I’ve got something special for you today, an interview with former Executive Outcomes man Michael Da Silva as well as some of his pictures from his time in Angola. Executive Outcomes continues to make for a fascinating case study in modern warfare, one that readers of this blog are probably familiar with by now. EO was perhaps the first truly successful commercial venture in what is now known as Private Military Companies. Much vilified by the media, Michael helps us shed some light on what life was really like while working for EO.
Michael was a logistics guy, the type of dude that Hollywood does NOT make movies about, but is none the less of vital importance. Without a constant resupply of ammunition, water, food, and fuel, soldiers on the ground will be fighting the shortest war in history.
Please introduce us to your professional background. Were you in the military and/or police before signing on with EO? What was your employment prospects after the end of apartheid before finding work with Executive Outcomes?
Michael: i was a national serviceman in the south african air force. 1987-1990 i completed two camps in 1991 and 1992 ( i volunteered for these camps to get away from civilian life dreardom and get some serious drinking accomplished) i was trained as an ops clerk and my primary tasks were tasking of aircraft, flight plans, organising casualty evacuation procedures and monitoring of search and rescue operations and monitoring of all aircraft in our sector of operations.
employment prospects were ok i suppose, tons of boring dead end jobs and loads of time to do inane everyday civilian things like coordinate ties with shoes.
How were you recruited into EO? I recall in Eeben Barlow’s (Executive Outcome’s CEO) book that he mentions doing some recruitment drives…
Michael: i was recruited into EO in a bar by Bryan Westwoods stepson gary. he(gary) by the way didnt last very long and left cabo ledo after our first beating by the operators. a very necessary rite of passage in order to define our position within the heirarchy.
What was the nature of the contract you signed with EO? Duty position(s), responsibilities? How long did you work with EO?
Michael: i signed a basic contract with basic waivers and secrecy clauses. i worked for EO for just on 7 months and decided to use the cash to jump start my own very successful private security 1 man business. thanks Eeben. i resigned and am probably one of the only employees who requested a letter to confirm that i was employed by EO. i did this as a proof of employment so i would not be scoffed at as one of the many who suddenly all worked for EO. i got very worked up one evening by a charlatan who was lying to people about working for EO.
When and where were you stationed with EO and in what capacities?
Michael: i was stationed at Cabo Ledo base primarily and detached to the airwing as a refueller and flight line/ runway skivvy. further duties were sentry duty at our boom within the cabo ledo base, weapon store duties( basic maintenance of small arms). hell i even took out the trash! we dumped it in the “veld” adjoining the base in what was known to be mined. when we dumped our rubbish we would await the FAA troops arrival to scramble through it for food. we called it “breakfast at tiffany`s” was transferred to longa to clear a heli pad but we never got round to it. we dug a shit load of long drop toilets! late august 1993 to early january 1994 exact dates elude me i was in cabo ledo for “the new years debacle” booze- operators- koevoet – bats all in one place saying their unit is superior led to a lot of “tension” i slept that night with a chambered round in my RPK.
What airframes did EO operate and how were they used?
Michael: EO in my time had two king air 200`s and used as taxi`s. a pilatus fighter and used as i guess a fighter. mi17 transport helicopter. and just as i left a mi8 hip gunship.
What did your day to day life look like as a EO employee? Both work and recreation!
Michael: pt in the morning, dreadful breakfast, off to the flight line and conduct a quick runway inspection. check jet a1 fuel for impurities, marshall aircraft onto the apron, refuel, search luggage and interior of plane to make sure “contraband” such as weapons werent being smuggled into south africa by staff going on leave. we went to the beach and drank. real military style.
What did EO’s logistics infrastructure look like? How were troops on the ground supplied with ammunition, water, food, and fuel?
Michael: at first we had no weapons, and food was shit. that however changed very fast and we were reasonably armed and real food was flown up to us by EO. life was good. power was always an issue due to diesel shortage.
Who flew EO’s air bridge from SA to your Area of Operation? Were the aircraft purchased or chartered?
Michael: ask Eeben. i just refuelled and minded my business. i was just a skivvy.
As an aviation specialist, what were the unique challenges you faced operating the austere conditions encountered in African war zones? Any tips and ticks of the trade you would like to share?
Michael: dont try and put in electric powered runway lights. electricity is erratic at best. dont bother with battery operated runway lights. they were constantly being stolen and nearly every FAA soldier had either a green or red landing light in his tent or bivvy. take a healthy sense of humour with you.
What was the security situation like on the ground? How did you and your co-workers protect yourselves? What weaponry was made available to you?
Michael: we were issued bulgarian ak47`s and russian manufactured RPK`s. if you wanted something more exotic you simply purchased it from the FAA soldiers. one dude bought a spanish version of an uzi? my buddy bought a couple rgd 5 fragmentation grenades and fully loaded ak magazines. simple, cash is king.
As a former Special Forces soldier myself, I know that some countries attempt to limit what type of weaponry we could bring in to train with when working with indigenous forces. For example, I know of one SF team who trained forces in a Middle Eastern country who were prevented from bringing 7.62 ammunition and weapons chambered for the same caliber into that country. Did EO operate with any such restrictions? Were any items required for your mission flown in “under the radar” to your knowledge?
Michael: ask Eeben. i didnt partake in actual battlefield readiness training. the closest i came to training was simple weapon stripping to a few FAA soldiers who had never field stripped their weapons. these soldiers stood beat with us at the guard hut at our boom.
What was your opinion of the locals in your AO? Were they hostile, supportive, indifferent? What was EO’s relationship with them like?
Michael: EO had a fantastic attitude toward the locals. we definately practised the hearts and mind approach. we were NOT thugs.
Eeben had a frikkin good group together.
Was EO’s resupply air bridge interfered with in anyway? Did neighboring countries refuse to open their airspace? Did intelligence services attempt to subvert your supply lines in anyway? If so, how did EO attempt to circumvent this?
Michael: not that i know of. if there were objections we certainly didnt know about it. we landed and refuelled in Rundu namibia when i flew for the first time in country. no one came to check on us, no one gave a shit.
I notice that you also pulled double duty as something of a unit armorer. What weapons did EO posses at this time? Were they procured locally or brought from South Africa? Please give a basic summery of what the arms room looked like and what it contained.
Michael: NO weapons came from south africa! we received our weaponry from the FAA via bulgaria or wherever. we had pkm`s ak 47`s , rpk`s ` grenades , rpg`s, 60mm mortars, dragunov sniper rifles. etc. basic weaponry. oh and in that picture, the most deadly weapon of them all cases of J&B whisky.
In one of your pictures I noticed a mortar system that is sometimes refereed to as a Portuguese commando mortar. Could you elaborate on this weapon? Is this an actual weapon system or merely a “sawed off” Russian 60mm mortar? How did you come across this weapon and it what manner was it employed?
Michael: i beleive it was a russian 60mm mortar. the operators used it and i havent the foggiest where it came from.
How did you part ways with EO and what has life been like since? Have your worked elsewhere as a private security contractor?
Michael: i parted ways by resigning and requesting a letter to confirm my employ. i worked in south africa for myself sub contracting in the security field. i drove the rolling stones and did hotel and vip lounge security for bon jovi. more of that is on my c.v online www.michaelbdasilva.20m.com
Any final thoughts you would like to share with us?
Michael: EO was a life changing experience for the better. loved it. i was always a militaristic person and working for EO was an honour. thanks once again Eeben.
Thanks for doing this Michael! In addition, Michael’s mind melting blog can be found at The Da Silva Code.