Islamic State horrors have drawn some U.S. veterans back into battle, and then there’s Samantha Jay, the 25 year-old mother of three small children who left everything to fight the Islamic State.
Samantha Lois Jay Johnston, her full name according to U.S. Army records, served from 2008-2011 as a geospatial engineer. She is a divorced mother of a five year-old and a pair of three-year-old twins. She hails from Emerald Island, N.C.
Following initial news stories, The Daily Caller News Foundation reached out to Jay. (RELATED: Stunning Female Army Vet, Apparent Mother Of Three, Takes Up Arms Against ISIS)
Jay talked with us via Facebook chat:
“It was extremely hard. I cried on the way to the airport and almost decided not to go. But if I did then I’d never forgive myself … ” Jay declined to say who is caring for her children, except to say they are in a safe place. (Jay has a sister, who independently contacted The DCNF.)
So what motivated this veteran to take up arms against the Islamic State?
“I decided to come fight because I felt like it was my duty … These children here who are homeless, orphaned; mothers and sisters have been raped and sold, fathers who have been killed … They are suffering, and I knew that I couldn’t just sit and do nothing. I couldn’t look my children in the eyes and say, I didn’t do anything to help.”
Last summer, the Islamic State overran the Iraqi military and swept through parts of Iraq and Syria, claiming territory and terrorizing religious and ethnic minorities under its control. During this period, Jay began researching Kurdistan and affiliated support groups.
Iraq’s Kurdish majority is located in country’s semi-autonomous, northern region. Although Jay doesn’t want to disclose her location, an earlier Facebook post suggests she is in this area. She was not altogether clear with The DCNF about how exactly she is communicating with locals — she did not mention having an interpreter — but says she is slowly learning Kurdish.
Another American in northern Iraq is helping civilians defend against the Islamic State. Matthew VanDyke trained a Christian militia to protect the community from jihadis. Although VanDyke’s motivations were tethered to protecting Iraq’s ancient Christian communities, Jay has different reasons.
“No, to me this has nothing to do with religion,” said Jay. “I am a Christian but I’m protecting humanity. No matter the race or religion.”
When asked about the practical details of how she joined Kurdish forces, Jay demurred. “I sought them out. Made the right connections and verified they were reliable.”
The Kurdish Peshmerga force mainly fights the Islamic State in Iraq, although it battled the terror group for control of the Syria-Turkey border town of Kobani. The Peshmerga is under the control of the Kurdish Regional Government or KRG. The Kurdish YPG, also known as the People’s Protection Units, fights Islamic State militants in Syria.
The relationship between the two Kurdish forces is similar to that between the U.S. and Canadian militaries. Although separate entities, the Peshmerga and YPG share core values, according to Daveed Gartenstein-Ross, an expert at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies.
Jay says for operational security purposes she cannot comment on whether she will be fighting with the Peshmerga or the YPG.
Jordan Matson, another U.S. Army veteran, joined the YPG last year. Although dozens of Westerners are reportedly fighting with Kurdish forces against the Islamic State, Jay says she’s the only foreign fighter at her location, either male or female.
The role of foreigners in Kurdish ranks is unclear, one American recruit interviewed by The Daily Beast claiming they are public relations props rather than engaged in actual combat. But for every combat fighter, four others are working in logistics, says Gartenstein-Ross. “Just because they aren’t in the front lines, doesn’t mean they aren’t vital,” he said.
Jay says she sees herself in combat, but wouldn’t speak on whether or not she’s engaged in training.
Only in Iraq for two weeks, Jay says, “I already want to fly back to my babies but I have a purpose and a goal.” She plans to start a humanitarian organization after her return, she will be able to continue assisting the Kurdish community.
Jay was never deployed while in the Army and says this is her first time in the Middle East. The hardest adjustment? “Ummm … The bathrooms haha,” said Jay.