Authors: Frank Gallagher,John M. Del Vecchio
In his book, Frank Gallagher has captured all the drama and difficulties of operating in a violent war zone, post-Saddam Iraq. As head of my personal security detail, Mr. Gallagher vividly captures the tense and dangerous duty he and his dedicated colleagues from Blackwater carried out under the most trying circumstances. On a number of occasions, some of them revealed in this book, Gallagher and his team literally saved lives—mine and others—through their quick and professional reactions to danger. If you want a flavor of life in post-invasion Iraq, this is the book for you.
L. Paul Bremer III
Former Presidential Envoy to Iraq
For My Mother, Florence Carroll Gallagher
Widowed in her early forties with five kids (three sons, two daughters), my mother never quit. She always set the bar high, encouraging us to do all that we could and to do it to the best of our abilities. She is also the type of person whom you never asked a question of if you were afraid to hear the answer. You could always expect complete, total, brutal honesty. Of course, this ended up with all three of her sons carrying guns for a living: John (retired after twenty-seven years in U.S. Army Special Forces), Jim (retired after twenty years with NYPD, thirteen years in narcotics), and me. Since 11 September 2001, she has had one or more sons continually working in some of the worst parts of the world. Sometimes more than one of us was away at the same time. Known to my Connecticut friends as “Babe” and to my “Frankwater” (the call sign that I would eventually be given in Iraq) friends as “Mama G,” she’s a legend.
A frequent conversation that she and I have had:
Mom: Frank, do you remember your eighth-grade graduation?
Me: Yes, Mom.
Mom: What did Sister Ann say about the parable of the talents?
Me: I remember.
Mom: Well, are you ever going to write that book?
Me: Yes, Mom.
Mom: Well, I hope you finish it before I die.
Me: Yes, Mom, I will.
Well, Mom, here it is! Thanks for all the support. I love you.
After the United States invaded Iraq in 2003, and before power was turned over to the Iraqi Interim Government (IIG) the following June, American ambassador L. Paul Bremer III ran the country. As administrator of the Coalition Provisional Authority, Ambassador Bremer—essentially president, prime minister, Congress, the Supreme Court, and chancellor of the treasury—ruled by decree. From his first controversial orders banning the Ba’ath Party and dismantling Iraq’s previous military, insurgent groups threatened his life. The danger never slowed him down. Each day he made two, three, as many as eight trips outside the Green Zone into the violent, post-Saddam state to meet with members of the Iraqi Governing Council (IGC), to begin restructuring the economy, to assist in the development of a new constitution, to design the privatization of industry and national resources, or to prepare new departments and bureaus for the day the nation would again govern itself.
With such power, in such a hostile environment, the Secret Service soon declared him the most-threatened man in the world. Protecting him was my job. I had known him from earlier assignments, having spent eight years providing security for Dr. Henry Kissinger and for Ambassador Bremer when he was managing director of Kissinger and Associates.
But this was different. No civilian-led protective security detail (PSD) had ever been charged with shielding a titular head of state. Daily I got intelligence briefs basically saying, “Uh … not sure how to tell you this, but today you are all going to die.”
But I’m getting ahead of myself. Let me back up to the beginning. This is my story, and the story of how a group of dedicated protection professionals managed to do something they never thought possible. My name is Frank Gallagher, and I was the agent-in-charge of The Bremer Detail.
Thursday, 21 July 2003
I woke at 0800 and began my daily coffee intake. I fed the dogs, read the newspaper, contemplated what time I would head to the gym. It was a bright summer morning. After working nearly nonstop for nine years, I was taking a few months off to recharge my batteries. My wife, Kim, was upstairs cleaning; and our daughters, Kelli, twenty, and Katherine, fourteen, were still asleep. Ah, youth! What time I would hit the gym was just about the toughest decision I planned to make all day. Let’s see—go at 1400? 1500?
