How does one become a mercenary ?
Typically you start somewhere. I was a US Army Paratrooper in the 82nd Airborne. Friends of friends found me, and got my first contract to go to Africa.
How’s the pay?
Pay can fluctuate. First of all, there’s a lot of deadbeats in this space. For example, Liberia asked me to create a littoral sea fighting force, but I couldn’t figure out how they would actually pay (regardless of promises) so I walked away. Never work for the UN. Total deadbeats.
The US pays you about double what you might make in uniform, which ain’t much given the risks. All the stories of guys making 2 grand a day are BS. Maybe a few guys at the beginning of the Iraq war. Also, the US might pay Blackwater $1500/day for you but Blackwater pays you only $400/day, pocketing the rest.
The best is extractive industry, especially those that are private owned. You can find these in Houston, with the right connections.
What was the best/worst compensation for the contracts you’ve been on?
Worst. Not getting paid what was owed me.
Best. Getting paid six-figure for a two-week walkabout among the armed groups of the Sahara. Oil company.
How do you acquire your equipment? Especially for situations where you’re raising a small army.
It depends on the client. When I worked US government (USG) contracts, they would pay for it and I would go get it. Hence I did shopping sprees in Eastern Europe.
Are there anybody that you refuse to work with? If so: why?
There are many whom I would refuse to work with. For example, China or Russia. Actually, any who is the enemy of the US, since I’m still an ex-soldier at heart and blue passport holder.
However, a lot of people don’t care and go where the money. Erik Prince, founder of Blackwater, left the US and now works for China in Africa. He’s now in DC pimping an idea to hire a mercenary army to “fix” Afghanistan. It’s a dangerous idea.
What was the craziest thing you had to do as a mercenary?
Stop a genocide in Africa.
Could you elaborate?
Only a little.
The US had intel that an extremist Hutu group hiding in the Congo called the FNL were planning to assassinate the President of Burundi in 1994. If they did this, it would cause a chain of reprisal killings – Tutsi killing hutus and hutus then killing tutsi – that would rekindle the 1994 Rwandan genocide.
The US sent us in to prevent all this from happening, with out the governments of Burundi, Rwanda, DRC etc knowing. Only about 5 people knew in Burundi our mission, including the President and General in charge of their military.
We succeeded. I am sorry that I can’t go into the operational details.
What is the rule on killing kids?
There are no rules.
Unless they are written into the contract.
BTW mercs make moral choices. They can say ‘no’ to a contract or ROE, unlike soldiers and marines. They can also go ‘off contract’ or rogue.
Is your work considered peacekeeping, or are you on a definite side of the wars you’ve been part of?
“Peacekeeping” is one of those weasel words that diplomats like to throw around to cover their operations. Putin said he was doing ‘peacekeeping’ in Chechnya. The UN does “peace enforcement,” which they did in the eastern Congo in 2013.
I’m straight faced about it. We do war.
During your time as a Merc, how many times have you had run-ins with SOFs (Special Operations Forces) from other countries, which ones, how many did you actually have to fight, and which ones scared you the most?
All the time. People cluster around skillset, so if you have a SOF or paratrooper or ranger etc background, you will gravitate to those with like skills and either form a team or join one.
The best are from US, richer European countries and many of the former Soviet republics. Latin american SOF is good too. The worst are African and Middle east countries. Scariest: ex-Soviet. They are…different than the rest of us.
How so? Psychologically they’re different? Their skill sets?
Yeah. Many of them are crazy and tough. They use to have this thing in Spetznatz training called the Rule of the Grandfathers. Recruits would have bones broken.
How large is the industry, and would you say that it is mostly larger bodies of armed men, or do mercenaries also do smaller, covert ops missions in tight, single digit groups?
It’s really hard to say how large and how much money is sloshing around the private military world. There’s no Department of Labor and Statistics for Mercenaries.
During the height of the US wars in Iraq and Afghan, contractors worked in large military corporations. Now that this market has dried up, mercenaries are atomizing into smaller units.
What is the mortality rate for mercenaries?
It depends. Let’s assume proper mercenaries here, meaning they are ex-military and in conflict zones. The mortality is higher than most 1st world militaries. Also, if you get hurt, you are likely screwed.
Merc ops gone wrong generally don’t make the news. Mercs are hired often to work in the shadows, and if something goes wrong, their employers cut them away like a kite. That’s why we call these ‘kite missions.’
High end mercs are hired because they offer good plausible deniability.
What is the biggest misconception on PMC’s (Private Military Contractor) or Mercenary firms that is currently being published in the political science literature?
Political Science and academics in general don’t know much because this industry is so opaque. You have to be on the inside to understand it, yet not succumb to it, or get blackmailed into silence.
The common misperceptions are:
Mercenaries are ineffective. Wrong, very wrong.
Mercs are illegitimate. “Legitimacy” is a big word people like to throw around with much thinking. Ultimately, it doesn’t really matter that much.
Mercs are all evil. Some are, some are not. Same with soldiers.
We can use international law to curb mercenaries. Wrong again. Mercenaries will just shoot your law enforcement.
Mercs are peripheral security problem. Wrong. The market for force is growing and cannot be stopped. At least not if we leave it on auto-pilot, which have.
Lastly, mercs are not useful. This is wrong. They are like fire: power a steam engine or burn the building down. They can augment UN forces of be used as terrorists.
Did this kind of experience provide you with insights into a deeper understanding of the interactions between the western world and the middle eastern one? If yes, could you go into details?
You can’t understand the middle east if you think in terms of “states” or countries. You have to think in terms of blocs of ancient powers warring one another. You have the Sunni bloc, lead by Saudi Arabia and includes the GCC, Jordan, Yemen, Egypt and N. Africa and others.
Then you have the Shia block, lead by Iran and includes N. Iraq, Syria regime, parts of Lebanon.
I call these blocks “deep states,” not like Steve Bannon’s conspiracy theory but rather networks of power, elites and interest.
These Sunni and Shia Deep States have been at war, in some fashion, since the death of Mohammed. People who don’t see the middle east as two warring deep states will be left scratching their heads, which is what many ‘experts’ here do. Every day.
Is it good to have an knowledge of geopolitics related to the war you are participating in as a mercenary?
The only knowledge you need to master is how to operate in a fire team.
Can you drop some light on the level of discipline in the mercs (rape, plunder,etc) during interactions with non-armed civilians? Have you personally witnessed any such incidents?
Good mercs do good things, bad mercs do bad things. Just like national armies around the world. However, I ran across mercenaries in the Congo that were pure evil. Really evil. It was sad.
BTW this is a serious concern you raise. I don’t have an answer because what mercenaries do is introduce market dynamics into warfare. Supply and demand dictate warfare as much as traditional military strategy.
Example. When I was in West Africa, some warlords used rape as a tactic and strategy of war. You could hire mercs to terrorize and cow local populations this way. You could also hire mercs to kill those mercs. But you are left with a world awash in mercenaries, and that’s what I fear is coming.
So, just curious if there are female mercenaries, or is this just a male arena?
I never found any female mercs, although it doesn’t mean they are not out there. I ran across female warlords in Africa, who would cut off you undercarriage in a heartbeat. With a rusty machete.
Mercenaries seem to have a fixed role in small arms conflicts (like what you said about Africa and the middle east) but with the international security landscape focused nation states and their nuclear weapons, what role do you believe mercenaries will play, if any, in nuclear security?
I think the international community is by definition Westphalian and can only see the world like a state. That’s why they continue to struggle against non-sate (what they humorously call ‘sub-state’) actors. Hence the mayhem.
Mercs are rising and can take over states, become a praetorian guard, can bully states etc. Let’s not forget that most of the states in the world are fragile or failing. And nothing is stopping the rise of mercenary organizations around the world. 100 years from now, mercenaries will be a bigger problem than nukes.
How has the battlefield changed in your lifetime? I imagine tactics are changing every day with each new advancement in equipment, but did you foresee the role of drones playing such a large role in current conflicts? It seems like we are heading towards wars where soldiers will never be in line of sight or am I thinking far too down the road?
Well, there’s war and warfare. War never changes; it’s bloody, violent, political etc. Warfare changes all the time, including tactics, leadership, environment, technology.
Drones are cheap and easily rigged into kamikazes. Expect mercenary “air forces” of suicide drone squad. There are also cyber mercs called “Hack Back Companies.”
That said, technology is over rated in war. The US has loads of tech and yet can’t conquer Taliban, Al Qaeda, ISIS etc. Meanwhile the humble IED remains a big tactical problem.
Mercenaries also change war. They open up strategy to the laws of the market place. Future Generals may need to know more about the laws of the marketplace and Wall Street, so they understand how to increase or decrease the flow of mercenaries into a battle space.
In your opinion, what is the best approach to handling North Korea?
DPRK is the headache that keeps on giving. If we strike them, they shell Seoul with artillery. China uses them as leverage to extract favor from the US.
Ultimately, no one wants to see DPRK fall. China and South Korea don’t want to absorb 20 million deranged refugees and no one wants to tempt the DPRK leadership’s will to launch everything they have.
Ultimately the best course of action is the status quo, which is why nothing has changed in 70 years.
What is a moment you can still vividly recall today?
Digging up children’s teeth in the genocide killing fields outside Bujumbura, Burundi.
What sorts of non-millitary exclusive skills helped you the most or did the best to keep you alive?
Cultural skills. When you are operating in Africa or elsewhere, you need to be cultural attuned. First, I’m a white guy with straight teeth, which means I’m American. That can be very disadvantageous in some parts of the world. You have to have a good intuition about people.
How does the merc profession mesh with family life? I imagine it takes one away from family a lot.
Merc life is pretty incompatible with married life. You’re always “deployed.” You can maybe do something like 6 months on a defensive lucrative mission, like defending oil pipelines in the desert. Then 6 months at home.
What is the biggest misconception people label you guys with?
People think mercenaries are villains, etc. This is BS.
People often throw machiavelli in my face, who said mercenaries are “faithless whores” or something like that. He was the guy who wrote The Prince (which I love, as well as his Art of War and Discourses on Livy). But he was a total failure. During the the early 1500s, he was in charge of Florence’s defenses and got seriously burned by his lame mercs. So he Mr Sour Grapes. Most mercs – then and now – are not like that.
The prejudice against mercenaries is extremely unjustified. Would you rather be taken a prisoner by Blackwater of the Zimbabwe army ? I recommend the former.