This Memorial Day, Let’s remember the Americans fighting ISIS

Memorial Day originally was called “Decoration Day.” It fixed a time for people to place flowers on the graves of those who fell in the Civil War. Now, on Memorial Day, we remind ourselves of the sacrifices of all veterans.

One person who did not need reminding of his sacrifice was Yale, a friend of my parents. After all, when he looked at the mirror every day, he saw an empty space where one of his arms used to be.

He lost his arm in the Spanish Civil War, while fighting in the Abraham Lincoln brigade, a collection of American volunteers. They were not the first Americans to seek combat overseas. From John Paul Jones serving in the Russian Navy to Ernest Hemingway driving ambulances in Italy before the US entry into World War I, Americans have participated in foreign wars.

Nor was Yale the last American volunteer. There are numerous reports about Western fighters who have volunteered to fight with the Kurdish Peshmerga forces in their war against ISIS. Estimates of their numbers range from “scores” to 2,000. In addition to Americans, volunteers hail from Australia, Great Britain, Germany, Spain, France, Canada, Israel, and the Netherlands.

Many are drawn by the justice of the Kurdish cause. Jason Matson, a former U.S. Army soldier, is typical.  “I’m not going back until the fight is finished and ISIS is crippled,” Matson told the Associated Press. “I decided that if my government wasn’t going to do anything to help this country, especially Kurdish people who stood by us for 10 years and helped us out while we were in this country, then I was going to do something.”

Some veterans see their Kurdish adventure as an opportunity for meaning in their life. They were disappointed with the inconclusive conclusions of the Iraq and Afghanistan conflicts. Returning to civilian life was alienating. The one thing they knew how to do – fight – was not valued by employers or their stateside community. At least with Kurds, they can put their training to good use.

The Kurds are ambivalent about these foreign volunteers. They want arms, night vision goggles, gas masks, artillery, and body armor, not people. Several have expressed astonishment that the volunteers did not bring their own weapons. Some leaders have publicly declared that they do not accept foreign volunteers, but since elements of the Kurdish armed forces are not subject to a central authority, these statements are dubious.

The Americans and other Westerners are also ambivalent. Accustomed to a highly educated professional military force, American veterans look askance at the young poorly trained Kurdish fighters. “There are 17-year-olds with no proper training who have seen their friends being killed. They think everyone is Isis – it sometimes feels like a school trip with guns,” said one Westerner.  A former US Marine explained “For a militia in the Middle East it’s up to standards, for most Americans I’ve met it’s insanity.”

There are other areas of contention. Some Westerners have been put off by ethnic hostility expressed by Kurds toward the Arabs. One Westerner was disciplined about challenging the practice of discarding first-aid kits. Some have criticized the Kurdish leadership for their inflexibility in adopting new methods. There has been a loss of confidence in the competence of their Kurdish commanders. One American explained his decision to leave the fight, by declaring “I realized that if I stayed I would die and I didn’t come here to die.”

Some elements of the Kurdish armed forces have been reluctant to put Americans on the front-lines, which have disappointed adventure-seeking volunteers. Others recognize veterans as a resource and put them to work training young fighters.

Still others view the foreigners as a public relations opportunity. Foreign volunteers are interviewed by the world press and lionized in social media. The Lions of Rojava are especially known for their skillful use of branded images and media outreach. Canadian Dillon Hillier is sometimes cited as an example of a foreign soldier whose fame has been leveraged for publicity by the Kurdish forces.

Social media is a significant element in this fight. Just as Vietnam was the television war, the battle against ISIS is the Facebook war. Both sides aggressively recruit and lobby through Facebook and other social media.

Unfortunately, some pro-Kurdish Facebook pages are a bit suspect. For groups raising funds, there is no way of verifying their legitimacy.

While social media is undoubtedly valuable, it is the call of war that attracts young men. Kevin Williamson, a US Army veteran, who intends to join the Kurdish forces, explained, “Do I think there’s other ways to help, other than picking up a rifle and going overseas? Yeah, there’s multiple ways. People can help fundraise, people can write their congressmen … But my specific skill set? You know, I’m not really that great with anything other than being a soldier.”

Good luck, Kevin. I hope no one will be putting flowers on your grave for a long, long time.


Freedom & Memorial Day

Everyone likes Memorial Day, but that hasn’t stopped people from arguing about it. In modern times, controversy has surrounded moving the date of observance from May 30 to the last Monday of May. Some argue that the three-day weekend “cheapens” the somber meaning of the holiday.

A more ancient argument is the location of its origin. President Johnson formally proclaimed Waterloo, New York to be the birthplace of Memorial Day.  Historians aren’t really sure where the holiday started, but are fairly certain that it didn’t start there.

We know more about when Memorial Day started. Following the Civil War, numerous small communities had “decoration” days, in which people would place flowers on the graves of soldiers. Conventional historical narratives usually claim the South originated these holidays, with Northerners quickly imitating them.

One of the most interesting early observances happened in Charleston, South Carolina. On May 1, 1865, nearly 10,000 freedmen gathered to honor the Union prisoners of war who had died in a nearby internment facility. They erected a monument, sang, and, of course, placed flowers on the soldiers’ graves.

Although there is no evidence connecting this early observance to the origin of the national holiday, I think it has meaning for Memorial Day. For the freedmen, conducting this observance in the birthplace of the Confederacy was in itself an act of freedom.

