Former Green Beret Loren Schofield is watching with pride as the Iraqi Counter Terrorism Service (CTS) — nicknamed the Golden Division — fights for the liberation of Mosul.
Six years ago, he would have been fighting right next to them. He helped train the Iraqi counterterrorism troops in 2007 and 2008. The force of about 10,000 is the most reliable partner fighting the Islamic State in Iraq, U.S. officials have said. But being the vanguard of every offensive has taken a toll. The troops have suffered hundreds of casualties. Many of the men Schofield trained and fought with are dead.
As Schofield has tracked their progress in Mosul, where the Islamic State has been driven from the eastern part of the city, he wanted to help, but didn’t know how. Scrolling through his Instagram feed, Schofield saw the declaration “Fear the men in black trucks” in a counterterrorism soldier’s bio. Inspiration struck. He called Bryan Myers, a former teammate who also trained the CTS, and they launched the “Raise the Black” campaign to raise money for the families of fallen Iraqi commandos.
“These are the Iraqi Gold Star wives and kids,” Schofield said. “They are our brothers. Why shouldn’t we do everything we can to help them? We owe them that.”
Schofield and Myers kicked off a GoFundMe campaign in February to underwrite the production of “Raise the Black” flags, bumper stickers and T-shirts, which will be sold to raise money for the families. The centerpiece of the campaign is a black flag inspired by the skull and crossbones. But Schofield and Myers replaced the bones with arrows — the Special Forces insignia. Each flag has a serial number. When one is sold, a matching flag with the same number is sent to the counterterrorism troops to be flown in Iraq.
“The goal is to steal the fear away from the black flag of ISIS,” Schofield said. “The fact that CTS trucks are black. They wear black uniforms. That is how they are known now. It all just kind of fit.”
The first shipment of flags was sent in mid-March.
“Within the first 24 hours, I had 50 Iraqis hit me up on Facebook and Instagram,” Myers said. “They are loving that their brothers are behind them.”
The CTS program, which recruited Shiites, Sunnis and Kurds, was stood up in 2004 as the U.S. military grappled with the insurgency in Iraq.
“Special Forces soldiers selected, trained, mentored, fought with and died alongside the CTS,” Myers said. “It is the biggest success story to come out of Iraq.”
The commandos mainly battled Sunni insurgents, but also played a lead role in a 2008 offensive against Shiite militias. When ISIS invaded in 2014, CTS commandos held Iraq’s largest oil refinery for months while the rest of the Iraqi military retreated in disarray.
“Most Americans think the Iraqi army are cowards,” Schofield said. “But (CTS) stood in the breach and held the line against ISIS.”
In the last two years, the commandos led the battle to retake Ramadi and took part in operations in Hit, Rutbah and villages along the Euphrates River. The Golden Division was also the first Iraqi force to break through ISIS lines in Fallujah last year.
Max Boot, a senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations and an expert on counterinsurgency, said the United States has a long record of using allies and walking away from them.
“All too often in our past we’ve abandoned our allies,” Boot said. “It is pretty dangerous to be America’s allies.”
Boot blamed the country’s limited attention span, changing national moods, and a disconnect between civilians and the military. But he applauded the “Raise the Black” campaign.
“I think it is a positive message that these Iraqi Special Operations won’t be forgotten,” Boot said. “But there is a limit to what a handful of former Special Forces can do. They are not going to determine the policy of our country.”
For now, the goal is just to get the message out, Schofield said.
“You train them on combat missions,” he said. “You’re saving their life. They’re saving your life. If we can show that we still care and we’re helping our brothers and their families, other people around the world will see it and believe what we say.”