Last summer, as Libyan rebels advanced on Muammar Qaddafi's loyalist forces, foreign journalists discovered something curious on the front lines of the revolution: Chris Jeon, a 21-year-old UCLA math major who joined in the fight. For a brief moment last August, he became a mild media sensation – "Clueless UCLA Math Major Joins Libyan Rebels" – though no one ever learned how he managed to travel halfway across the globe to fight in the war, or why. In "Arab Spring Break," in the September 2012 issue of 'Men's Journal,' writer Joshua Davis follows Jeon as he returns to Libya and retraces his reckless steps, from his stifling internship at an investment firm in San Francisco to couch-surfiing in Benghazi to his combat experience on the front lines of the successful rebellion. Their trip back to Libya is nearly as eventful and lethal as his first trip.
Before he left San Francisco for Libya, Jeon told two fellow interns of his plan. They assured him he was fucking crazy. One of them, a statistics major bound for a Ph.D. program at Harvard, made a probability map for his friend. Davis writes:
"There was a 25 percent chance Jeon would get shot before making it to the front lines. If he did make it, there was another 25 percent chance he'd get killed in the cross fire, since he didn't speak any Arabic and had no idea what he was doing. He gave his friend a 50 percent chance of dying."
After a few days couch-surfing in Benghazi, Jeon caught a ride to a staging area where battalions were departing for the front:
"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 on board wore green camo with red-checkered kaffiyehs over their faces. One of the trucks stopped, and a young rebel stuck his head out the window.
"Jackie Chan!" he shouted at Jeon and swung the door opened.
"Holy shit," Jeon thought. "This is really happening."
Jeon joined a battalion and learned to fight, taking up arms as a truck filled with loyalist troops approached:
"The gun jerked wildly, and he ran out of bullets. He loaded another clip. This time, when he squeezed the trigger, he saw the passenger's head snap back."