One of my contemporaries recently told me that his son, a former Army Ranger, has joined the ranks of the private security contractors in Iraq.
In 2005, I wrote the following op-ed piece about these brave individuals:
THE NEW MERCENARIES
Special to the Sentinel
March 1, 2005
At an undisclosed location in Baghdad, the 32-year-old mercenary stood next to an armored SUV, preparing to escort his “principal”, the high-ranking person he helps to protect, to that man’s next destination. In his civilian clothes and body armor, this professional soldier is armed with a variety of weapons, including an M4 carbine and a semiautomatic handgun. His military and civilian training, along with his experience in the art of war, make him a very dangerous man. That is why he is worth the $15,000 a month he is making – tax free – to protect his “client”.
Civilian or military, spy or corporate wizard, the individual being protected represents part of the large investment that our government has made in war-torn Iraq. It is no secret that a lot of American dollars are being spent on government contracts with such companies as Blackwater, Dyncorp and others. In turn, those companies are hiring thousands of professionals from the Navy Seals, the Army Rangers, Delta Force, Special Forces, the British or Australian SAS and from the elite forces of other countries.
Last year this particular mercenary, who is now known as a “private security contractor”, served in the American Army in Iraq with me. Since our return, he has been recruited, trained some more and then deployed to war again. I tried to talk him out of it, but I must say that I know how he feels. Not everyone can understand the pure excitement or the adrenaline rush from being a warrior in the most dangerous city of the most dangerous country in the world. This is especially true when that job is part of the larger mission being conducted by your country.
Soldiers of fortunes, or warriors for hire, have been part of the fabric of conflict for thousands of years. I grew up in the 1960s reading about the legendary Fifth Commando, a famous group of British mercenaries in Africa led by Lt. Col. Mike Hoare. After Vietnam, recruiters for various groups in Africa approached many of us. I knew only one man who took the job and I never heard from him again.
My mercenary friend, who must remain anonymous for safety and intelligence reasons, is divorced, unattached and reminds me of Errol Flynn. He knows the risks, has weighed them and has chosen to fight for Uncle Sam, apple pie, the many girls he left behind and the good old American buck as well. If he survives, and I have the greatest of confidence in his warrior skills, he will put together quite a nest egg for his future.
There are those who might say it is immoral to hire professional soldiers who seem to be serving only for money and adventure. Having known many of these men, I believe it is more than that for most of them. There is an undercurrent of good among them because they like being the good guys. They all know the deadly price of war, many have lost comrades in battle and most have the look of steely-eyed self-confidence that comes from success in “facing the elephant”.
The stories of “the elephant” came from those mercenary soldiers in Africa. Among the professional big-game hunters of the time, it was said that a man could never truly be called a “great white hunter” until he had faced a charging bull elephant and survived. The mercenaries picked this up as a way of saying a soldier was not a seasoned fighter until he had “faced the elephant” of war and survived that face-to-face battle with Death.
My friend has joined the ranks of the paid professionals who enter the Valley of Death each day with their muscles taut, their jaws firm and their weapons ready. One does not have to approve of these new mercenaries to admire them for their courage, their fighting skills and their willingness to risk their lives in a dangerous and deadly world.
SFC Chuck Grist