Blackwater Satellite Photo: 36.27 N 76.12W
I live just 30 minutes south of the Blackwater Training Center, the company which has been in the news much of late for killing Iraqi civilians. Locals here in North Eastern North Carolina overwhelmingly support Blackwater, which is one of the area’s largest employers (600 locals), against the charges.
While I do feel Blackwater provides a valuable service training police officers and military personnel, I harbor a great deal of distrust toward the firm’s military operations in Iraq. I don’t like the idea of America hiring mercenaries to represent us overseas, and wrote a letter to the local paper about it:
I find it unsettling that we have a large den of mercenaries just a few day’s march to the north of us. U.S. Army infantry officer Robert Bateman described an encounter with Blackwater in Iraq, where a caravan of contractors ran cars off the road and sent Iraqi civilians diving for cover as they fired randomly into the air. Another Blackwater mercenary got drunk and murdered a bodyguard for the Iraqi vice president. He was sent home with a small fine.
How do these actions serve American efforts to win the hearts and minds of the Iraqi people? How does such deplorable behavior accomplish anything but generate more animosity towards Americans and spawn more insurgents? Blackwater is putting our soldiers in danger, and our government has a responsibility to hold them accountable.
The problem with contracting out our national defense is that mercenaries work outside of the military chain of command. We can’t court-martial them, throw them in the brig, or put them in front of a firing squad when they work against American military interests.
The Romans had a large mercenary army, and whenever the city could not meet its monetary demands, the soldiers sacked Rome, raiding and pillaging their payment by force. The American Government has paid Blackwater $1 billion so far for services in Iraq.
If we are going to contract out our Nation’s security to private firms, then these companies must be held accountable to Military law and subject to the chain of command. When their tactics endanger our troops, they should be immediately dismissed. When they murder, they should go to prison.
If Blackwater has American interest at heart, it will comply with the American Military’s honorable codes of conduct and rules of engagement.
– “Hold Blackwater to Military Codes,” The Daily Advance, 10/18/2008.
Last night, Blackwater hosted an open house at its training center in Moyock, North Carolina, and I was able to attend. As this was a forum for local residents only, proof of local residency was required, and a Channel Three News van was forced to wait outside the premises. I was nervous about coming onto the compound as I was turned away a week earlier, but not before snapping this photo of the security gate:
Blackwater’s Intimidating Front Gate
My impression of the compound? Not Impressed. The airstrip was dinky, barely long enough to land a C130 on, and the three helicopters parked around the squat control tower were all non-military. The obstacle courses, firing ranges, and driving course were all ho hum. This wasn’t the “den of mercenaries” I had made it out to be. If Blackwater were ever to get out of line, the Coast Guard base where I work is more than capable of kicking their butts.
Blackwater is certainly not the “Deathfang’s Midnight Posse of Merciless Skull Warriors” the blogworld and Blackwater employees make it out to be.
There was free food at the forum, and President Gary Jackson reviewed the company history and fielded questions from local residents about the future of Blackwater and it’s relationship to the locality. Here were some notes of interest from the forum:
- Few people showed up, maybe 20 out of 300 seats allowed, as the wrong phone number was published in the Daily Advance. The DA blames Blackwater. Blackwater blames the DA. The DA did not publish the correct number when I figured it out and e-mailed them the correct one a week ago.
- The DA reported seven protesters arrested at Blackwater, but Jackson estimated there were at least 50 protesters total.
- The company has pulled requests for midnight shooting permits, which would allow Police officers in training to get their requirements in during peak daylight hours in the summer, and other permit requests to avoid generating controversy. Jackson noted that area residents had much worse to worry about with the Navy’s proposed OLF and NASA’s Shuttle Emergency Landing site both seeking residence in the area.
- When asked how the 2008 elections would affect Blackwater if the Democrats took control of the American government, Mr. Jackson pointed out that Blackwater won its first government contract under Bill Clinton, and that the American Military is overstretched and exhausted; therefore, outsourcing would continue. He said that Hillary Clinton was the next president of the United States, and that it would have no impact on Blackwater’s business.
- Blackwater’s contracts are with the Department of State, not Department of Defense. This is an important distinction we in the media need to keep in mind.
- Mr. Jackson believes all Americans should be required to serve in either the Military or Peace Corps for three years following High School.
- Mr. Jackson, for the most part, avoided expressing his personal political leanings, regularly stating that he had to watch what he said for fear of the press, and that he was sure, “someone in this room has a tape recorder.” He also asked that person to “Be gentle.”
- After the presentation, I picked up a business card from Director of Operations, Tamara Stocks, to follow up on receiving charity support from Blackwater for Port Discover Children’s Science Center.
- When I got to meet Mr. Jackson, I found out that I was the person he thought had the tape recorder, and asked me if I was with the press. A coworker from the Coast Guard base explained who I was, and when he learned that I wrote Aviation Logistics Software, told me to send him my resume.
Overall, the open discussion and chance to see the big bad Blackwater wasn’t all that impressive did much to improve my opinion of the company. Their business focus is still training our soldiers and training our law enforcement. That being said, I remain critical of the company’s services in Iraq for (1) Blackwater’s working outside the chain of command without oversight and (2) that one Blackwater contractor in Iraq ($600 a day) costs the same as seven US Soldiers ($85 a day). This money would be better spent increasing the number of troops in Iraq or increasing our soldier’s salaries and benefits, but this is an issue for DoS and DoD to take the heat for.
You might wonder why I didn’t grab the opportunity to confront President Gary Jackson about these two issues and learn his opinion on them. Well, for one thing, the forum was for the local community and local concerns. Not the time and place for some great big political debate occurring on the International Scene. For another thing, I was far too enamored with my NEW OFFICIAL BLACKWATER T-SHIRT AND HAT!!!
YEE-HAW!!! Go Blackwater!
A company that gives away free t-shirts and hats can’t be all-bad. Of course, I might get riled up again should Blackwater carry through with its plans to change its logo, but that’s a future blogpost.