Mercenaries – Soldiers of Fortune
The profession of mercenary is one of the oldest in the world. Throughout recorded history, mercenaries have played a key part in wars around the world – from Biblical times to modern conflicts such as Bosnia. Mercenaries are often decried by the media as ‘dogs of war’ – psychopathic inadequates in search of thrills and cash. True enough, there are a good few Walter Mittys around calling themselves mercenaries. Bosnia attracted a large number of social rejects with plenty to prove. But units such as the French Foreign Legion and the British Gurkhas are, strictly speaking, mercenaries – and they are among Europe’s most effective and respected military units.
Outside conventional armed forces, there are international companies which sell military skills – in much the same way as a corporation might sell its services in the field of oil exploration, civil engineering, etc. Nowadays these are often referred to as PMCs (Private Military Companies). Examples include Executive Outcomes (active in Africa during the 1990s, but now closed down), the UK-based Sandline International (Papua New Guinea, Sierra Leone), and the US Military Professionals Resource Incorporated (MPRI).
Such companies consist largely of ex-armed forces staff, providing military advice, training, support and materiel to customers who include oil and mineral companies, and states who lack the military capabilities themselves to deal with rebel forces. These type of organisations dislike being labelled ‘mercenaries’, with all the negative connotations the word carries, but their operations fall squarely into the area that most civilians would think of as the realm of the mercenary. They are, on the whole, keen to point out that they have strict rules about who they will and will not work for, and always operate under the control of a client country’s legitimate government.
Now, allied forces in Iraq and Afghanistan, can’t image doing bussines without PMCs companies.
For the professional mercenary, the post-Cold War world provides plenty of potential customers, from deposed rulers and governments, to businesses needing protection from organised crime, to the organised criminals themselves looking to recruit military support to protect drug factories and the like against security forces and rival gangs alike. The individual has to make up his own mind about what kind of work he is prepared to do, and for whom.
Mercenaries also, on occasions, provide Western governments with a conveniently ‘deniable’ way of conducting foreign policy. A mercenary outfit can be hired anonymously to conduct operations which would be politically impossible for a government to carry out with its own armed forces. If things turn nasty, the whole thing can be denied. This type of operation has happened in the past, and it would be naive to think it could not happen again.
One of the mercenary’s problems can, on occasions, be knowing exactly who he is really working for. The real employer may hide behind a chain of middle men.
Back in the 1960s and 70s, mercenary organisations advertised openly to recruit ex-Special Forces personnel for ‘interesting work abroad’ – such as the bloody wars in Biafra, Angola and the Congo. Today recruiting is largely a word-of-mouth affair, with recruiters approaching former comrades. This has the advantage that the unit consists of soldiers who have worked together before – making it much quicker and easier to form an effective combat unit.
There are many more ‘wannabe’ mercs than real mercenary jobs. Most of the wannabe’s are totally unsuited to the life – even those who have some military training. Mercenary soldiering is not something you should go into because you can’t think of any other way of earning a living after leaving the army. Some do it for the money, some because they believe in the cause they are fighting for; almost all enjoy the sense of adventure, and the chance to use skills which have little or no application in civilian life.
Military skills are a vital part of being a mercenary, but the successful mercenary needs other skills that the average squaddie never picks up during his military career. A special forces background is helpful, providing a greater level of self-reliance and independence of mind – plus a healthy scepticism which can prove a lifesaver. When a mercenary group’s backer pulls out unexpectedly, the individuals who saw the danger coming and made their own arrangements stand the best chance of getting out alive.
As we state in the ‘small print’ on our home page, special-ops.org is not a mercenary recruiting agency – we will not put wannabe mercs in touch with mercenary organisations. If you’re suitable, they’ll more likely come to you anyway. If not, and you’re still determined, follow up your own contacts; put the word about that you’re in the market for merc work, and keep trying. You’ll rack up a monster phone bill, but if you’ve got what it takes, then sooner or later it’ll pay off.