It’s not often a city magazine has the opportunity to publish a feature that largely takes place abroad, but this month’s “Mortal Combat” by Kelley McMillan Manley is an exception.

One of the biggest stories of our time is the rise of the Islamic State (also known as ISIS or ISIL). Fifteen years ago, it would have been inconceivable to think there would be a terrorist organization whose mission and methods would offend even al-Qaida—yet here we are, in 2017, with the Islamic State controlling swaths of territory in Syria and Iraq and fomenting terror throughout the Western world. In the wake of such a frightening development, many of us feel discouraged and helpless. Coloradans Levi Shirley and Jordan MacTaggart did not: These two young men from suburban Denver volunteered to fight the Islamic State with a division of the Kurdish militia known as the YPG.

Shirley and MacTaggart had very different backgrounds—one, the son of a veteran who would’ve joined the Marines but for his bad eyesight; the other, a punk rocker with an anarchist bent—but they both made the dangerous journey to Syria. “I came out here because the Islamic State has been committing atrocities against the people of the world, and especially my fellow Americans,” Shirley said. “Anything I can do to help stop them is what I’m going to do.” Through cinematic storytelling, Manley reveals what these local men found halfway around the world—and the sacrifices they made to help keep all of us safe.

This article was originally published in 5280 February 2017.
Geoff Van Dyke
Geoff Van Dyke
Geoff Van Dyke is the editorial director of 5280 Publishing. Follow him on Twitter @GeoffVanDyke