A North Carolina mother has left home to volunteer with Kurdish troops fighting ISIS in Iraq.
Samantha Lois Jay Johnston, 25, a former U.S. Army geospatial engineer and divorced mother of three children under the age of five, has left Emerald Island, North Carolina, and is now fighting ISIS in Iraq, reports The Daily Mail.
“I decided to come fight because I felt like it was my duty,” Johnston said.
Photos were released of Johnston in Iraq and they have been circulating on Kurdish news websites. In one of the photos, Johnston is seen wearing military fatigues and brandishing a gun.
Johnston told the Daily Caller she almost did not make the trip.
“It was extremely hard,” Johnston said. “I cried on the way to the airport and almost decided not to go. But if I did[n't] then I’d never forgive myself … 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.”
In a photo Johnston posted to Facebook, she is surrounded by Kurdish refugee children whom she has just given snacks to.
Johnston would not state where her own children are but did say they are in “a safe place.”
Johnston sought the Kurdish fighters and said her decision to fight ISIS was not brought forth by religion.
“To me this has nothing to do with religion,” Johnston said. ”I am a Christian but I'm protecting humanity. No matter the race or religion.”
Johnston has posted multiple Facebook updates while in Iraq, assuring those back home she is safe and happy.
“Yes, I’m in Iraq and I’m staying safe,” Johnston wrote on April 22. “I’m with amazing people and I love being here in [K]urdistan. I can’t give much details about what I’m doing here for security reasons but thank you for all the prayers and encouraging words.”
“I have been in Kurdistan for two weeks and the people here have changed me already ... For the better, forever. The world should look to [K]urdistan as a role model. I miss my family very much but the [K]urds go above and beyond making me feel at home. #herbijikurdistan,” Johnston wrote in another post.
The meaning of "Her Biji Kurdistan," as Johnston wrote, is “Long Live Kurdistan.”
The Kurdish Peshmerga group Johnston is part of mainly fights ISIS in Iraq, but did participate in the battle for control of the Syria-Turkey border town of Kobani. The Peshmerga is under the control of the Kurdish Regional Government (KRG), which operates the militant group YPG, also known as the People’s Protection Units. The YPG fights ISIS militants in Syria.
The Peshmergas and YPG have the same core values, and Johnston may fight for either group, although she would not say whether that was the case due to operational security purposes.
Johnston said she misses her children, but will remain in Iraq for now.
“I already want to fly back to my babies but I have a purpose and a goal,” Johnston said.
There are as many as 100 foreigners, mostly from Britain and the U.S., who have joined the forces fighting ISIS in Iraq and Syria in recent months.