Arab Spring Break
Credit: Courtesy Chris Jeon
In early September, Jeon was dropped at the gates of an oil refinery. He could tell that the front lines were close. Pickup trucks mounted with rocket launchers streamed out of the complex, heading west. Tripoli had fallen, but Qaddafi was still at large and unbowed. On the radio that day, he vowed to fight a "long, drawn-out war."

Qaddafi's loyalists had concentrated their firepower in the central coastal region, near his hometown of Sirte. For the revolution to succeed, Qaddafi had to be killed or arrested, and many believed that he was hiding in Sirte, the city the rebels were now pushing toward.

As they rolled out of the refinery, each truck blasted a different song: Tupac bled into high-pitched Arabic music followed by the Scorpions. The men onboard wore green camo with red-checkered kaffiyehs over their faces. One of the trucks stopped, and a young rebel stuck his head out of the window.

"Jackie Chan!" he shouted at Jeon and swung the back door open.

"Holy shit, this is really happening," Jeon thought as he squeezed in among the men, the RPGs, and the AK-47s. Nobody asked who he was or why he was there. They just handed him a grenade, some earplugs, and a cigarette. He was glad he had practiced smoking.

Twenty minutes later, they stopped on the side of the road, where a clump of pickups stood in the open desert. Suddenly, a shell landed nearby and sent a huge plume of dirt into the air. The rebels in Jeon's car leaped out of the cab, returning fire with the .50-caliber machine gun mounted on the bed of their truck. Others fired cannons and launched rockets. There was no coordination. Everybody just let loose with every weapon they had, aiming in the general direction of the incoming fire. This was way crazier than anything he'd seen on YouTube.

Shells rained down around them. The rebels panicked, scrambling to get into their vehicles. As they sped away, one of the rebels put his hand on Jeon's chest and felt his heart thudding heavily. Everybody glanced at Jeon and laughed. He looked terrified.

"Where you stay?" the rebel asked.

"Nowhere," Jeon replied.

"No problem," he said. "You stay with us tonight."

Back at the oil refinery, the rebels had commandeered a newly built two-story town house. There were a half-dozen men sleeping in each room. Two members of the battalion had been killed by a rocket that day, so some floor space had opened up. In the living room, Jeon sat on the ground and introduced himself, but the rebels didn't like his name. Chris was too short and didn't sound Libyan.

"We give you new name," announced Mohammed, an 18-year-old from Benghazi.

Shouting broke out as the rebels debated Jeon's new name. Finally, Commander Absalam, the group leader, held up his hand and pointed at Jeon.

"Chris no more," Absalam said solemnly. "Now you are Ahmed Mugrabi Saidi Barga."

The rebels cheered. The name was a mash-up of all the tribal names represented in the room. They would call him Ahmed.