Blackwater vs. ISIS? An Interview with Patrick Minor.
In response to the challenges posed by the rise of ISIS in Syria and Iraq, President Obama developed a plan that involved a coalition of European and Arab states that provided air-support to localized forces that resisted ISIS, including Kurds, a reconstituted Iraqi Army, tribal militias, and Syrian rebels. This patchwork of often poorly trained or poorly equipped ground troops, although having occasional success, has so far done relatively little to turn back ISIS’ gains. ISIS still controls, for example, lands between Syria and Iraq that cover a greater amount of territory than Britain. It also continues to engage multiple opponents on multiple fronts while drawing enthusiastic recruits from all over the world.
Rather than depending solely on a hastily constructed alliance of Kurds, Syrian rebels, and Iraqi soldiers, Eric Prince, the founder of the controversial Blackwater security group, had another suggestion. Prince, whose company had sent thousands of experienced, well trained, well equipped, and well paid fighters into Iraq and Afghanistan, suggested such forces could be used in the fight against ISIS as well.
Once Americans became aware of the disturbing goals and barbarous acts committed by ISIS, they wanted something done about it. Yet they also did not necessarily want a massive redeployment of U.S. ground troops to a region they had just left. After all, many soldiers, sailors, airmen, and Marines were exhausted after more than a decade of the war on terror and multiple deployments to those regions. This undoubtedly left the President in a tough spot. Prince’s suggestion seemed to address both concerns, as private security contractors went on their own accord, not simply at the president’s command. If they, as private citizens, disagreed with the mission, or if it simply came at an inconvenient time in their life, they did not have to go. It was their choice.
After more than a decade of nearly continual warfare, the United States has a vast number of well-trained veterans who have committed (or would be willing to commit) themselves to careers as private security contractors. Many have specialized training or experience (e.g. snipers, Special Forces, SEALS, Recon, Rangers, Marines, law enforcement, etc…) that would make them very formidable warriors, trainers, and advisors in a fight against ISIS. Many are drawn by the fact that private security work overseas offers them the chance to employ their skills in environments that they are already know well. There is also the draw of high pay, compared with what they made in the U.S. military, which may range- depending on the circumstances of their mission- from $120,000 to $185,000 per contract (ranging from 9 to 13 months). This is big money for someone doing very similar work in the U.S. military for considerably less.
My neighbor, Patrick Minor, as it turns out, is a private security contractor. When I recently moved to my quiet neighborhood, his son kindly took care of our lawn work while my wife and I focused our energies on getting us and our children moved into our new home. Because Patrick is an attentive father, helping his son get his budding lawn care business up and running, I had the opportunity to get to know him a bit and only recently found out what he does for a living. I first learned of it when we became friends on Facebook, when I noticed an imposing picture of him dressed in black and standing in front of an old Christian monastery holding an HK MP5 submachine gun. His comment, in response to a friend inquiring on the location, read simply:
“That was in Kosovo. I think on that day we were hauling around a Christian Bishop. I was the driver of the gunner truck.”
This was quite a change from how I knew him up to this point. Prior to this, he had been the friendly neighbor, family man, and dotting father, worried about speeders going above the 20 mph limit in our otherwise kid friendly neighborhood. Perhaps a boring, but ideal, neighbor. Yet his Facebook page revealed a dramatically different person. When he wasn’t encouraging his son’s entrepreneurial skills, he was traveling to various hot spots around the world to teach or employ his deadly skills. Don’t misunderstand. Patrick certainly looks the part. He is tall, muscular and lean, and looks like he could win a triathlon. But his generally kindhearted, soft-spoken, and friendly demeanor hardly suggests his line of work.
Patrick certainly has the background and skills for his profession. He was a U.S. Marine from 1988 to 1993. He then served as a police officer for nearly twelve years until 2004, during which he was a member of his department’s SWAT Team. As a private security contractor, he has worked for Blackwater, currently known as “Academi” (it has changed its name several times), and Dyncorp, another major player in the private security industry. He also has many years of experience training law enforcement officers both in the United States as well as in Iraq and Afghanistan. Perhaps most notably, he directed the Baghdad Police College Transitional Integration Police Firearms Program in Iraq from 2006 to 2007. His tenure there was during the well-known “surge” by the U.S. military to restore order in the troubled country. While there, he trained approximately 60 students per week on pistols and AK-47 assault rifles while supervising six Iraq instructors and six interpreters. Beyond this he has served in various State Department or United Nations security details, which put him more directly in the line of fire, in places like Kosovo, Afghanistan, and elsewhere in Iraq.
Now you might understand my surprise on discovering all of this about my otherwise friendly and soft-spoken neighbor, the same guy who helped me keep my lawn up to my homeowner association’s standards.
As a result of Patrick’s experiences, he obviously has many unique insights into events in the Middle East. Realizing this, I asked Patrick if he would provide his thoughts on some of the issues considered here. He kindly agreed.
Question 1: Patrick, are you a mercenary? I often hear the term used in relation to those in your line of work. Is this an accurate description?
I’m certainly not a mercenary. The jobs I have held have been either in a training capacity or in a defensive mission. The term “mercenary” to me brings to mind images from “Soldier of Fortune (SOF)” magazine. The work done by the companies that I work for do not participate in “offensive” activities. This is an important distinction.
As you know, most of the work that occurs in areas of conflict are done by civilian companies. Once the military secures an area the support companies move in. These companies support the missions for the military. The companies provide meals, housing, electrical, fire protection, first aid, and mechanical work, security for the bases, transportation, general construction and welfare, and training for the local government entities. That’s where I come in. Training is certainly quite different from a SOF prosecuting an offensive mission in a foreign country.
