Today, I have for you another exclusive interview, this time with former Executive Outcomes trainer and adviser, Wayne Bisset. Wayne was kind enough to tell us about his time with the company, Angola, and what life was like out in the bush. He also rightly has some fun with me due to my naivete of how warfare is waged in Africa! Check it out:
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?
I grew up as a Jehovah’s Witness and it was assumed I would sit for three years in DB as a conscientious objector, my childhood friends did this. I did not like the religion and jail was not for me, I need space, Gypsy that I am. My father kicked me out the house when I went to the SADF. I landed in 7 South African Infantry. It was a very well respected unit. I did the basic training and then did platoon weapons, ending up as a 81mm mortarist. Then we went to “the border” and I got my combat experience.
How were you recruited into EO? In your blog you mention setting up an appointment at “the house”. Was this Eeben Barlow’s residence? Who did you meet with there?
I went to my local pub and was surprised to bump into an acquaintance from 10 years back, 7 SAI. He told me about this “job up North.” The house was not a residence as far as I could tell. Office and some guys may have slept over. I met a few guys but do not recall seeing Eeben. I was interviewed by a few chaps that I really can’t recall their names. A Sergeant Pelsa did the paperwork.
What was spelled out in your contract as far as the type of work you would be doing and did this accurately reflect your experience with EO?
Must admit did not read the contract that much, I just wanted to go on an adventure. I stated our pay structure and we would train troops. I do remember been told all our needs would be met and just bring a pair of civvie shorts and sandals…. The first few months we did not really have stuff, like a plate or a spoon, we shared! The rest? We had a whole Brigade to train.
What was the nature of the contract you signed with EO? Duty position(s), responsibilities? How long did you work with EO (duration in years)?
The contract said we were to train troops and for 6 months we did just that. My job was to give basic infantry lessons and then train guys on platoon weapons. From those guys a few were selected and I trained them on the 82mm mortars. I then was put in one of the Rapid Deployment units.Sometimes I ran the canteen when the regular guy was on leave. I believe I spent just over a year with EO.
When and where were you stationed with EO and in what capacities?
I was based at Rio Longa and then went to Suirimo. The above answer tells you what I was doing.
Did you receive or conduct any pre-mission training prior to your deployment?
Most of us in EO were highly trained before by the SADF and we did not do any formal re-training. Mainly we just familiarized ourselves with the Russian/Chinese weapons. We spent a lot of time on the shooting ranges.
Describe your infil into the AO you worked in? What airframe(s) did you take, who did you fly with? Were the pilots also EO employees?
Here I hope I do not speak out of turn. In and out of South Africa a company called Capricorn Systems flew us. They were obviously civilians and I think contracted to do just the flights from Lanseria airport (SA) to Caba Ledo airbase (Angola) I flew in a HUGE Russian aircraft to Surimo and those pilots were Russians.
What was intake into your unit like? What weapons and equipment were you issued? Do you know how these materials were procured by EO?
Arriving in an army camp is always much of a muchness, got your heavy okes and bullies. Never mind. I did not have much trouble at all. We did have a problem with getting our personal weapons. I managed to “procure” a beautiful old AK with a fixed folding bayonet and wood stock. Later Eeben came up to Longa and he and the FAA Brigadier sorted out AKs for all. We had old mortars, the ammo was dated 1952! That we used for training.
What did your day to day life look like as a EO employee? Both work and recreation!
The day started off with coffee, then we would jog up to the training grounds and try find our troops. That done we would teach them until 11am. Angola has siesta until about 2pm. We would then eat and just lie around, the heat is very bad. Maybe do some washing or swim in Rio Longa. Then it was back up to the training grounds till about 5:30pm. Then time for beer and supper. We had a TV and video rigged up to a generator so sometimes watched movies. A few of us had books posted up and we read when we could. On some Sundays we would walk to the beach and have a braai. Longa is in the middle of no where!
When you arrived in Angola did you already have a Program Of Instruction (POI) to guide you as you began to train the indigenous soldiers? What tasks were you to train them in?
Got to love you Americans! Never seen or heard of a POI till now. lol. We just did what we were taught in the SADF, just this time we were the instructors. As we had some of the most highly trained soldiers in the world together, we each trained the troops on what we knew best. I did basics, platoon weapons and the 82mm
What was the size, strength, and disposition of the Angolan troops you trained?
There were a lot of the little buggers! A brigade. Some like my little FAA sergeant highly motivated. others shanhaaied and tried to run away all the time. They were also very young. No pay, very little food, man and horrible food at that, they were not happy chaps when we got there. Eeben got their conditions better, insisted on more food etc. Our medics sorted out their health problems and after a good few months they were happier soldiers. You must remember a lot of them were really un educated, illiterate, real African bush people.
What was your impression of the Angolan troops? What was their level of professionalism? Did they respond to the training they received from EO?
When we got there, we were given the dregs to train, not the elite troops. I met some of those guys at Caba Ledo. Ours had to be trained and learn discipline from scratch. For my part, a few months and I had a very decent bunch of infantrymen that knew the mortar inside out. They were pretty cheerful too.
