Kurdistan, a necklace, and a very special people…

My husband, Tim served 9 years as an Army Officer, three of those years were as the Captain of a highly specialized 12-man Special Forces A-team (more commonly called the Green Berets). With this team, he spent time in Kurdistan forging some of the partnerships that are in existence today between the US and the Kurdish leaders. My husband has been out of the military for over 3 years now and is less than impressed with corporate America.

So when Tim came home the other night with what he referred to as a “great career opportunity,” he struggled to keep a straight face when I responded with a skeptical, “Oh yea, what’s that?”

He proceeded to explain to me that a defense contracting company is looking for former “operators” – that’s code for Special Forces guys – to go to the Kurdish region of Iraq to fight against ISIS and something about how incredibly well it pays per day. The thought running through my head was a resounding, “Oh, heck NO.” And to be honest, something fairly similar left my mouth. Any job dangerous enough that it pays by the day – no matter how exorbitantly – is not something I am interested in sending the hubs off to some far off land for.

Didn’t he get out of the military so that we could have some consistency and so that he wouldn’t have to leave all the time? Does the danger even register with him?! I am not ready to answer the “What does your husband do for a living question?” by saying that he is a mercenary.

No.  All the way around, NO WAY!

And then I catch a glimpse of the gorgeous silk rug – a gift from a Kurdish leader – hanging on our wall.  I remember the people of Kurdistan and what they mean to him….

For me, Kurdistan is a far off place whose struggles and realities are easy to ignore.  For Tim, they are a people who fought along side him, partnered with him, shared meals together, and exchanged gifts (including a very special necklace…more about that in a moment).  He considers them his lifelong friends.

When some of the cities where Tim spent many months fell to ISIS, he was angry at the US’s failed stability strategy for the region and sad for his friends who call the region home. He felt like his efforts and time there were a waste.

My husband and his team spent most of 2009 in Kurdistan training the Kurdish security forces, collecting intelligence, capturing terrorists, and meeting with community leaders. He has unbelievable stories of nights out in Erbil, wonderful meals, Chai, and a brotherhood forged halfway around the world. My husband is one of the most loyal friends anyone could ask for; why would I think the danger could deter him? After all, his loyalty and fearlessness are some of the things I love most about him. I told him to apply for the position if he wanted, but he sensed the hesitation and fear in my voice and assured me that he wouldn’t.

But not before he reminded me that I too am a lifelong friend of Kurdistan…

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You see, before leaving, Tim was given a gold (or at least gold colored) necklace in the shape of the region of Kurdistan – complete with the colors and emblem of the Kurdish flag. He was instructed to “give this necklace to the woman you decide to marry.” Aside from the phrasing, which gives me about as much choice in the matter of who to marry as a snowman melting in hell, this thing is epic looking. It is a rare hybrid stuck somewhere between the 24 kt. yellow gold that the Middle East is known for and Mr. T.

Photo on 12-11-14 at 3.51 PM Photo on 12-11-14 at 3.51 PM #2

So after my man got down on one knee, popped the question, and placed a ring on my finger, he said, “I almost forgot the most important part!”  He pulled out this lovely necklace – I’m playing fast and loose with the word lovely here – and put it around my neck. He grinned wildly at his antics and the necklace’s uniqueness while watching for my reaction. The devious troublemakers that we are, we concocted a plan to tell our friends and family that instead of a ring Tim decided to give me this beautiful necklace and “isn’t that just so much more special?” We watched them struggle to feign agreement and lie about its beauty, while their eyes were in shock at the huge enameled red, white, and green object around my neck. Of course, we would quickly fess up and pull the ring out of my pocket.

Nowadays, I claim that this necklace is faaaar too special to wear regularly, so I have it in a secret location for “safe keeping” – which is code for: Where the heck am I supposed to wear this ugly thing? Nonetheless, the region of Kurdistan is even a part of our engagement story.

Many times over the past few months, I have contemplated breaking out the necklace to wear as a sign of solidarity and support for the Kurdish people. Although, I am fairly certain almost no one would have any idea what region I am so proudly displaying around my neck.

DSCN0300This photo was taken during a training exercise of Tim’s Special Forces team and the Kurdish security forces. The Kurdish security forces are now the men fighting against ISIS.

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This photo is of Tim, their translator Barzan, and a Kurdish Sheikh. Barzan went just about everywhere with them for over 6 months. There is not a week that goes by when his name doesn’t come up at least once.

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This photo is of some Tim and some Kurdish leaders.

These far off people are his friends. One of them helped hold up the IV bag after Tim was injured in an explosion (Although Tim was not conscious or aware of this at the time, we have seen the photos). They have a rich culture and a formerly peaceful home.

There are an estimated 2 million displaced Iraqis seeking refuge in the Kurdish state. Many cities in the region have fallen to ISIS’s control. The human rights abuses and brutality of ISIS’s reign make the rest of the world shutter. This is a region Tim, his team, and many others like him have fought to protect, maintain the stability of, and forge partnerships with. I understand their frustrations with the lack of action on the behalf of the US and other governments. They have a personal stake in the matter. Some know men who have lost their lives for this cause.

I selfishly don’t want Tim anywhere near Iraq. I would much prefer he work behind a desk, but I know his heart and mind are elsewhere. Every Internet browser left open is the latest news from the region. Every article he bookmarks is something about ISIS. Every conversation with his Army buddies eventually lands on the topic…. Whether or not I want to admit it, the people of this region are a part of not only Tim’s story but also, our story together.

No, Tim will not be applying for a position as a mercenary. Among other things, explaining to our adoption agency that my husband is in Iraq fighting ISIS and that I’m not sure when (if) he will be back, may not go over so well.

With that said, we know of many Special Forces teams currently “training” the Kurdish Security Forces in Northern Iraq. We have you in our prayers!

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