Rojava, Oct 27 – A small town in Wisconsin is a far cry from the civil war-ravaged fields of northern Syria. But for Jordan Matson, a former U.S. solider, the battlefield feels most like home. For the last month, Matson, 28, has been a volunteer fighter in the Kurdish militia known here as the People’s Protection Units, or YPG.
The group has been defending three small Kurdish statelets in northern Syria. The Kurdish militants have also spent much of the last year battling ISIS, the hardline jihadist group that wants to create an Islamic state across parts of Iraq and Syria. “Due to two years of almost no foreign policy in the region — while these people threatened American citizens, and bring harm to us — I think I decided enough was enough, and I decided to come out this way,” Matson said.
He saw the fall of Iraq’s second-largest city, Mosul, as a turning point. “All of the American brothers that have died over there — all the American veterans that have died over there — and paid their lives for that country so they could have a democracy. That just resonated in my mind. And I couldn’t live with myself letting that country fall, and all my brothers’ lives be for nothing,” Matson said.
But instead of ending up in Iraq, Matson joined the YPG in Syria. It marked a dramatic turn for the former soldier. During more than two years in the U.S. military, Matson says, he never saw combat, nor was he shipped overseas to serve. In Syria, he saw action almost as soon as he arrived. Two days after reaching the Kurdish enclave known as Rojava, he says, he was hit by a mortar round during a firefight with ISIS.
Now mostly recovered from shrapnel wounds, but still squinting occasionally from the wounds caused by the dirt that the mortar shell sprayed in his eye, Matson met CNN in the YPG-controlled town of Al-Malikiyah. “All my life, I’ve wanted to be a soldier. So it just fits well over here,” he said. “I’m at peace being here.”