What training resources did you have access too? Ranges, weapons, ammunition, ect, when working with the Angolan soldiers?
We had huge ranges, African bush is big. We had many weapons too. All Russian and Chinese. Mike mentioned the names in his interview.
What was the security situation like on the ground? How did you and your co-workers protect yourselves?
As we had FAA all around us we did not do guard duty or anything like that. We were all armed and normally stuck close together.
My experience training Afghan and Iraqi SWAT units proved challenging in many ways. One was that these troops had no concept of overhead aerial photography or topographical maps, making orientation and mission planning very difficult. Did you have any unique or special challenges facing you in training the Angolans?
I must laugh. Eish! To get these guys to keep their eyes open when firing an AK is a mission! Seriously. Again your country and Africa are very different. We don’t do the aerial photography bit. Maps they seemed to get quite quickly.
What was your opinion of the locals (civilians) in your AO? Were they hostile, supportive, indifferent? What was EO’s relationship with them like?
I did not have much contact with the civilians, just the small shop owners to get beer and sometimes the villiges at the small fishing towns. The shop owners liked our money and were friendly enough. The fishermen were simple people and we traded cigarettes for seafood. Some were fasinated by the white skin and my blond friends go a lot of attention. The language barrier made communication a problem. We met up with some French family one day on a beach, they were working for the petrol companies, again language a problem, but they saw us mercenaries as heros… ?
How would you describe EO’s support mechanisms? How did you receive food, water, munitions, and medical aide?
At first was hard. Then the logistics came right and we got things. We had two Ops medics and when I got malaria I was flown to a posh private clinic in Johannesburg. I believe that EO had a deal with them. I was a filthy mess when I arrived, just gave them EO’s name and was put in front of the que! Sorted me out and I flew back when I was better.
Furthermore, why did you guys beat up your support personnel!?!?
Yeah, Mike is going to be pissed off, but I wrote about it in the Mexican. The guys at Caba Ledo were keeping all the chow and booze while in Longa we were fucking starving! The buggers.
What was EO’s chain of command in Angola and who was in charge? How would you rate EO’s leadership?
We had a very, very lose chain of command. I thing that is why EO was so good at what it did. We all had a job and we did it. When we had a difficulty Eeben was in the camp within days, and in his quiet polite manner sorted it out. We had one REALLY mean oke at Longa, Dup, no rank or anything but he just kept things in order.
Can you describe what was the backgrounds of your fellow Executive Outcomes employees? What was their professional background? Any living legends we should know about?
Man, I was in good company. We has Rhodesian SAS, Scout or two, all the special force guys from South Africa, couple of VietNam vets too!
Some of them are legends, but in unpopular wars, Rhodesia and our “border war”
Can you shed any light on that “Portuguese commando mortar”?
I cannot. First time I saw it was the photo Mike posted.
[From a source who was there but would like to remain anonymous: Re the 60mm mortar that You refer to. It is a standard Russian 60mm. We removed the base plate. Wrapped sacking around the tube, Fitted a pies of old car tyre over the gimble to act as a base plate. This was used as a patrol mortar. Very good in contact and if You use it enough and become proficient it was deadly in fire and movement. We also put a para cord sling around the tube so it could be slung on ones back. The sacking acted as cammo as well as stopping your hand getting burnt. We could on a good day have 4 (mortar rounds) in the air before to first landed. And that was done on the run under fire. One more trick. we used a para cord sling on our AK’s as well, No rattling. As well as a para cord loop around the safety, this slipped over your thumb and allowed the safety to be taken off without any click.]
Having worked in and trained combat troops in very austere conditions, do you have any tips or tricks of the trade to share with readers?
Not really. Just don’t panic and stay calm!
Executive Outcomes has been vilified by the press even to this day. Are there any misconceptions you would like to clear up for the layperson who has a bad impression of the company?
I see that. Linked with stuff that Eeben was not part of etc etc ad nauseum. No we did not eat each other and we did not hurt innocent civilians. You must remember, apart from the excellent training, most of my fellow countrymen come from a strick Calvinistic upbringing. The know right from wrong and were taught manners.
On what terms did you leave EO and what have you been doing since then?
I resigned on good terms. My Gypsy blood wanted change. Since then? I worked in some security business for a bit, hired myself to the new SANDF for a bit, ecame a hot shot businessman in the Sound industry, got itchy feet, done game guiding for a while, started a small marketing company, worked on constuction in Mozambique for a bit, got chucked into a homeless shelter for a while, oh, lots of things…..
Please summarize any final thoughts you wish to express about EO, Africa, or life in general:
I fell into EO quite by chance. I never realized what a big thing it would turn out to be. It was a privilage and an honour to have been with them. Thank you, all the chaps I worked with. Africa? It is complicated but I would not live anywhere else.
Wayne goes into much more detail about his time spent in Angola with Executive Outcomes and life in Africa in his blog, One Man’s Opinion. You can also read his unpublished manuscript at Chronicles of a Mexican Horse Thief. Thanks for providing us with another incredible interview Wayne!