Former Georgetown grad Matthew VanDyke is fighting ISIS the only way he knows how — through a grassroots military training initiative he calls Sons of Liberty International (SOLI).
The self-made nonprofit aims to equip the Christian north of Iraq against the threat of the so-called Islamic State, mobilizing local volunteers against insurgents that have devastated Assyrian communities since ISIS invaded last year.
Despite VanDyke's zeal for the cause, reactions to SOLI and the involvement of fellow Westerners in the Arab conflict are greatly divided. The American Evangelical community hails VanDyke's work as revolutionary, while others are suspicious of SOLI, which has zero backing from Iraqi or American governments.
SOLI's main objective is to empower the Ninevah Plain Protection Units (NPU), a volunteer Christian militia that is comprised of Iraqi civilians, American ex-soldiers and everything in between. Originally operating as a ragtag defense unit, VanDyke and senior NPU members are shifting the group to the offensive, hoping to reclaim ISIS-occupied Assyrian villages and eventually join the fight for the ISIS-stronghold of Mosul.
VanDyke himself has no formal military training, but he's no stranger to Middle Eastern conflict. The 36-year-old 's rap sheet includes living as a POW after fighting with Libyan rebels in 2010, as well as working alongside war journalists James Foley and Steven Sotloff while filming a documentary short to promote the Free Syrian Army.
"Sometimes I question if it was a wise decision," he said. "But once you become aware of the brutality of the modern world, there's no plugging back into the matrix. There's no un-ringing that bell." Then, after a long pause, he added: "I'm fully committed to the cause. I'll do whatever it takes."
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To watch SOLI train, watch the video below: