Blackwater: A Call for Respect


By: Guest Authors

By Matt Welch

Recently an article entitled “Victims of an Outsourced War” appeared in Time magazine. The article, written by Brain Bennett, was in regards to the lawsuit between family members of deceased contractors and Blackwater USA. The editorial focused on retired Navy SEAL Scott Helvenston, who was killed while serving in Iraq as an employee of Blackwater. Helvenston, as well as his colleagues Jerry Zovko, Wesley Batalona, and Michael Teague, were killed on 31 March 2004 while conducting a security operation in Fallujah. The deaths were well publicized after the mutilated and burnt bodies of Scott Helvenston and Jerry Zovko were hung from a bridge. Now the mother of Scott Helvenston, Katy Helvenston, is suing Blackwater for her son’s death on a basis of negligence and improper pre-deployment activities. The author followed the trail of emotions as Katy Helvenston struggled to deal with her son’s death, as any mother of a fallen soldier would.

The article concluded with the desire of Katy Helvenston to know the details of her son’s last operation, and the author’s words which read, “It’s too late to keep him safe, but she still wants to know what happened after he hung up the phone. And because her son died for his company, not his country, she’s in for a fight.” This is where the controversy begins, and apparently where the author’s respect ends. The men that serve overseas in the roles of private security contractors do so in the same capacity as the soldiers of the United States Military. Their servitude fills the roles demanded by the war on terrorism and national security measures. Though their efforts may exist in part of a greater outsourced industry, they act out as patriots in defense of the country in which we reside. Regardless of political agendas which focus on the benefits and doubts of privatizing military roles, respect and honor should still be maintained for all fallen soldiers, whether employed by the government or by private companies. Perhaps a brief analysis of Blackwater’s company background, corporate structure, and services will allow for a better understanding of the situation and the role of Blackwater in austere oversea environments.

Blackwater USA was formed in 1997 by retired Navy officer Erik Prince. Son of Edgar Prince, owner of the automobile parts company Prince Corporation, Erik inherited his share of the company when his father died in 1995. Prince Corporation, made famous by the first lighted car sun visor and programmable door garage opener, was sold for $1.35 billion to Johnson Controls, Inc. Erik ended his Navy career short in 1996 because of his father’s unexpected death, as well as his wife’s battle with cancer. Yet it was while serving as an officer in SEAL team 8 that Prince and several other team members realized the need for a superior training facility to prepare military and law enforcement members for combat. With his newly inherited sum of money, Prince and a select few members from the Special Operations community started Prince Group.

Prince Group is the parent company for Blackwater USA, and is also affiliated with Presidential Airways and Greystone, Ltd. Within Blackwater USA are nine separate divisions: Blackwater Training Center, Blackwater Target Systems, Blackwater Security Consulting, Blackwater Canine, Maritime Security, Armored Vehicles, Parachute Jump Team, Aviation, and Raven Development Group. Though each of these divisions serves its own individual purpose, Blackwater as a whole is a part of the Department of Defense’s arsenal for national security. As owner Prince stated, “Blackwater considers itself a partner to the Department of Defense and all government agencies, and we stand ready to provide surge capacity, training, security and operational services in various areas at their request.”

Blackwater boasts a 7,000 acre training facility designed to enhance the performance of military personnel and federal agents in numerous critical assignments. The facility includes shooting ranges and a multitude of mock structures to simulate counterterrorist operations on platforms such as schools and oil rigs. The reputation for quality training assisted the growth of Prince’s other services as they developed. These services often accompany lengthy contracts which do not focus solely on Iraq. Operations overseas have existed in many forms, some in security roles, and others in humanitarian roles. Erik has devoted his corporation with such competence that he has been able to replace the poorly structured United Nations in operations he calls “relief with teeth.” Prince has expressed his desire to eventually form a fifth element of the Armed Forces. According to personal and company policy, operational services will be provided only through U.S. approved internationally recognized bodies.

Much of the public’s fear of Blackwater exists in its founder’s Conservative roots and close associations with high-ranking government officials. Continuing an inclination started by his father, Erik Prince has supported his political stance by donating generously to the Republican fund. Some reports estimate total donations since 1998 to range around $200,000. In light of current donations for the 2008 presidential campaign, this sum is not really a frightening display of eagerness to buy support from the White House. As of April 2008, former lawyers and Democratic hopefuls John Edwards and Hillary Clinton have a combined total of $7.2 million in donations from fellow lawyers. Besides his donations, Erik has demonstrated by action his continuing support of Conservative principles. He had interned for President George H. Bush before allegedly quitting due to a varying Moderate and Republican platform.

He has also continued his efforts in supporting Christian morals and principles for families and for upcoming politicians, a needed endeavor in today’s lackluster and immoral society. After all, this nation was founded upon Christian principles; and in defense of our foundation, our constitution, and in assuring our future, Prince is serving his part in maintaining Christian morals in politics. Some would argue this raises the image of religious soldiers in pursuit of a holy war, though contractor’s employed by the company are of no particular religious practice.