I could hear Kim vacuuming. As a school administrator she too had a summer break. The novelty of my being home had not yet worn off. She was used to the prolonged absences that were always a part of my work. The phone rang. When I was home, Kim was accustomed to the roughly forty calls I would get each day from my brothers in the executive protection world. She knew many of them by their voices. I heard her switch off the vacuum and answer. By her tone I guessed it was a voice she did not recognize. This was confirmed when she called down without mentioning a name.
I picked up the kitchen phone. “Hello.”
“Frank? This is Brian from Blackwater.” The voice was friendly yet terse. “We have an opening for a guy to go to Iraq and help with the security for Ambassador Bremer. You interested?”
It took a few seconds for it to register. My heart began to race. I didn’t realize how ready I was, or how much I needed such a call. I had been idle for six weeks and growing antsier by the day. I missed being busy. “Sure,” I answered. “When?”
“We’ll need you to come down here to North Carolina, knock the rust off your weapons skills, take a physical fitness test. Then we’d like you to deploy in August.”
“I’m in,” I said. “When do you want me down there?”
“How about ten days.”
“Cool. See you then.”
Adrenaline kicked in. I took a deep breath, high-fived myself. My fists jabbed the air. Blackwater, regarded as the most prestigious outfit among top security professionals, had just extended me an offer. I poured myself another cup of coffee. My mind was racing. How would I tell Kim and the kids?
At this stage of my career I never thought I’d be going to a war zone. In my Marine Corps days in the ’80s, I went to Cuba, Africa, the Persian Gulf, and all over Europe, but, like many of my Recon brothers, never during wartime. We prepared, we went on deployments, we risked our lives during training and got as good as one could get, but we never got to play in the big game. Politics is tough! That ate at me, us. We had done our jobs, but time and circumstances had denied us the opportunity to fight for our country. It was hard to live with.
In the high-end security world the mystique of Blackwater attracted a lot of protection specialists. Many tried out, but only a few made the cut. To even be considered was an ego boost and a big-time thrill.
And the opportunity for me to work again with Ambassador Bremer was compelling. I had worked extensively with him during my years as director of security for former U.S. Secretary of State Henry A. Kissinger. Kissinger’s geopolitical consulting firm was composed of elite specialists. Ambassador Bremer, former ambassador-at-large for counterterrorism and ambassador to the Netherlands, was a close colleague of Dr. Kissinger, and a key executive in the firm. He was extremely bright, disciplined, and had a great sense of humor.
The combination of the war zone, Blackwater, and Ambassador Bremer was simply an opportunity too good to pass up. So much had happened in the preceding two years—starting with the terror attacks on the World Trade Center. For me, this was also the culmination of those events. As the image of me heading to Iraq took hold my body and mind electrified. This was gonna be interesting. Little did I know.
11 September 2001, elicits strong emotions. Some mourn the loss of a single life; others grieve for the hundreds of courageous men and women who were simply doing their job that crisp, clear morning. For many it is the sheer magnitude of more than three thousand deaths. The attacks didn’t happen in some foreign land whose name most Americans can’t spell and can’t find on a map. They happened here. In our own backyard! In our country!
Within hours of the fireballs and crumbling towers the feeling of being untouchable, regardless of what was happening in far-off corners of the world, was reduced to rubble. The safety and security to which an entire generation had grown accustomed, even perhaps entitled, was stripped away, replaced to varying degrees by fear, anger, and a vocal demand for retribution.
As a former Recon Marine I readily admit retribution was something I took for granted. Not that I had any notion it would be mine to dispense. Those days had long passed, and, quite honestly, my chosen career placed a significant emphasis on avoiding the sort of risks that are commonplace on the battlefield. But I did not doubt retribution would be dispensed in response to the attacks, nor that when the time was right that we would do it. Our armed forces are the best in the world; the men and women who serve in them are the most capable on the planet. Period. End of story.
