NALUT, Libya (Reuters) - Adam, from Washington, D.C., was studying to become a family therapist. Then he felt a greater calling: fighting for freedom in Libya.
So he traded his university sociology and psychology books for a semi-automatic weapon bought with his own money in Libya and joined a group of rebels who believe they have the best chance of reaching Tripoli and toppling Muammar Gaddafi.
“I just had a year left before getting my degree but I dropped out,” said Adam, 22, dressed in camouflage fatigues and a black bullet-proof vest at a training site in Libya’s Western Mountains.
“But I had to do this. Gaddafi is killing so many people. I felt I needed to take a stand. Why not?”
Adam’s parents left Libya for the United States 35 years ago. He grew up like any American kid, watching football games, hitting the mall and worrying about his prom date.
“I was popular in high school. I was the kind of guy people would come to for advice on girlfriend problems,” said Adam, who has a big frame, is bearded and wears thick glasses.
“I think I would have been a good family therapist. But right now more than anything I want to liberate Tripoli.”
Adam soon discovered he had joined a do-it-yourself rebel movement. He has to tap into his life savings of $5,000 to buy food, drinks, clothes, even weapons.
“I was going to buy a Belgian rifle but the Israeli one was lighter and came with a sniper scope,” said Adam. He would not say whom he purchased the weapon from, but a black market arms trade has emerged in rebel-held areas.
Adam and other Tripoli Brigade members — 532 in all including a few other Westerners — live in a college dormitory in the town of Nalut, about 280 km (175 miles) from Tripoli.
Stinging caricatures of Gaddafi hang on a wall beside a drawing of how a rifle is put together, a far cry from his old dormitory back home.
The brigade is highly organized, with computer records of each fighter and a far better command structure than most other rebel units.
Morale lifted in the past few weeks after the rebels captured some government-held towns and villages in the plains below the Western Mountains.
But they have yet to seize the Gaddafi stronghold of Tiji, despite surrounding it. That’s where Adam learned the hard way that breaking Libya’s military stalemate won’t be easy.
“We were stuck under a sand hill in the desert for three hours. The bullets were flying over our heads the whole time,” said Adam.
He asked that his last name not be used for fear of retribution against his relatives in Tripoli — and also because his parents back in the United States do not know he has taken up arms.
Shortly after describing the challenges, Adam strapped his weapon over his shoulder and took part in a mock attack on government forces, part of his training.
Rocket-propelled-grenades were fired and hand grenades were tossed as he and other fighters rushed imaginary targets.
When it was all over and the anti-Gaddafi victory chants died down, Adam took time to reflect on his risky decision to leave behind a comfortable life in the United States.
“I don’t regret a thing. Not for a minute. But I must say I hate guns. After it’s all over I want to go back to being regular old Adam,” he said. “If my parents knew I was on the front lines in Libya, they would freak out.”
Editing by Christian Lowe and Giles Elgood