Another thing I’d like to mention is the term “contractor” is a loosely used term. Most people that work overseas are actually employees of companies that have won contract awards. The companies then recruit specialist to fill the positions. “Contracting” isn’t as common anymore.
Question 2: In 2007, security contractors for Blackwater killed twelve Iraqi civilians. Although they claimed self-defense, four of them were recently found guilty for various crimes related to the issue; one of them was convicted of murder. This led to an outcry against the use of Blackwater and other private security groups, which undoubtedly made it tough for politicians like President Obama to openly embrace their widespread use. Yet while politicians may not often highlight their support for the use of private security firms overseas, it seems, based on our conversations, that they are widely used anyway. Moreover, it seems they provide essential services in the most dangerous regions of the world. Are my assumptions correct? To what extent are private security contractors used in U.N. or U.S. operations around the world? How does their use allow U.S. politicians to avoid having to commit U.S. troops or government personnel to do the jobs they do?
Without the use of civilian companies the current campaigns could not continue. The military just doesn’t have the resources for the necessary life support nor do they have the recourses to deal with the immense training of foreign governments. The US (Department of Defense or Department of State) has oversight of training programs. The “contractors” are not free lance and are bound to a mission by a “Letter of Authorization”. The training missions that I have been a part of require either a “secret” clearance or public trust clearance.
Using civilian contractors is actually economically sound. Once the mission is complete the contractors move on. There is no financial attachment to the contractor once the contract is complete. This frees the US from any residual cost. I don’t know any statistics, but I do know that the US government doesn’t have any obligation to the “contractors” like they have to the military. The military receives VA benefits for a life time. The “contractor” agrees to the terms of the contract and provides a service. Once that service is satisfied then the obligation is over. The US doesn’t have an ongoing financial obligation (VA, PTSD, etc).
As far as the 2007 incident, I don’t have any information to provide. I do know that once the Status of Forces Agreement (SOFA) was enforced in 2009 our movement just about came to a standstill in Iraq. I was assigned to the police college in Mosul. Once the SOFA went into effect we were only able to get to the college once a week due to travel restrictions.
Question 3: Is Erik Prince right? Could an army of private security contractors turn the tide in a significant way against ISIS? Would they form a battalion, for example, and fight directly against ISIS troops? Or would they function more in a training and advising role? Or both?
I think capitalism is the machine that can conquer any obstacle put in its way. Mr. Prince is right and money talks.
The US trains amazing warriors. These warriors seek like minds and work in amazing unity. Mr. Prince was able to put these warriors together and successfully honor a contract to protect VIP’s without one loss. This is possible because the companies that compete for these contracts can vet the applicants and bring in the very best. Once overseas and on contract these warriors do their jobs. If they don’t do what is required of the contract then they go home. No one wants to hear the proverbial “window or aisle” (a derogatory phrase used by supervisors when dealing with a contractor they are sending home, it refers to their flight home). We all want to complete our contract, in other words, money talks.
I think Mr. Prince is correct when he says that a civilian company could prosecute an offensive operation with better efficiency than the military. I’m not the one to ask about force size, but I do know that the men I worked with overseas could do the job and do it efficiently. A civilian force would not be encumbered by the minutia created in the military chain of command. A civilian force would be given a statement of work. The campaign would be run as an efficient business model.
Question 4: A lot of military veterans romanticize your occupation. Some see it as a life of adventure and high pay. Are they right? What are the positives and negatives of your profession?
It is certainly an honor to work with the fine warriors that serve as civilian contractors. As with anything there are pro’s and con’s. The top two reasons people become “contractors” are money and fraternization. While I’m home I miss the warrior environment. It’s not something that can be put into words, but once you work with warriors and complete missions there is a bond that is developed that lasts the test of time.
It is important to remember that contracting is a job and it can be lost at any time for poor performance or by other companies contesting the awarding of a contract. I’ve gone 7 months without a job due to contract disputes. So I’d have to say the uncertainty of the contracts is a con. It’s also difficult to be overseas when you have a family. I’ve spent Thanksgivings, Christmases, New Years, and birthdays overseas. I will say that technology is amazing! Most folks have laptops and can Skype with their loved ones. I’ve noticed that when I’m home we have “quality” time versus quantity time. While I’m home my entire time is devoted to my family.
Question 5: Finally, based on your experience, what would you tell veterans who want to become private security contractors? Where do they start? Is it a tough field to break into? What sort of qualifications do they need? What would disqualify them?
There are TONS of jobs in the contract world. Just think of the military and fill all of the support positions with civilians. Contractors do EVERY job you can think of to support the mission. There are contractors that fly drones, analyze intelligence, protect VIP’s, manage logistics, supervise training of host nation government agencies, and supervise training of contractors on mission, and so on… The best advice I can give it to someone seeking the contractor life is to do your job to the best of your ability. If you are a mechanic be the best mechanic. If you do personal protection be the best personal protection specialist you can be.
Network too. Every class you go to, every mission you go on is a job interview. I’ve learned that networking is huge. There are hundreds if not thousands of applicants for contract jobs. If you have a contact due to networking you may have your application seen before other applications. Contracting isn’t the military. Contracting is a business and you are the asset. The goal for you is to make yourself indispensible and desirable.
There are a lot of companies out there that contract with the US. A simple Google search will produce plenty of opportunities for overseas work. Generally the process consists of an oral review board, a medical physical and psychological interview. Some jobs require higher physical standards than others. Most jobs require some type of clearance. Some jobs require a higher level of clearance than other jobs. A clearance can take time. I’ve waited well over 50 days for a clearance. The process can take well over 3 months from start of application to hire.