Blackwater’s ties within the higher ranks of the military, Central Intelligence Agency, Pentagon, and Department of Defense have aided in producing multiple government contracts for services. Besides Erik Prince’s political associations, he is accompanied by a staff of former military and government officials. The president of Blackwater is retired Navy Warrant Officer and former SEAL Gary Jackson. Perhaps one of the most controversial members of the staff is Vice-Chairman Cofer Black. Black was the previous no-nonsense Director of the CIA’s Counterterrorism Center, and had also served as Ambassador and Coordinator for Counterterrorism at the U.S. State Department. Besides multiple tours overseas in combating terrorism, all of the top officials hold similarity in their support of security, peace, freedom, and democracy everywhere.

Much of the current state of success began after 11 September 2001 for Blackwater. Prior to the higher requirement of military operations, Blackwater held few courses for training certain police and federal forces. That demand accelerated exponentially after the terrorist attacks, and as a student of free market economies, Erik was quick to react and use that momentum to build his currently thriving business. The demand had been created by a sudden increase in military strength. It was a sure turnaround from the considerable downsizing of the military just prior to engagement within the Persian Gulf, Somalia, Haiti, Bosnia, Kosovo, Afghanistan, and now Iraq. A business which began as a training compound multiplied its services and effectiveness in serving the Department of Defense.

Blackwater USA is not the only private military company, though within the United States it is arguably the most well-known and criticized. Nonetheless, the industry itself is often viewed upon negatively because of the incorrect association of the word “mercenary” with that of “civilian contractor.” The use of private military companies has been frowned upon by highlighting examples of traitors and soldiers used in securing national resources for corrupt governments. Fact of the matter stands that within any society there are always fraudulent players, and often a state military will act in such manners as described above. Rather, let us not forget the manner in which private military companies have been deployed successfully.

The use of private contractors has existed as long as combat itself. Recent controversy dates back before the invasion of Afghanistan and Iraq to the continent of Africa. Executive Outcomes unofficially initiated its services as the rebirth of private military companies in the late 1980’s. It successfully suppressed and secured the war ravaged state of Angola, a feat the United Nations could only aspire to in the most ineffable of their dreams. There involvement within the civil war, nonetheless, laid the foundation for the controversy that has continued to grow through our involvement in the Middle East. A little more examination in the history of American conflict would show the use of private contractors in World War II as aviators. Even prior to that, the most prominent example within the United States may be the use of private contractors in securing a victory over the superiorly-equipped British army in the War for Independence.

These examples do not serve as an argument to say that such companies should operate independent of regulation. On the contrary, corrupt players and uncontrolled firms should be shut down as quickly as terrorist regimes. As of April 2007, private military employees deployed overseas operate under the Uniform Code of Military Justice. While this may well be necessary, there is a crucial balancing point that must not be breached; a point on which over-regulated firms lose their effectiveness and operating success. The situation must be handled with logic, rationality, and a dedicated thought process. If our nation’s advisors were to rely solely on their emotions, rather than pursuing the effectiveness of the overall picture, we would have withdrawn from every conflict after the first soldier’s tragic death.

Often the government needs the ability to hire men of action who can carry out offensive and defensive measures in securing our nation without becoming overly involved with bureaucratic policy. To win wars we often need the more gruesome characters such as General Patton and Billy Waugh. The men in the field operate on their orders and the intelligence available to them at the time. Despite popular belief, contractors are professionals that are held accountable for their actions. Our nation should not resort to criticizing their service, as they fulfill a portion of the war process to the best of their ability. Maybe instead we should reevaluate the circumstance of the media in war time. Just perhaps the veterans of war know better how to conduct operations than politicians, journalists, and peace activists. This is precisely why a high level of attention is given to the prior military service of presidential candidates, because if elected they will serve the role of Commander in Chief.

When the situation’s structure is scrutinized, what one will find at the base is the left and liberal media so opposed to the war in Iraq they will pursue any means necessary to discredit it. The cycle of anti-war activist attacks has proven itself over and over again, as attempts are made to vilify President Bush, his Republican backing, private military companies, the United States Military, and often the United States. They continue to make out America as the national bully, acting only to weaken our democracy from within. Of course they are within their rights as Americans to speak out; but the era of respect and concern for national security have been sold out by the rage of peace activists. One can only hope that the employees of firms such as Blackwater will remain sincere in their dedication to serving this country long after the political left extremists dishonor this nation and its soldiers.

The troops should know they are still appreciated, that their purpose is valued, supported, and necessary. Those who volunteer for service for private firms do so under the same premises as those who volunteer for service in the military. Strictly speaking, private military companies are simply competing businesses offering professional services in a capitalistic society. Yet in contrast with other businesses, private military companies insure the safety and function of our nation and democracy. The left’s rhetoric for such corporations is that of “profit over patriotism.” I wonder how much those inexcusable attorneys make that continue to attack this nation, such as those who advocate the Anti-Christian and Liberal Union (more formally known as the ACLU). I wonder who considers it pure profit to trade a life of stability for a short-term contract in high risk environments with no health benefits. I wonder who more of a patriot is: the peace activists and politicians who attack this country, or the citizen who takes up arms to defend this land against its assailants. Ignoto militi. For the Unknown Soldier; the private military contractor.

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