I’m ill equipped to debate the decisions that were made at the time by President Bush. It was his responsibility to make the decisions he felt were in the best interests of the nation. What I will say is I wholeheartedly supported them. More important, I’m glad they were his to make, not mine.
Soon after the September 11 attacks, the United States invaded Afghanistan, followed shortly thereafter by the invasion of Iraq. We were now fighting two wars in two countries, a scenario around which our entire military strategy was based. As often happens in the real world, the two-war doctrine barely survived first contact. It quickly became apparent we simply weren’t prepared for the complexities of fighting simultaneous
wars. These are conflicts where a small, poorly organized or poorly equipped adversary has an advantage over more conventional forces due to terrain, population, and initiative. The generals found holes in our preparation that needed filling. That’s where guys like me came in—but again I’m getting ahead of myself.
I can’t say I was surprised at how events unfolded, but I found it maddeningly frustrating. I had grown up in a military unit where the typical operating assumption was the adversary, even if ill equipped, ill trained, and poorly led, would have the tactical advantage of operating on his own turf. In my civilian career as a protection specialist (more commonly referred to as a bodyguard) I recognized that regardless of the resources you have at your disposal, the bad guy has the advantage of deciding when and how to attack. We play defense and try to make it as tough as possible for them to succeed. Someone far smarter than me once wrote “we hold these truths to be self-evident,” and in my little slice of the world the truths that were self-evident tended to be both simple and straightforward. Right at the top of that list was the fact that, regardless of how much money, how many guns, or how many lawyers you have, a small handful of bad guys armed with superior knowledge of the terrain, enough time to plan, and a little ingenuity will, given the opportunity, kick your ass around the block every day of the week and twice on Sundays. And they’re more than happy to do so without the benefit of shiny new, high-tech weaponry, slick tactical clothing, or cool sunglasses. From the outside looking in, there was little doubt the U.S. military was learning this lesson the hard way; and, like most lessons learned the hard way, it was painful, embarrassing, and costly.
But learn they did. It didn’t take long for forward-thinking military leaders to understand the challenges they faced and to come up with viable solutions. They recognized that the decades of recruiting and investing in smarter, more capable troops could and would only pay dividends if these troops could be brought to bear on the enemy. This meant freeing up troops from mundane, behind-the-scenes tasks that drive the military’s war machine; and rethinking how units could best utilize their most precious resource—their people. Although I am not sure what the ratio is these days, back when I served it was generally accepted that for every Marine, soldier, airman, and sailor serving in a combat role, seventeen were serving in support. So rethinking and reshaping how we go to war was by no means a small undertaking.
As the military adapted to the new reality in Afghanistan and Iraq, it recognized the urgent need to fill all the vacant positions created by moving troops to more critical, combat-oriented missions. It also recognized that the traditional fallback plan, the use of Reserve and National Guard troops to fill those voids, wasn’t going to work because entire Reserve and Guard units were already being prepped for deployment and would need all their personnel to perform their missions. Recruiting and training more people—a costly, time-consuming endeavor in the best of times—wasn’t a viable option, either. But somewhere, someone recognized that there were, in fact, a substantial number of people in the private sector who had the skill sets needed to fill those positions. In fact, many of these folks had developed those skills while serving in the military. When all was said and done, the folks who matter recognized it would be more timely and cost-effective to contract the resources they needed as opposed to taking the traditional route of recruiting and training organic resources.
So, for the first time ever, this country saw the wide-scale deployment of civilian contractors working in a war zone quite literally alongside the military, performing jobs traditionally performed by military personnel. These contractors included cooks, truck drivers, administrative assistants, advisors, and, of course, security specialists. Regardless of their job, and not unlike the folks who Tom Brokaw wrote about in his bestselling book
The Greatest Generation,
every single one of these people was willing to step up, make tremendous sacrifices, and assume tremendous risks despite having no retirement benefits, limited health coverage, absolutely no guarantees of continued employment, no unions to negotiate on their behalf for better working conditions, or most of the other things the typical American worker takes for granted. And in doing so, these civilians enabled the military to function more efficiently and effectively.