Slaves have no agency, no choice in what they do. They are denied their name, language, family, community, and any way of preserving their memories. Only free people can create a holiday.  Only free people can honor the fallen.

Without the Union’s victory in the Civil War, the freedmen’s’ observance would have been impossible. By honoring the dead, the former slaves employed the very rights for which the Union soldiers’ had died. We should follow their example, and remember whenever we exercise our rights, we honor those who fought for them.

In honor of those that have fallen, AMREL encourages you to give to the Veteran charity of your choice. Below are three suggestions:

Lincoln, War, and Good Friday

On April 15, 1865, President Abraham Lincoln was assassinated.

The news hit the country liked a punch in the stomach. The pro-Union forces were still celebrating the end of the war. For weeks, Northerners gathered in the streets to drink, parade, and sing songs glorifying their victory.

What a victory it was! Not only had the Union had been preserved, but an entire race had been liberated. Americans could now proclaim themselves the “land of the free” without hypocrisy.

Furthermore, democracy itself had been vindicated. The principle of self-rule was still controversial and regarded as impractical by many. The persistence of the American republic was a stunning rebuke to those who mocked the government of the people. A Union defeat would have set back the cause of liberty for the entire world.

Union victory was also, it can be argued, the beginning of the American era. The Union army had been the largest in the world. The Confederate army had been the second largest.

[layerslider id=”31″]

The American armies were the most technologically advanced of their time. Telegraphs, iron-clad, railroads, and even hot-air balloons were used extensively in the Civil War.

The old, aristocratic, empires might sneer at the provincial Americans, but they could no longer dismiss them as insignificant.  We were clearly a force to be reckoned with, and we knew it.

All these feelings – moral righteousness, martial pride, soaring patriotism, and triumphalism – were quashed with an assassin’s bullet. Everyone was shocked that the horrors of war were not over.

Lincoln was killed on Good Friday. Christians went to Easter services the following Sunday and meditated on themes of martyrdom and sacrifice. Jews observed Passover that Friday night and hailed Lincoln as the new Moses who had freed an entire people.

This month marks the 150th anniversary of Abraham Lincoln assassination. As we observe the spring religious holidays, it would be wise to remember what our ancestors and so many of our veterans have painfully learned.  We do not decide what war’s ultimate price will be or when we will stop paying it. The sacrifices of war do not end with the last battle.

 Remember our veterans

Contribute to Wounded Warriors

wounded warrior

Happy Holidays from AMREL

Santa gets a surprise!


Happy Thanksgiving from AMREL!

Happy thnksgiving

At this time of year, AMREL wishes to thank you for trusting us with your rugged computer needs.  We appreciate the faith you have shown in us and our offerings. We will work hard during the coming months to demonstrate that your trust is well founded.

We also wish to extend our special appreciation to all those who serve our country. Your sacrifice is noted and valued.

The AMREL team wishes you and yours a joyous and wonderful holiday!

Happy Thanksgiving!

Marine Jargon

marine iowa jimaOn November 10, the Marine Corps celebrates 239 years of service to the United States of America.  Brought into existence by the First Continental Congress, on 1775 the Marine Corps has seen many battles and brought the fight to the enemy on many shores.

Among themselves, Marines use a special language.  Here is a small sample of some of their jargon, supplied by AMREL’s very own devildog, Richard Barrios, Web Marketing Specialist.  Happy Birthday and Ooh-Rah!

Ooh-Rah!:  The Marine version of “Hoorah!”

UnSat:  Referring to someone who is not organized or very good at their job or task

IT:  Means Incentive Training.  In boot camp this is how punishment was delivered through exhausting exercise.  In the fleet it was a term used to use negative re-enforcement to teach someone how to do it right.

Hollywood Marine:  Marine trained at MCRD San Diego, CA.

Horse shoe:  A hair cut that only Marines really get.  It’s basically a high and tight (Flat top) with the top of the head shaved down.  From above it looks like a horse shoe

 WM: Women Marine.

Unqu (pronounced “Unk”):  Short for unqualified.  Referring to someone who failed their rifle qualifications.  Also refereeing to missing the mark on a task or activity.

Put your E-tool away:  Referring to your entrenching shovel and that your are digging a bigger hole for yourself the more you talk.

Smoking lamp (on or off):  Old Naval term for when it’s OK to smoke.  Now used as a term for free time.

MCD:  Marine Corps Detachment;  Marines stationed on a base that is primarily occupied or run by another branch of service.  Basically you are a guest there for a period of time.

Quarter Deck:  Boot camp reference for the area in which IT is being administered.  In the fleet the term is used when you are in big trouble and you have to stand in front of your Platoon Gunny, First Sergeant, or Officer and explain yourself.  Also known as “Standing tall” or “Standing tall before the mast/Man”.

Standing tall before the mast/man: Refers to the Naval tradition of serving your sentence with a lashing while standing against the mast of a ship. Currently, it means taking responsibility for your actions; don’t run from your mistakes.

 03 (Pronounced, “oh 3”):  Refers to the general term for a grunt or infantryman.  The MOS can be 0311, 0331, 0351, 0302 and so on.  Also referred to as “03 hump a lot”.

 If you want more Marine jargon, Wikepedia has a long list.

[layerslider id=”31″]

Happy Halloween!





Happy Holidays

AMREL Happy Holidays

Happy Thanksgiving!


AMREL reminds you to be thankful that

our holiday meals have not been replaced

by Unmanned Turkey Systems