Chatting with mercenaries
NEW ORLEANS, LA.
Sorry the updates have been sporadic. Things have been pretty crazy lately.
Two days ago we tried to get interviews from some of the private security agents operating in New Orleans. An 82nd Airborne officer in the French Quarter told me that Blackwater was guarding the Sheraton Hotel on Canal Street. Incidentally, Canal Street is also the mainstream media's staging area in New Orleans.
Sure enough, there were two guys in Blackwater t-shirts, and mirrored wrap-around sunglasses guarding the entrance to the Sheraton. They wouldn't talk to me, as in, they literally wouldn't speak to me beyond "We have no comment at this time." That was disappointing.
So, I went around the corner. Back there, I saw four guys in full mercenary getup. The private security forces stand out because they have major weapons and no uniforms. But what really sets them apart is their conspicuously non-military demeanor. They're twitchy, slouchy, and angry-looking. They never smile. If you wave at them, they won't wave back. They hate cameras. Earlier this week, a Blackwater dude lunged at our car after Kyle tried to take a picture of him.
I couldn't tell whether the guys in the alley were Blackwater or some other security force. I started snapping pictures about three blocks away.* Actually, my camera batteries were dead, but I wanted them to think I was taking pictures. I figured they'd be more likely to talk to me if I gave them an excuse to chew me out. It worked.
A big white guy in a floppy hat said, "You're taking pictures?"
I said, "You bet! Can you just lean in a little?" I snapped another picture. They seemed stunned.
"What kind of soldiers are you? " I asked.
"We're private." A twitchy guy with mutton-chop sideburns said.
"What do you mean?"
"We can't talk about that."
I said I wanted to ask questions about them, not about their work. The floppy hat guy said his name was Greg and that he'd been in the Navy. When I asked him whether he was a Seal, he said "I'm being deliberately vague."
I asked if he'd been to Iraq.
"Some of us have," he said.
By this time, Greg's bald colleague was becoming visibly agitated. I figured I should leave soon.
"Are you out here by yourself?" Greg asked.
"My crew's around the corner," I said.
"What kind of weapons do you have?" Greg asked.
I had to admit I was unarmed. The guys seemed genuinely concerned that I was out without a gun. It was getting dark, so I headed off in search Bob, Kyle, and the rental car.
*This is the last picture I snapped before my batteries ran out. The mercenaries were way up ahead and to the right, out of frame.
**I assumed they were Blackwater because Blackwater guards were stationed in front of the building.