Cory would build familiarity with the mountains and its various cave and tunnel systems that the YBS worked and lived in. Turkish drones flew above, causing them to become accustomed to dashing to a cave or tunnel in a moment’s notice. Turkish airstrikes were also relatively common here. A Kurdish fighter who he would go to befriend would unfortunately be killed in an airstrike later on, one of many Kurdish friends he would lose to Turkish bombs. Nonetheless, he believed in the cause he was supporting, finishing his eight month contractor and willingly staying another five months. He loved the culture, the community, the ideals. He simply didn’t want to return to the United States, and though he would leave Kurdistan after 13 months, he certainly would not be on his way back to America, instead he would be on a flight, heading from one war to the next.
“Myself and a buddy, we kinda kept tabs on what was going on. We were both going to head home, you know I wanted to stay, but I kind of figured it was time to go home, but that changed. The Russians invaded Ukraine and both him and I just looked at each other and were like ‘Okay. We’re going.’ So we didn’t go home, instead we booked a flight from Sulaymaniyah to Warsaw, Poland. We got there and had to stay outside of the hostel because it was full - sitting there in the rain on our luggage until the guys we were linking up with woke up and met us outside. Finally we loaded up on a bus and we made our way into Ukraine, getting to Lviv first. We got to Lviv around March 4th, about two weeks into the war. We genuinely thought that the war would come to Lviv, during those opening days it really seemed possible, so we got up with an ad hoc training group and helped train a company minus of Ukrainian soldiers, we had to cram a curriculum into a week before we went to Kyiv to get the paperwork we need. Then we went to Mykolaiv.”
Cory and the team he was with combined with other folks into his first unit. His first mission would be an extremely dangerous mission, and an unexpectedly dangerous mission. His team, for lack of better words, had begun a movement for a reconnaissance mission which quickly turned into a direct assault.
The car sped up down the abandoned road as mortars impacted in the distance. The driver then skid to a stop, yelling at the group of international volunteers to exit the vehicle. A thud in the distance, followed by a whoosh, the sound of a mortar shell above, then an explosion. A mortar impact nearby. Rori grabbed his weapons and kit, getting out of the car as fast as he could. “Go!” He yells to his teammates as they sprint towards the nearest building, their two delivery vehicles speeding off. Indirect fire rains in the area, two rounds impacting close as they hit the deck. “We gotta get inside!” One of the fighters, another prior Marine, opens fire on the door and kicks it in. Everyone rushes inside. The fighters take up positions in the building, ensuring all vantage points are covered. Smoke rises in the distance from Ukrainian armor that was hit by incoming Russian artillery.
Cory and his team were sent into the village to conduct a reconnaissance mission, but instead found themselves in a complex and fluid environment under heavy enemy fire. A deadly combination of fog of war and leadership mistakes put them in a position they were not supposed to be in. Luckily the team was able to exfil out of the area without any further casualties, but it gave light to the lack of communication on the battlefield in the opening days of war. Their leadership was actually infuriated that they had withdrawn from the village, despite their direct role in the team almost getting killed, this led the team to end their work with that unit. Some of those members would leave Ukraine and go back home, the others would find work elsewhere. For Cory, he would begin his work in Odesa.
“Myself and a few of the other guys were able to start work with a SBU Unit in Odesa. Those days there were a lot of Russian sympathizers in the city, guys who were selling or willingly giving the Russians information. The city was actually really empty, it was still early in the war, a lot of people had left. We were helping the SBU stop supporters of Russia who were essentially engaging in insider attacks. There wasn’t a lot of them, but there was enough that it was becoming a significant problem. Some of them were leaking information about defenses and critical infrastructure. Odesa was still relatively peaceful compared to the fight in other parts of the country, but there was still a lot of strikes hitting the city, especially infrastructure. Back when thee Moskva was still floating, there was one night we got hit by a volley of cruise missiles. It woke us up around 3 in the morning. I was sleeping and woke up to the explosions, you could hear them passing over the buildings. One of the dudes on the team saw one of the missiles fly right over us. They were just smacking the city around us, we saw one hit an apartment building diagonal to where we were. The building was shaking from the blasts, we got the fuck out of there as fast as we could and made our way to the bunker. I stopped on the stairs and did a head count. We were down one man. This fucking guy, haha, this guy was still in the building trying to get the cat. He was a good dude but we had to have a serious conversation with him after the strikes about that. Everyone reacted very professionally though. We stayed cool and calm though, we knew we weren’t likely being targeted and that the strikes were more than likely primarily focused on infrastructure or military targets, but they were nonetheless striking other buildings and we knew they had hit civilian areas before. Thankfully muscle memory from my time dodging Turkish bombs in Iraq really helped out.”
Cory spent a months time with the GUR unit in Odesa before moving on to an SSO unit operating in the east where a friend and fellow Marine from 3rd Battalion, 4th Marines was in. His time with them would be primarily spent in Balakliya and Izyum.
“One mission that sticks out to me is an op we went on actually as security for some GUR operators. They were going to do some reconnaissance and then use a drone to strike Russian positions, but during insert in the dead of night, our fucking truck runs right into a trench. We couldn’t see shit. We scrambled out of the truck, luckily everyone was okay and set up security for the GUR guys who were throwing up the drone maybe 10 meters from us. They flew it about a thousand yards away. All of a sudden the Russians started lighting it up - tracers covering the sky as they were trying to shoot the drone so the GUR guys dropped the payload and brought the drone back. It was eerie out there, with how dark and quiet it was. I will say this, the GUR guys were kind of slow on packing everything up and leaving, luckily we got out of there quickly, but those guys went on a similar mission a few weeks later and they were hit by Russian incoming, most of them becoming casualties. If there’s two things I learned from that time it’s speed and changing routes. Using the same route will fuck you.”
Rori did over a dozen missions with the SSO unit before finally returning to the United States. He is now back in Ukraine in a different capacity. He now works for Trident Defense Initiative in an advisory capacity, working with 10 instructors to help train dozens to hundreds of Ukrainian soldiers in various capacities to increase their lethality and survivability on the battlefield.
“Whatever you think the highlight of your life was - it wasn’t the end. You can still have highlights, you choose your path. Stay strong and live on.”