Charlotte, N.C. – A North Carolina mother of three young children has traveled to Iraq to join the Kurdish Peshmerga in the fight against ISIS terrorists.
Samantha Johnston, 25, of Emerald Isle, N.C., is the only known American woman on the ground assisting in the fight against ISIS.
Johnston served in the United States Army from 2008 until 2011, and has been embedded with a Peshmerga unit near the city of Kirkuk for just over two months.
Her 5-year old and two 3-year-old twins are in the care of her family until she returns to America.
Johnston spoke exclusively via Skype with FOX 46 News about the decision to temporarily leave her family to fight ISIS, and what she is seeing on the ground in Iraq.
“It was a long and hard process, a lot of praying, but it initially started tugging at my heart back in August,” she said. “That’s when the beheadings started happening, and I decided to dig into the information on what’s going on there.”
After learning about the numerous atrocities ISIS was and still is committing against innocent civilians, including children, Johnston decided she couldn’t just sit back and do nothing.
She utilized her military contacts and got in touch with the Iraqi Kurds online.
“I dug and researched and learned who was here, who was real, and after talking to certain people for months and deciding I was going to come, they helped me plan everything with the Peshmerga,” she said.
Johnston cried on the way to the airport, and said she had second thoughts about leaving.
“It was very hard, there are no words to express what I was feeling at that time,” she said. “My family member drove me to the airport and she kept saying she can stop, that she can turn around, and I wanted her to, but at the same time I knew this was something that was important to me and I knew I needed to come and help in any way, but it was terrible, I hate remembering that trip.”
FOX 46 asked Johnston about the decision to leave her children behind, whom she says she misses terribly.
“It was my choice, it was something that I decided and prayed about, and luckily, my family, they don’t support me being here, but they’re supportive, if that makes sense, I can’t thank them enough for all the help they are giving me watching my children,” she said. “If I didn’t have them, this wouldn’t be possible. Everybody has opinions and I try to brush it off and focus on my goal here. I told my children I was going to be gone for a while to help other little children, and they said okay.”
Johnson said the night she arrived in Iraq, she quickly realized how serious the situation was.
“During the transfer from the airport to the base I was going to, it was three in the morning, they didn’t give me a flak vest or anything, they gave me a police officer bulletproof vest, they had a rifle ready for me and they said in case of attack, here’s what you need to do,” she said. “Every day we get up at four in the morning, we get in the Humvees, we go where we need to go, we train, and we train specifically for quick reaction, we come back, we clean our weapons, and prepare for the next day, but we are so close to Daesh [ISIS] that we are always on alert.
Johnston is yet to be in a firefight against ISIS, but she said the terrorist organization is gaining momentum.
“For a while there was no activity from [ISIS], but now that Ramadi is taken over and they have all the new weapons from the Iraqi army, it’s like the calm before the storm, we’re expecting it, we’re just waiting.”
FOX 46 asked Johnston if she feels the United States is doing enough in the fight against ISIS.
“No, the United States is not doing enough, whatsoever,” she said. “We are losing this fight, and we need the support from our government, America, and other western countries.
Johnston said she wants the United States to arm and supply the Peshmerga instead of the Iraqi army.
“ISIS doesn’t lie, they’re parading around with United States equipment that we supplied to the Iraqi army, it’s a slap in the face,” she said.
Johnston also reacted to President Obama’s comments about the United States not having a strategy to fight ISIS .
“Embarrassed,” she said. “Embarrassed for America. I don’t want to give my opinion on Obama.”
She said the recent news of American citizen Keith Broomfield being killed by ISIS makes her angry.
“An American came here, risking his life to fight for Kurdistan, and to fight for America,” she said. “And America is not supporting this fight whatsoever. As a result of that, he lost his life.”
Johnston mentioned she didn’t want to tell her family exactly what she would be doing in Iraq, because they would fear for her safety.
“I didn’t want to scare them,” she said. “You hear about the American hostages, and there’s a fear about my name being a headline because I’m a hostage.”
Johnston went to Iraq on a one way ticket.
She has no idea when she will return to America, but said she knows what she is going to do when she does come back.
“Make this up to my kids for the rest of my life,” she said. “Focus on them. I’m still alive, and I love everybody.”
Johnston also plans to start a humanitarian organization upon her return to continue helping the Kurds.