Back in 2014, ISIS assaulted into Iraq and gained ground so fast that to this infantry officer, it made the German blitzkrieg look like amateur hour. Within a matter of months, the terrorist group took control of several key cities and began a series of massacres that even Al Qaeda deemed, "too extreme."
As the Iraqi Army and Police fell back towards Baghdad, I received a phone call that would change my life forever.
I was on my way to class when I got a call from a man I knew as "Captain." I could hear gunshots in the background and he was asking me, "Brother, can you help?"
Now, I'm a former Marine officer and served three combat tours in Iraq from 2006-2009. In 2014 I had moved on with life and was well on my way to growing the nasty beard and long hair of a graduate student.
But I couldn't forget the Marine Corps motto that lived inside me: Semper Fidelis, Always Faithful. And now I had a good reason.
The Iraqi soldier we'll call "Captain" to conceal his identity, saved my life in 2006.
I'll never forget that as a boot platoon commander on my first deployment when the Captain shielded me from an incoming shot by pushing me down and charging a sniper. So when I got that call from Captain in 2014, I knew he was in some serious trouble, and I had to help.
That's when I began a frantic effort to call my former commanders and write congressional leaders to do something...anything. But before Captain could get the massive airstrike that he needed to quell the ISIS assault, he received an ultimatum from the ISIS commander on the other side of the battlefield.
"We know who you are, and we'll kill your kids if you don't leave," the ISIS commander told Captain.
With a credible threat against his life, the Captain and his family quickly fled to Turkey where they hoped to eventually resettle in the United States as refugees. With Captain out of Iraq and on a path to the U.S., I thought all was well.
But the Captain's case got stuck in the backlog of millions fleeing the conflicts in Iraq and Syria. He was quickly told that his case wouldn't be processed for years which, when you are on the run from ISIS, might as well be a death sentence.
Let me put it this way, this was a dude that had fought with us for years and now there were people who never served telling me that they couldn't process his paperwork. I thought WTF?
So, I did the one thing Marines always do. I took action and went to Turkey myself, filming the trip along the way. My journey to help the Captain eventually was released by National Geographic as a short documentary called "The Captain's Story."
Nearly three years later, I continue to advocate for other refugees like the Captain as a member of Veterans For American Ideals, a non-partisan "group of veterans who share the belief that America is strongest when its policies and actions match its ideals."
Though the work is far from over, we're starting to make a difference in doing right by our wartime allies and bring them the protection and safety they deserve.