One day while working in Sierra Leone, West Africa I found myself in a fist fight with an African Sergeant, in the middle of being over-run by Rebels and we were fighting over already dead bodies, when soon, we would be joining them!
During my nearly 30 years of working as both a soldier and a contractor, I often found myself in situations I could never even imagine and for which there were never any manuals made that could conceive of some of the most absurd realities of unconventional warfare.
So very often, survival came in the truest and purest form, of quick thinking, under tremendous pressure, in complex and dynamic situations with a lot of creative improvised solutions applied in real time where the results of life or death would be immediate.
The decisions were made much more difficult and burdensome when you take into account, that YOU are the leader, not only of your men on the ground, but you were the designated representative of your country and all your decisions could impact international relations. So, no pressure….
Our mission in Sierra Leone was simple enough on paper. Help The President and Generals of the Sierra Leone Army and Air Force to keep their country from being overthrown. The small U.S. military trainer presence there when war broke out had already been overrun and the US did not want to get involved in that war militarily. The UK did not want this either, as this was a British former colony. So the State Department chose the more diplomatic approach of having a US Contractor company try to help out with the assistance of UK funds.
They sent a small company of all Special Forces Operators using Russian Aircraft and crew to keep the American signature foot print as low as possible. We had just a few aircraft to try and keep the country and turn the tide. I was the Country Manager.
The situation was also, simple. The President of Liberia had laid claim to Sierra Leone as their old country by ancient charters and therefore he had the right to take it. What he wanted was the part of the country that was so rich in DIAMONDS that one could almost kick the ground and turn some up.
His strategy for taking this back, was to pay some of the tribes in money, drugs and diamonds, to wage war on their enemy tribes. This way, it would look like an internal struggle which did not involve him, but his troops made up the bulk of the soldiers as did his country provide all the arms, munitions, uniforms, radios and other large weapons.
My mandate was to give them the best military advice and support I could. Try not to lose any men or aircraft, and no matter what, not to take any diamonds. I was hired for the reputation I had earned for fighting and honesty in Colombia and Haiti where I had earned for my company and was awarded the State Department’s Small Contractor of the Year, 1998 for outstanding service.
It wasn’t until years later, that I realized my turning down all those diamonds all those times probably kept me alive as for sure, they would have killed me to get their diamonds back once I did any of their personal missions they constantly asked me to fly and which, I always declined. But also, it gave me a protection and status. They came to know “Mr Hawke” as they called me, as a honest man whom did not take bribes. As such, that earned me respect, which likely also, saved my life. But that is not my survival story today.
WARNING-DO NOT READ THIS PART IF YOU ARE SQUEAMISH- IT IS VIOLENT.
On this particular day, a village was being attacked by rebels. The rebels had a signature way of taking a village, they would snatch the children, hold them hostage until the parents surrendered, and then they’d make the children chop up their parents with dull machetes, while they were forced to sing songs.
If the child refused, they’d kill the parents anyway then shoot the child. Their mission was to destroy the child so much, he had nowhere to turn and then they would become his new family. The boys were forced into soldiering and the girls were forced into sexual slavery. Their favorite way to kill others, was to cut them open and grab a handful of guts, then run with it until their victim died.
If they found a pregnant woman, they would tie her up to a stake, gamble and then cut her open to see if a boy or girl fetus fell out. Their past time was to give people “long or short sleeves”. That meant they’d ask the person what they wanted, long or short, then they’d chop off their limbs long or short. Sometimes, they’d give long or short socks. Even to this day, Sierra Leone has the highest number of amputees in the world. Such was this war in Africa.
(VIOLENT PORTION ENDS HERE.)
When you add to this that the Liberian President had put out a $1 Million Dollar price on our choppers to anyone who could shoot us down and $50K for each of our heads, it added to the pressures of trying to stay alive on a daily basis of flying beans and bullets in and the dead and wounded out of villages under fire, all over the country. It certainly kept us on our toes. We saw many things, but what I saw this day, was something new.
So, background information filled in, now let’s get back to the story…
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