Love ’em or hate ’em, I’ve met very few people inside or outside the military who have an opinion that rests somewhere in the middle ground. When I was in Special Forces Blackwater was seen as a joke, something to be laughed at rather than the insidious right wing paramilitary organization that the media had made them out to be. Mostly, I had heard second hand stories from friends who had trained at the Moyock facility and found the Blackwater instructors to be a bunch of blowhards. That said, I’ve never worked for Blackwater and have no first hand experience with them, so in that sense, Tim Beckman’s work is refreshing as it does walk the middle ground and talks about both the good and the bad.
Tim comes to Blackwater after retiring from 10th Special Forces Group, having put in his twenty years. He described the event that put him over the top and left him with no doubt that it was time to retire. After his SF Battalion, stationed in Germany, gets sidelined during OIF and OEF they are then forced to watch a hooyah ceremony about what the rest of 10th Group had accomplished during the war, a blatant slap in the face to veteran SF operators who had wanted to get into the fight as much as anyone else. Sadly, this is the type of shenanigans the leadership in Special Forces often engages in. In 5th Group we had a Sergeant Major handing out haircut tickets at a memorial service. Sillyness like this ends up alienating a lot of soldiers.
This short book (or long article if you prefer) starts off with an incident in which Tim worked with a Blackwater team as a Designated Marksmen before rewinding and talking about his recruitment and refresher training at the Blackwater Compound in Virginia. The corporatization of warfare comes into full view as this former Team Sergeant is blown away by how smooth Blackwater’s operation is. They’ve got a first class training facility that can fabricate pretty much any targetry or training aids the instructors want, a brand new warehouse that issues out equipment that is better than what the author had access to in 10th Group in many cases, even a squared away chow hall.
This book covers two deployments the author had with BW where he held an impressive array of positions that in addition to the Designated Marksmen position, he also worked as a trainer, body guard to for the US ambassador, and worked a staff position in the headquarters doing intel analysis and deconflicting battle space with the US military. Tim doesn’t flinch at describing the uncomfortable details. He talks about the gritty realities of combat as well as some of the hijinx that some of his BW colleges got themselves into. There was an accusation of rape (later disproved), a drunk dude jumping into a pool with an air conditioner, steroid use, and of course, corporate favoritism and backstabbing.
The latter makes for an interesting comparison to the military and how the corporate structure is better in some cases and worse in others. The author does mention that he is against the military over-outsourcing logistical operations that they should be taking responsibility for. He also mentions, if I read right, that he believes there is a role for governmental regulation in this industry.
This work provides a great snapshot of Blackwater and the type of operations they ran in Iraq. For the average person, or even a former Special Forces guy like me, who doesn’t know much about this industry, Tim has a lot of good insights and dispels many of the misconceptions that people have about this company. My only complaint is that it is a little short and I would have liked to have seen him elaborate on some topics a little more but in a short amount of text he does hit all the points you would expect him too. The pictures are also very helpful and give an idea of what it was like to live in work in a Blackwater employee’s shoes. For my money, I think its worth a couple bucks for the insider details and personal accounts that Tim writes about.
PS: This book is self published on Amazon so this account wasn’t filtered through some corporate committee, “fixed” by publishers, or approved by some bullshit government censor so I think the author is giving us the real deal.