Thousands of civilian contractors have been injured or killed, yet when all was said and done there were no celebrations, no parades when they came home. Hell, they were lucky to get a paragraph in the local newspaper. More often they were criticized or demonized by people who knew nothing about what they had done or the sacrifices they had made. In my mind the overwhelming majority of these people are heroes in the same sense that the military people they served besides are heroes. No one forced them to go somewhere or do something they did not want to. They went because they felt a duty to this country. They knew the risks and despite them, because they believed they could contribute something to the effort, they chose to put themselves in harm’s way.
Don’t get me wrong. Patriotism certainly wasn’t the only factor that played into the decision made by many. The pay was good and the promise of adventure was appealing. Now I recognize that to the average person this line of thinking is, at best, foreign, perhaps bizarre. “Average” people—those who make up more than 90 percent of the population—go through life attempting to avoid confrontation at just about every opportunity and at almost any cost. A certain segment of the population counts on this. They are the criminals and evildoers, and they are quick to prey on those who are willing to take abuse, accept injustice, or just look the other way in order to avoid confrontation. I can’t speak for the cooks, administrative assistants, or truck drivers, but I can tell you that security contractors tend to fall into a third category—one made up of the 1 percent of the population willing to stand up to criminals and others who prey on the innocent. In a different place and time they were cops, soldiers, and “protection specialists” or in layperson’s terms, bodyguards. They were motivated by all those things already mentioned—patriotism, adventure, a decent paycheck—but most of all they were motivated by the understanding that most people in the world need protection, and that they are the ones who can provide it.
I’m not sure how psychiatrists, psychologists, politicians, or pundits might view this profession today, but I do know that for thousands of years those who chose to protect others, to serve as bodyguards, were viewed honorably and treated with respect. It wasn’t until professional protectors answered the call to ply their trade in a war zone that they became looked down upon and were called mercenaries and thugs. I am not sure how the hell that happened, but I can tell you that it couldn’t be further from the truth. I say this because I have been a protection specialist for more than twenty years and have worked as a security contractor.
I have more than a few reasons for writing this book, some of which are easy to articulate, others not so much. One reason is the desire to provide a realistic portrayal of the work that security contractors did, day in and day out, in Iraq. Not some sensationalized story, but the unvarnished truth. Another reason is a desire to provide some insight into the courage and sacrifice that many of those contractors made to accomplish the extraordinarily difficult and very noble mission of keeping others alive in a country torn apart by war, by decades of strife wrought by an evil dictator, and by a general distrust of Western governments. But mostly I am writing this book to dispel the myths and misconceptions about who these security contractors were. Unlike the rest of the world I know them firsthand. I know them to be hardworking men trying to earn an honest living in the face of tremendous personal risk, confusing and conflicting directives, and competing political agendas.
Right up front I will tell you that the company I worked for was Blackwater, a company that was ultimately brought down by the tragic events that occurred on 16 September 2007, in Nisoor Square, a place few Americans outside of Iraq even knew existed. To be clear on this, I was not in Nisoor Square that day, nor did I know any of the contractors involved in what would become one of the most highly publicized, controversial events involving security contractors. For those who may not be familiar with the incident, on that day a Blackwater convoy was moving through the square when it reported taking fire and, in turn, fired back. By the time the media coverage died down, the contractors, and the company itself, stood accused of killing seventeen innocent Iraqi men, women, and children, Blackwater’s reputation was in tatters, and criminal charges were brought against some of members of the team. At the time I write this one man pled guilty to charges of manslaughter and agreed to testify against other members of the team. He is in prison. The charges against the others were initially dropped, but the men were once again charged in early 2014 and are expected to go to trail in June 2014. Blackwater no longer exists, and security contractors are generally painted with a broad brush of contempt, even by some in the protection profession.