ALBANY, N.Y. — A former Occupy Wall Street protester and volunteer medic who had taken up the cause of the Middle East's Kurds was one of two American volunteers killed while fighting against the Islamic State group in Syria.
A U.S.-allied Kurdish militia said Tuesday that 28-year-old Robert Grodt, of Santa Cruz, California, and 29-year-old Nicholas Alan Warden, of Buffalo, died in battle last week.
The People's Protection Units, also known by their Kurdish initials as the YPG, announced Tuesday the Americans died in battle in Raqqa, the base of the Islamic State group in northern Syria. Warden died July 5, and Grodt died July 6.
Grodt had been active in several causes in the United States, even meeting his partner, Kaylee Dedrick, of Albany, when she was pepper-sprayed at the 2011 Occupy Wall Street protests. The pair's daughter, Tegan Kathleen Grodt, born in September 2012, was dubbed the First Occubaby.
Grodt's former boss Spike Murphy told the Santa Cruz Sentinel newspaper that Grodt was a passionate man who followed his heart.
"He lived very much in the moment. He would throw himself into something wholly without thoughts about that future for himself, which got him in trouble sometimes," said Murphy, who was Grodt's boss while campaigning for Equality California in Santa Cruz and the Central Coast.
Murphy and Grodt also worked together campaigning and supporting the America Civil Liberties Union, OXFAM and Amnesty International.
In a video posted by the Kurdish militia group, Grodt tells his daughter he is sorry he is away from her but explains why he is fighting overseas.
"My reason for joining the YPG was to help the Kurdish people and their struggle for autonomy within Syria and elsewhere," says Grodt, shown wearing camouflage clothes and holding a rifle.
Warden says in a YPG video he traveled from Buffalo in February to fight the Islamic State group because of attacks inspired by the group in San Bernardino, California; Orlando, Florida; and Paris.
Warden's father, Mark Warden, of Depew, told the Military Times newspaper his son was a U.S. Army combat veteran who served with the 101st Airborne Division from March 2007 to November 2011. He said his son left the Army for the French Foreign Legion, where he served for five years and completed nearly 50 airborne jumps.
The U.S. military has developed a close relationship with the YPG and its parent coalition, the Syrian Democratic Forces, in the war against the Islamic State group.
Grodt and Warden were not members of the U.S. special forces embedded with the Syrian coalition.
U.S.-backed forces have conquered a third of Raqqa since launching the push on the city last month.