At first glance, Adam Sbita of Falls Church, Va., appears to be an average Washington-area resident. He follows the Redskins faithfully, attended George Mason University, and has lived in the capital region for most of his 22 years. Upon meeting Sbita, nothing unusual stands out apart from his necklace, a bullet with rope coiled around it.
The necklace was given to him by Atif Muhammed, one of Sbita’s fellow rebel soldiers in the Tripoli Revolutionary Brigade. Muhammed and Sbita went through training together, where they learned to clean, disassemble, reassemble, and fire a Belgian FN rifle along with an AK-47.
Now the FN bullet dangling from Sbita’s neck symbolizes his journey from American civilian to Libyan soldier. Sbita said he wears it to honor his fallen friend, Muhammed, who died from a single shot to the head when their brigade was leaving Zawiya on the outskirts of Tripoli during their offensive to liberate the Libyan capital from the forces of dictator Muammar el-Qaddafi.
(PICTURES -- Adam Sbita: The Libyan Liberator From Falls Church, Va.)
A year ago, as a college student in Falls Church, Sbita never would have guessed the path his life would take. He is the youngest of three children of Libyan parents and the only member of his family born in the United States—everyone else was born in Tripoli. And he never thought the Arab Spring that began early last year would spread to Libya.
After the uprising in Egypt, “people said that Libya would be next. Me being Libyan, I kind of laughed at that.... I said that wasn’t going to be possible,” Sbita said. “And it wasn’t that I had doubt in the people. I had more of a fear of Qaddafi himself.”
Once fighting broke out and people started to die, Sbita started “calling people back home in Libya, trying to figure out what’s going on—what’s going on in Tripoli, what’s going on in Benghazi.”
Eventually, he decided that phone calls weren’t sufficient and that he needed to leave his American home to fight for his Libyan one. “I felt like I wasn’t doing enough,” he said.
Under the guise of volunteering as a humanitarian aid worker to keep his friends and family from trying to discourage him, Sbita packed up boxes of medical supplies and left for Libya via Germany, then Egypt. His parents did not find out that their son was volunteering for battle until he reached Tripoli—roughly six months later. “The first time when he go over there, he told me he want to take the medicine,” said Khairya Said, Adam’s mother.
After arriving in Cairo last spring, Sbita said he paid a driver to take him and a friend across the border to Libya. They arrived in Benghazi two days later with the objective of joining the rebel fighters. His friend eventually returned home without enlisting.
Sbita said he spent just under a month in Benghazi before joining the Tripoli Revolutionary Brigade, which consisted mostly of Libyan expatriates who had family in Tripoli and knew the city.
In addition to learning to use an AK-47 and a Belgian FN, he said he received heavy-artillery training and close-combat training—including how to disarm a Qaddafi soldier—and learned basic military protocol and how to treat captured fighters. He had never received military training before joining the brigade. “I knew nothing about war,” he said.
During combat, Sbita, along with a handful of other fighters, said he would drive a white Toyota Tundra or Ford F-150 with a 106-mm M40 recoilless rifle mounted to the bed of the truck with the objective of destroying buildings where snipers hid, as well as large combat vehicles such as tanks.
“If a sniper is hiding in a building, it is next to impossible to take him out, so what we did is we take the whole building out,” Sbita said. “Aim for the middle [of the building], so hopefully he’s in the top and falls down, or he’s in the bottom and it falls down on him.”
In Zawiya, about 20 miles from Tripoli, they destroyed their first tank on Aug. 21 as they continued an offensive toward the capital, he said.
It had been six months of deceiving his parents that he was merely doing humanitarian work, six months involved in battles in nearly a dozen cities across Libya.
NATO was bombing Tripoli at the time, so his battalion was told to paint a large “N” on top of all their vehicles so they wouldn’t be blown away by friendly fire. He said he rode into Tripoli in a Toyota pickup riddled with bullet holes and with the windows broken out.
“The welcome we got was overwhelming, beyond overwhelming,” Sbita said. “Men, women, and children were running out into the streets. People were yelling and screaming, and just extremely happy. Everybody was crying.
“It was really emotional. We didn’t know whether to be happy for getting into Tripoli ... or sad because you just lost around 10 of your best friends.”
With the death of Qaddafi on Oct. 20—killed by a bullet to the head—things began to settle down in the Libyan capital, according to Sbita. He returned to his real home in Virginia last month, still a young man but now a veteran of war.
This article appears in the March 7, 2012, edition of National Journal Daily.