Guest Column: A visit to Blackwater
By Edmond Schott
Blackwater has been an organization contracted by the United States to assist in the activities involved in the conflicts in Iraq and in Afghanistan. The name has been changed to Xe, and there is an affiliated organization called U.S. Training Center, which has a facility in Jo Daviess County, Ill.
There has been considerable discussion about some unarmed civilians who were killed and injured in Baghdad, where Blackwater personnel as well as insurgents were present, and both were involved in the conflict. A child was killed, and the tragedy of his death has been a point of interest and has been publicized. Some are blaming Blackwater. The Associated Press reported that the event has been investigated by the FBI and that there is no proof of the source of the shooting that caused civilian casualties.
The Baghdad conflict has been the subject of a recent protest demonstration at the Jo Daviess County facility in which protesters were arrested for violating a closed gate or fence against Illinois State Police orders. The facility personnel were made aware of the upcoming protest and did not want to be involved with protesters and their unpredictable actions inside the facilities. State police were present to assure a peaceful demonstration. Many past demonstrations at various organizations elsewhere have resulted in damage or destruction of property.
I have been involved in a liberal church discussion group, which has presented only negative aspects of Blackwater including the arrests. One group member even contributed toward paying the fines of those arrested. One argument was that these people get paid much higher than enlisted servicemen. However, we had just heard a Bill Moyers interview which claimed the cost of each enlisted serviceman is $1 million per year. This entire discussion impressed me as being prejudiced, so I decided to go to the facility and find some facts.
I went to Stockton, Ill., and asked at several businesses, “What do you know about the local Blackwater facility?” The consistent reply was, “It’s a training facility” or “It’s a shooting range.” In a restaurant I asked, and a retired Chicago policeman told me that the facility is an “excellent, very good facility serving a vital need for police training.” I went to the facility and drove in, wondering how much of the bad information I had heard from our group was to materialize. Note that I was not carrying protest signs or television cameras, nor was I shouting or threatening anyone or sneaking past blocked gates or fences (there were none of these), nor did I try to disrupt activities at the facility. I was greeted by an employee whom I asked for more information about the organization. I drove to the office as instructed and visited with a range instructor. I was impressed by the difference one’s attitude and demeanor must make.
The facility is one of several in the USA devoted to training skills required in police, security and civilian competition or hobby use of firearms and other equipment and in techniques involved in law and bad drug enforcement activities. The range instructor provided me with a 2010 Training Catalog and much verbal information in answer to my questions. The facility is an 80-acre plot (1/4 x 1/2 mile) on the rolling hills of driftless Jo Daviess County. It has classrooms, rifle and pistol ranges and other facilities needed for student training. There were the typical safety signs posted as are usually observed at civilian competitive events. He told me that the employees do get paid more than enlisted servicemen, but that higher amount barely makes up for the expense for necessities, which are provided to servicemen but which these employees must purchase.
I presented the facts that I found and the Training Catalog to our discussion group, and I wore the Blackwater shirt I bought. An intense discussion ensued. Comments were, “Police departments should train policemen themselves,” “Terrorists might use this training,” “This is terrible teaching people these things.”
Edmond Schott is a resident of Winnebago County who has an interest in science, engineering and farming. He owns a farm that one of his ancestors bought 178 years ago.
From the July 7-13, 2010 issue