Blackwater USA comes to Jo Daviess County

Blackwater USA, considered the most powerful mercenary army in the world, has set up a new training facility in nearby Jo Daviess County. It is on an isolated 80 acres in the far southeast corner of the county along Skunk Hollow Road. An American flag flying from the top of a tall rappelling tower is your first view of the site as you drive up on it. Once inside the gate, I saw bulldozers at work creating new shooting ranges.

According to the zoning officer for the county, Blackwater USA did not need any additional permits because they were using the land they leased for the same training that was performed there before the site was zoned in the 1990s. So they were grandfathered in without any public debate. Actually, most of the nearby residents didn’t know there was a change in the site.

This new training facility is called Blackwater North. One change has been the installation of new shooting ranges. The facility’s deputy director, Eric Davis, told me, “We’re putting in four 50-meter ranges down on the bottom for pistol and carbine.” At the March 13 Jo Daviess County Board meeting, Mr. Davis said they would not make any expansions on the site without permits. He also said at the same board meeting that no automatic weapons would be used. Yet, on my visit, he gave me a copy of their course schedule that goes through October, and he pointed out for me their submachine gun courses and assured me they were open for anyone; you do not have to be active law enforcement nor active military to take the course.

When asked about the difference between what they were offering in Illinois as compared to what they were offering at their international headquarters in North Carolina, he replied: “Everything they offer in North Carolina will be offered here except for the high-speed driving portion. We don’t have a track yet. We’d like to buy some of the surrounding acreage so we could build one.”

I asked if their one-year lease on the property meant their stay in Jo Daviess County was temporary. “We’re staying,” Mr. Davis, a retired 22-year Marine veteran, replied. “They’re not going to let it go now. I mean, we’ve got, just in moving earth, we’ve got a half-million dollars invested. That’s not counting anything else.”

Mr. Davis showed me the pro shop on the grounds. It supposedly is for those who sign up for classes; however, he sold items to me, saying, “I’m always glad to take your money.”

Driving away from the pro shop, I saw a large earth mover on a patch of new spring grass waiting for the next phase of development planned by Blackwater USA.

Dan Kenney is a co-coordinator of the DeKalb Interfaith Network for Peace and Justice. He is an educator and free-lance writer.

from the April 25-May 1, 2007, issue

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