Blackwater USA and the rise of private military contractors
or obvious reasons, the location o the headquar-ters o Blackwater USA isn’t well-publicized.Ocially, the only public trace o the world’slargest private military training acility is a postoce box in Moyock, North Carolina, an unre-markable rib-shack pit-stop on the way to the Outer Banks.But the place isn’t hard to nd. From Washington, D.C.,head south. As soon as you cross the state line, ollow thesound o gunre until you nd an armed compound hal the size o Manhattan. Which is not to say the place sticksout—it’s just very, very big. Blackwater is a company mostAmericans rst heard o when our o its contractors weremurdered in Falluja, Iraq, in March 2004, and their bod-ies desecrated on camera. It is the most prominent o theprivate security contractors in Iraq. You might think o theNorth Carolina acility as Blackwater’s Fort Benning orQuantico.Still largely subsumed by the swampland it occupies, thecompound is mostly au naturel except or odd aircrat lyingaround. The company name sounds mysterious, but it’s justthe name o the region. I you dig a ew eet underground,the hole will quickly ll with the thick, dark peat water justunder the surace. The only building o any real size housesthe company’s brand new 60,000-square-oot corporateoces, a low prole building with a massive stone entry-way that blends into the surroundings nicely. (The massivedouble-door handles made rom .50 caliber machine gunbarrels get noticed, however.) In act, the company logo—atarget sight superimposed over a bear claw—isn’t entirelygurative. Black bears—at least one o which tops 800pounds—roam reely all over the property.O course, running into a bear is probably the least o your saety concerns at Blackwater. Firing ranges abound onthe property. For years, the company’s bread and butter wasits multimillion-dollar business designing and manuactur-ing targets and shooting ranges. From its original product—a patented, reactive, reinorced steel target—the companynow makes everything rom modular, endlessly congu-rable “shoothouses,” with doors and rooms that simulateurban combat, to concrete, reinorced shipping containersthat can be set up anywhere in the world as sel-containedranges. (A personal avorite is the “Dueling Tree”—anupright stand with three targets on each side. Hit the targetand it gets knocked over to your opponent’s side where hecan knock it back. The rst shooter with all six targets onhis side loses. Think o it as tetherball with guns.)But we’re only scratching the surace. Though the com-pany is less than ten years old, it’s already become the alphaand omega o military outsourcing. The target systemsremain a multimillion-dollar business, but now the corpo-rate fagship is just one part o a very large feet. Indeed, itwould be hard to understate Blackwater’s capabilities:• A burgeoning logistics operation that can deliver 100-or 200-ton sel-contained humanitarian relie responsepackages aster than the Red Cross.• A Florida aviation division with 26 dierent platorms,rom helicopter gunships to a massive Boeing 767. Thecompany even has a Zeppelin.• The country’s largest tactical driving track, with multi-surace, multi-elevation positive and negative camberedturns, a skid pad, and a ram pad or drivers learning how toescape ambushes.• A 20-acre manmade lake with shipping containers thathave been mocked up with ship rails and portholes, foatingon pontoons, used to teach how to board a hostile ship.• A K-9 training acility that currently has 80 dog teamsdeployed around the world. Ever wondered how to rappeldown the side o nine stacked shipping containers with abomb-sning German shepherd dog strapped to yourchest? Blackwater can teach you.• A 1,200-yard-long ring range or sniper training.• A sizable private armory. The one gun locker I sawcontained close to 100 9mm handguns—mostly mili-tary issue Beretta M9s, law enorcement avorite AustrianGlocks, and Sig Sauers.
Mark Hemingway is a writer in Washington.