The Kurdish Project conducted the following
Please introduce yourself to our readers. Who are you? What is Spirit of America? How/why did you get the job?
Spirit of America is a nonprofit charity organization that provides private sector support to US missions abroad, responding to local needs identified by deployed U.S. personnel, diplomats, and troops. We fill in mission-critical gaps where U.S. government resources can’t be applied.
Last summer, I was living in Erbil, the capital of Iraqi Kurdistan, while researching the provision of education for displaced Iraqis for a master’s research paper. One evening, a friend of mine introduced me to Isaac Eagan, Operations Director for an organization called Spirit of America. When he explained to me the mission, I was intrigued. The organization seemed to occupy the nexus between development and security, two areas I’m deeply interested in. I spent ten years in the Army (four on active duty and six in the National Guard) as an infantryman. Since leaving, I have been working on various international development issues. Spirit of America combines those two passions.
When Isaac informed me that there was a Middle East manager position open, I expressed an interest. Three months and many interviews later, I joined the team. I’ve spent much of the last year, identifying, designing, and implementing projects in places like Iraq, Jordan, Lebanon, Syria, and Tajikistan. These are projects that have made a real impact in the lives of people in underserved regions.
Can you explain the SoA project ideation process? How did you get the idea to provide first aid kits to Kurdish female fighters, in particular?
We do not have a set project development process, rather, we meet with deployed diplomats or troops, ask what they are working on and how we can help. In the case of the female Peshmerga project—my favorite one so far—I met with the US Army Civil Affairs officer in Erbil who interfaces with NGOs and the host nation government. He informed me about a newly organized all-female Peshmerga unit. He noted that they needed individual first aid kits. However there were no resources to meet that need at the time.
That started our collaboration. We exchanged emails and calls at random hours of the day. Within two weeks, I had developed the idea into a serious proposal. Less than a month after our initial conversation, Spirit of America put up more than $15,000 in funding to provide 255 first aid kits to the entire all-female unit. We can move fast.
What sets female Peshmerga apart from male Peshmerga? i.e. Can you expand on your comments about the importance of female warfighters in a battle zone that is predominately Muslim?
The women train and fight as units. It’s not necessarily about what sets them apart or how they compare to men. What is impressive about these female soldiers is their desire to take on the same burden, the same responsibility to defend the homeland as the males. For me, that is the essence of equality. As such, the women deserve every opportunity to serve their country and take the fight to the terrorists. The fact that by doing so, they are also challenging certain stereotypes and norms is a sign of progress.
Are the female Peshmerga on the front lines in the fight against ISIS?
As far as I know, many female units serve on the frontlines in the fight against ISIS.
Do the first aid kits include tourniquets? How much did each first aid cost?
Every first aid kit includes a tourniquet, dressing, wraps, chest seal, and shears—the basic items that each soldier needs to survive on the battlefield. To ensure they are receiving the best quality items, we purchased the kits in the U.S. and shipped them in. Each kit cost $60.
What is it like to travel in northern Iraq? Can you describe your level of protection, the way of life on/near the front lines?
I have been visiting or temporarily living in Iraqi Kurdistan for several years now. I have many friends and peers here. It always comes as a slight surprise to friends back home in the U.S. when I tell them how friendly the people here in Kurdistan are towards Westerners in general and especially Americans. This is why I refer to it as my home away from home.
My work does not involve anything near the front lines. Frankly, it’s fairly mundane: I meet with U.S. troops or diplomats in ordinary places: hotels, coffee shops, the U.S. consulate. When in-person meetings do not work out, we chat on the phone or Skype!
I understand you’ve visited Kobani. What is it like to travel in northern Syria? Can you describe your level of protection, the way of life on/near the front lines?
As a civilian working for a small NGO, I felt safe. While in northern Syria, I had the chance to meet with several governmental officials and witness first hand the extraordinary devastation. It certainly left an impression on me. We are now working hard to deliver humanitarian relief to alleviate the suffering in the region. In Kobani, we are providing educational materials to one of the local schools. In Shaddadi, in northeast Syria, we are helping get a hospital back online so the medical staff can provide urgently needed care to the residents of the region.
What other projects does SoA have planned for the Kurds? Are there any active projects that need to be funded?
Our projects span several regions in the Middle East without regard of religious or ethnic affiliation. Our sole focus is the safety and success of deployed U.S. diplomats and troops. With respect to the Kurdistan Region of Iraq, we will continue working with deployed troops and diplomats to support their priorities. Personally, I’m a big believer in education. I’m always on the look out for projects in that area. Stay tuned! In the meantime, you can check out current projects in the region here and here.
Learn more about Spirit of America here.