Dean Parker was just sitting back and watching the news after a day of work in his hometown of West Palm Beach, Florida. It was there that the 49-year-old painter/surfer/grandfather saw footage of the fight against ISIS in Northern Iraq and decided to take action. From PRI:
“I made the decision right there after watching those news reports,” Parker recalls. “After watching it for an hour, I was very upset. And I was online booking a ticket.”
He packed body armor from a local military surplus shop, a sturdy pair of boots, clothes and his e-reader — loaded with a copy of Sun Tzu’s “The Art of War.” A month later, Parker was in Syria, fighting with Kurdish forces on the front line against ISIS.
He says he didn’t tell his family until he was already in Syria. “They were worried, you know messaging me: ‘Come home, come home.’ I told them I can’t. Not yet, anyways,” Parker says. “And after a couple days it sunk in and at they were very supportive.”
Some people send money, some folks Tweet, this guy decided to go pick up a gun and fight as part of the anti-ISIS forces in Syria and Iraq. He joins many other foreign fighters and westerners in the area, lending a variety of skills and expertise to the conflict. For Parker, who lacks military experience, it means keeping out of the active front lines. That doesn’t mean he isn’t seeing action and running into other foreign fighters:
Parker recalls the first time his unit, which included both Kurds and foreigners, came under fire. He was on guard duty on the roof.
“I go running back and I yell over the side of the wall at some of the other foreign fighters, like, ‘Ah, I’m getting shot at up here, what should I do?’” Parker remembers. “One said, ‘Ducking would probably be a good idea.’ I started laughing and said, ‘OK, I’ll do that.’”
There is a general camaraderie among the Western recruits, Parker says, but other foreign fighters criticized him for being in a combat zone without military experience, saying it put others at risk.
“It was just one or two that were kind of ribbing me out about it,” he says. “But everyone else we were with was like, ‘Dude, we’re down, let’s go. Let’s go rock and roll. You want to patrol, ok, let’s go do a patrol.’” (via)
Parker’s reasons for wanting to join the fight seem a bit more spiritual than just wanting to see combat, giving God a lot of credit for compelling him to fight and aid the Kurds in their cause. From The New York Post:
“The only way to try to explain this, is that I heard God’s call,” he wrote. “The Kurds are the most amazing people, I’m so very blessed. I’m not much for words except I love you all my friends, I’m in very good hands.”
Parker, who attributed his “mental toughness” to his knowledge of martial arts, even said he might stay with the Kurds when the fight is over.
“The Kurds are the most gracious, respectful people I have ever met,” he said. “We are family now. I am so honored to be here.”
Hopefully nothing happens to him in the meantime. He joins a long history of foreign fighters from the classical age to now, traveling far away from their homes to fight for a cause that might puzzle your everyday person. It’s risky and a little stupid considering his background, but you have to respect the effort. It’s just a little odd seeing a positive story float out of Florida.