Lone vet returns to Iraq to fight ISIS

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“I’m not here serving my country — I’m here serving Christians,” says former U.S. soldier Brett Felton, who returned to Iraq to train Christians how to defend themselves from ISIS
This past winter, a 60 Minutes team traveling through Iraq stumbled on a 28-year-old American man in Bakufa, an abandoned Christian village north of Mosul. The man was dressed like a soldier, but he wasn’t with the U.S. military. He was there to help, but not as part of any aid organization. He had come to Iraq on his own — to fight ISIS.

Driven by his Christian faith, Brett Felton of Troy, Michigan, made his way to Iraq as a “soldier of Christ,” to help defend the Iraqi Christians under threat from the Islamic State. When 60 Minutes producer Jeff Newton met him in February, Felton was engaged in training local Christians to defend their villages. (Watch Felton in action in the video player above.)

“If you look at him, he’s literally all tattooed out like a biker,” Newton told 60 Minutes Overtime. “But if you look really closely at his tattoos, they’re like Jesus Christ crying blood tears out of his eyes and stuff like that –so he’s kind of a hardcore Christian.”
“People say, ‘You’re crazy for doin’ this,’ I think people are crazy for not doing their part, to be honest with you.”

It wasn’t Felton’s first time in Iraq. In 2006, Felton was deployed to Iraq with the 10th Mountain Division, 2nd Battalion, 14th Infantry Regiment. Discharged in 2007, Felton told Newton that his experience in Iraq had a “lasting impact” on him.

Like many veterans, Felton says he wanted to return to Iraq as soon as he arrived home. Last year, he managed to slip back into the country from Lebanon, where he was studying abroad.

Newton stumbled across Felton while traveling with a 60 Minutes crew, including correspondent Lara Logan, for a story about Iraq’s Christians on this week’s 60 Minutes broadcast. They were there to check on the small Christian villages north of Mosul, and what the 60 Minutes team found was disheartening.

Some Christians in the region were forced to convert to Islam by ISIS attackers. Many had fled. But a few Christian men decided to stay behind and form fledgling militias to save their villages. Few of these men are professional soldiers, say Logan and Newton.

“They’re under-funded. They don’t have good weapons. They’re completely outgunned by the Islamic State,” says Lara Logan. “When you’re with them, you have this terrible feeling that many of them would be massacred if the Islamic State really turned its attention to taking back those villages.”

But help has begun to arrive from a handful of Christians, like Felton, who are traveling to Iraq from abroad. On the day Newton was in Bakufa, Felton was training the men in urban warfare — how to enter and clear a room, how to check for suicide vests, and how to drag your wounded to safety.

The dangers to the Christian fighters — and to Felton — were close at hand. ISIS fighters were only miles away from the village.

“People say, ‘You’re crazy for doin’ this,'” Felton told Newton. “I think people are crazy for not doing their part, to be honest with you.”

“To me, for the Christians here, it would be an honor to give my life helping these people.”

Editor’s Note: This Overtime video was originally published on March 22, 2015. Since then, Brett Felton left Iraq for a new mission. According to his Facebook posts, he is now in Africa, working with a faith-based relief organization.
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