Austin Howe, a Marine infantry veteran that served in Afghanistan, has volunteered to provide medical care to Iraq’s “most vulnerable” in war torn areas of Mosul. Howe works with a dozen other volunteers from various countries as part of a Slovak charity known as the Academy of Emergency Medicine. On Tuesday, the group set up a medical tent and several cots near a blockaded road. They provided emergency care to a group of people that were injured by a mortar strike just hours after setting up.

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“I felt useless in a warehouse,” Howe said. “This is where I needed to be.”

After his deployment, Howe took a job at a warehouse in California. He says that his life felt empty and he struggled to find purpose. He volunteered to provide aid because he felt like he “needed more chaos in my life.”

On Tuesday, an adrenaline-pumping dose of chaos was delivered in the form of a trio of mortar rounds that landed on the hillsides flanking the road.  Moments later, a woman wailed from just beyond a nearby wall and several medics hopped into action as an unconscious, injured boy was carried through a gap in the wall sections.

The boy succumbed to injuries caused by shrapnel from the last mortar round, said Matej Karlak, a Slovak medic. Fourteen other individuals were also treated for injuries.

“Luckily, it was one casualty,” said Katrine Mathisen, a Norwegian doctor and army veteran who volunteers alongside Howe. “It could have been 15.”

Howe says he was attracted to the group because they share “the same humor … the same brotherhood” that he experienced as a Marine. Howe sold off several of his prized rifles, launched a kick-starter campaign, and his family even hosted a Tupperware Party to fund his six-month stint in the Middle East.

Despite only being three weeks into a six-month program, Howe says the experience has been far more rewarding and humbling than he expected. He says that he’s unsure if this experience will cure his insatiable thirst for chaos “but there’s only one way to find out.”

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