Bodies Of Coloradans Who Died Fighting ISIS To Arrive In Denver On Friday

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Lakewood, Colo.-, September 15, 2016 | comments

The bodies of two Coloradans killed fighting ISIS have been returned to the U.S., and are expected to arrive in Denver at Union Station on Friday. Levi Shirley of Arvada died in July and Jordan MacTaggart of Castle Rock was killed in August. They were two of dozens of American citizens who have joined militias in order to fight ISIS outside the purview of the U.S. military, and their deaths were a quandary for the U.S. government. 

"You can imagine the complications on that sort of thing," national security reporter Dan Lamothe of the Washington Post told Colorado Matters host Nathan Heffel last month. "You know without the typical American logistics backbone -- you know, helicopters, convoys, all those sorts of thing that are regular in a place like Iraq in the heyday of the war there, or Afghanistan even now."

Democratic Rep. Ed Perlmutter of Colorado says his office helped bring Shirley's and MacTaggart's bodies home; his office also helped repatriate the body of one other American who also died fighting against ISIS. Rep. Perlmutter spoke with Nathan Heffel on Thursday.

A memorial service will be held for Levi Shirley on Sept. 24  in Arvada, and a memorial service for Jordan MacTaggart will be held Oct. 1 in Castle Rock.

Rep. Perlmutter on why he chose to get involved: 

"The State Department does give a stark warning to anybody considering going to fight in Syria, because it is a very dangerous place; everybody seems to be fighting with one another. But these are three Americans, and I felt it was our responsibility to work with the United States -- to work with whomever would work with us, especially the Kurds -- to bring those bodies home."  

On the reactions of those he called on for help:

"We didn't get any push back from my colleges in Congress. I think this is one of the very first instances where something like this has occurred. There may have been one young man killed a year ago who was a U.S. citizen, but really this is the first experience that I think any of the congressional offices have had, or the senate offices. And we actually requested help from the White House and we got it, to help bring these bodies home."

On how the White House helped:

"There were snafus getting the bodies out of Syria, there was question whether to take them up to Turkey or take them to Iraq. And it was slow going, so we contacted our liaison at the White House who then worked with us in the State Department to really start the process moving the bodies across Northern Iraq -- obviously dangerous but less dangerous than going into Turkey. There was a question whether to fly to Qatar or fly through Turkey, and ultimately the flights were through Oman to Chicago-O'Hare Airport."

On why he considers the men patriots: 

"Would I recommend that others go do this? No I would not. But I think these young men were patriots, I think they were good young men. You look at Levi Shirley's history -- he was a good student in Arvada, he was an outstanding athlete, but he had very poor eyesight and was not qualified to join our military. Yet he had this desire to serve, and he went forward. Mr. MacTaggart, a little bit of a troubled youth, decided to clean himself up, and decided he wanted to do something more. So in their hearts, I feel like they were patriots."

On why he doesn't feel the operation to recover the bodies sends a mixed message to other Americans considering going to Syria:  

"I'm saying to them, 'Look, this is dangerous. There are lots of ways in this world to serve your country and to serve humanity.' This is a very, very dangerous one, and we've seen three deaths. And the difficulty we've had repatriating these young men from a very dangerous place where we don't have helicopters, we don't have a lot of troops, we don't have all of the systems in place to bring the bodies home.

"So, I would say, it's happened, we the United States have a responsibility to do our best to bring the bodies home. On the other hand, we also have a responsibility to say there are other ways to serve the United States, there are other ways to serve humanity. This is dangerous, and it's difficult to get you home if you get kidnapped or, in this instance killed. "

Content originally published by Colorado Public Radio on September 15th, 2016.
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