By Michael Ashcraft and Mark Ellis
When he was a U.S. Marine, Tyler Smith missed out on deployment in Iraq. Now, when the chance came up to fight human-trafficking in the Iraqi Kurdish territory, he was quick to sign up.
“I believe God put it in my heart to come here and serve,” Tyler says. “I couldn’t let myself sit at home doing nothing while people here were suffering so immensely. I CAN help so there’s no reason not to. I’m not a hero. I’m just a man trying to do the right thing.”
In setting up their version of Islamic utopia, the black-clad terrorists of ISIS routinely rape women imprisoned in warehouses, sell little girls into sex slavery and “marry off” nine-year-olds.
The current policy of the U.S. – which seems lackluster to many – has caused some to actually join the fight alongside the Kurds, while others are performing humanitarian work at great peril to their lives.
“Everyone of these guys is a hero,” says Paul Neier, founder of Operation Soul Shepherd (OSS), which deployed Tyler to Iraq. “The craziest thing about it is they are in the belly of the beast. They’ve taken their faith and put it into action. They 100% prove beyond a shadow of a doubt that they are showing the love of Christ. They’re not just talking about it.”
Tyler and his OSS buddy are two on a team of eight attempting to set up shelters for women and girls who either escape the evil clutches of ISIS or manage to get released in northwestern Iraq. Though they are former military personnel, on this mission they are completely unarmed and have no capacity to defend themselves, much less engage in a firefight with an enemy.
While they carry no ‘visible’ weapons to protect themselves, they have the sword of the Spirit and the shield of faith.
“These are guys we know we can trust,” Neier says. “They’ll go the distance. They can handle high-pressure situations. They want to use their skill sets to serve the least of these among us.”
OSS is taking up where actress Angelina Jolie left off. The actor/director visited the orphans of northwestern Iraq in January and pleaded with the West in an Op-Ed piece in the New York Times to do more for the 2 million displaced Iraqis and even more for Syrians uprooted by the carnage.
“What do you say to the 13-year-old girl who describes the warehouses where she and the others lived and would be pulled out, three at a time, to be raped by the men?” Jolie wrote. “When her brother found out, he killed himself.”
Founded in August 2014, OSS is so new they don’t have a website, though their presence is growing through their Facebook page. Their ultimate goal is to send former military, police and EMTs into human-trafficking hotspots around the world – places like Haiti, South Africa, Benin and Kenya. The missionaries will investigate and hand over their evidence to authorities to break up sex-trafficking gangs, Neier says.
But the group’s first mission is different.
“Right now we are still trying to set up our main goal of getting a house and staff to run a rehabilitation home for women that have escaped or been released by ISIS,” explains Tyler. “A lot of these women have been raped and tortured, and it is important that we get the right people with solid experience to staff the house. While we are getting that together we have been running very small clinics at the local church.”
Because the zone of operation is protected by the vaunted Kurdish Peshmerga militia, it’s not as dangerous as Syria, where a number of humanitarian workers and journalists have been captured, turned over to ISIS and beheaded in ghastly videos that, bizarrely, seem to inspire a steady flow of new fanatics to join their ranks because they project power.
“There is a heightened sense of awareness but not fear,” Tyler says. “The people here are used to westerners and very accepting of western culture.”
OSS is fundraising to get meds for refugees they hope to aid. They also need more funds to set up shelters for women and girls who have been raped up to 30 times a day, Neier says. Join the funding effort.
“I’m not a hero,” says Tyler. “I’m just a man trying to do the right thing”
His buddies from his Christian high school in Santa Monica disagree over his downplaying the heroics.
“He’s a really passionate guy when he has his heart set on something,” says school friend Arti Cedillo.”He was a great friend. He never hesitated to serve others. When you stand up for those who can’t stand up for themselves, God’s gonna show up.”