An American Commando in Exile

Tue, Nov 30, 2010

Cover Stories, Features

If Prince seems like a man in a perpetual hurry, it’s because he is. For one thing, the men in the Prince family have a genetic predisposition to early death from heart disease. Prince’s grandfather Peter died of a heart attack at age 36, his uncle at 60, and his own father nearly died of one when Erik was three. “My dad was scared, but focused,” he recalls. “He was a tugboat that pulled a lot of boats behind him.”

Born in 1969 to Edgar and Elsa Prince, Erik was their only son (he has three sisters) and grew up in Holland, Michigan, a conservative Dutch-immigrant enclave that could be the setting for a Norman Rockwell painting. Like many in business and politics, Prince wears his family’s hard climb to success like a badge of honor. Edgar started his own company in 1965, and during Erik’s early childhood, the family of six lived in a heavily mortgaged house about a third the size of his mother’s current estate on Michigan’s Lake Macatawa.

At the time of Edgar’s near-fatal heart attack, he and his business partners had just developed their breakthrough product: a lighted sun visor with a mirror, first introduced in the 1973 Cadillac. More innovations followed, including a built-in garage-door opener, digital compass, and thermometer, which made Edgar Prince rich. What impressed Detroit the most was that Prince Industries invested its own money in R&D and often successfully predicted the little things that made the difference to the car-buying public.

Prince soaked up his dad’s business philosophy around the dinner table. He also absorbed his father’s focus on family. “My dad insisted on being home for all of my sporting events,” he says. “He even kept a fleet of aircraft so his sales guys could be home from meetings in time for dinner.”

From an early age, Erik liked to push his luck. As early as 12, he tested himself by sailing alone on Lake Michigan, and he ran a trap line in the cold Michigan winters. As a teen he was a cold-water diver for the sheriff’s department (to find drowned snowmobilers) and a volunteer firefighter while attending Hillsdale College, a privately funded libertarian school in southern Michigan.

As he built his fortune, Prince’s father became a prime mover in the Christian evangelical movement, his mother overseeing donations to James Dobson’s Focus on the Family and other conservative political action groups. The relationships his father developed through his philanthropy not only informed Erik’s worldview but also became important to his business prospects later. In 1990 Edgar secured Erik a low-level internship in the White House, but Prince soon quit for a much more exciting opportunity to intern for California Congressman Dana Rohrabacher, Reagan’s former speechwriter and an ex–freedom fighter against the Soviets in Afghanistan.

Rohrabacher recalls that Prince, a “bright, driven young man,” volunteered to search for a mass grave in Nicaragua to expose Marxist-turned-president Daniel Ortega as a killer. “I went down there with this other guy from Dana’s office,” Prince says. “It was the first time I had to shake a surveillance tail, from the Sandinistas.” He was 21, eight days shy of his first wedding, and thrilling to his first taste of international intrigue. “We found a mass grave: bones sticking out of the ground, hands tied with wire at the wrists.”
More adventure awaited him. Prince’s initial goal was to become a Navy carrier pilot, but in the era of Tailhook, he was turned off by the frat-house antics at the naval academy. Switching to the Navy SEALs, he found his calling. But first he had to pass Basic Underwater Demolition School — one of the toughest selections in the military.

“The cool thing about the SEAL teams is that the only difference between enlisted men and officers is that the officer has a white stripe on his helmet,” Prince says. He found in the SEALs both an outlet for his intensity and a credo for his entrepreneurial drive. “The sea is the most difficult environment to operate in — on land you have a few hours to sort out your problem, but if you have problems in the water, you’re not going to live unless you sort them out in seconds.”

In 1993 Prince joined SEAL Team 8, based out of Norfolk, Virginia. “I figured I would be a SEAL for the next 10 to 12 years. There wasn’t much going on then. The invasion of Haiti was a non-event. It was mostly training, training, and more training. Had I stayed longer, I would have seen action, but things changed at home.”

On March 2, 1995, Edgar Prince collapsed from another heart attack and died. Later that same year, Prince’s wife, pregnant with their second child, received a cancer diagnosis. Prince finished out his fifth year as a SEAL but returned to civilian life sooner than he’d planned. “You roll with the punches,” he says stoically.
For the next eight years, his wife struggled with cancer, until she passed away in 2003. He refuses to elaborate but allows that “the saddest moment of my life was her funeral.” He was 34.

When the Prince Group sold in 1996, one year after Edgar’s death, it garnered $1.35 billion. Though split between several of his dad’s business partners, numerous employee stockholders, his mother, three siblings, and him, the windfall still set Prince up for life. “My SEAL friend suggested that maybe I should invest the money, kick back, and live off the interest,” Prince says, in a rare moment of reflection. “In hindsight that wasn’t such bad advice.” Instead, he created the ultimate boys club in a North Carolina swamp.

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This post was written by:

Robert Young Pelton - who has written 2 posts on Men’s Journal.


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29 Comments For This Post

  1. thomas Says:

    Erik Prince is a WAR CRIMINAL, and you are making him out to be some kind of hero. I can just imagine what you would write about Hitler.

    [Reply]

    Al J Reply:

    You are worse. Criminally STUPID! Can’t you use anything more than leftwing talking points? Impress us all. Say something orignial.

    [Reply]

    H. Davis Reply:

    It is dinks like you who never do anything that has risk envolved, try harms way before you depart he planet. You libs justify your cowardice by knocking those who have always taken up the sword. 3800 years of history tells me there is always going to be violence. Evil prevails when good men fail to act and in todays world you better be bader than the bad guys or you lose. Losing ones like you can only prolong our nation in my opinion, try someplace else you’ll not be missed.

    [Reply]

  2. Steve Hanes Says:

    This is the kind of military meshuggana, “kill’em all” asshole that makes America look like a cesspool of spoiled, uneducated children with too many guns and too much free time to do anything constructive. Or is “Men’s Journal” harboring a secret crush on their very own “American Alexander?” Don’t ask, don’t tell! Good riddance to this pasty white knucklehead whose “war is the answer to every question” mentality passes for what conservatives call intelligence.

    [Reply]

  3. Santa Fean Says:

    He got caught being part of the war machine. Perpetual war is what he lives for. Meanwhile we have no jobs because we spend TRILLIONS on wasted wars. The Military Industrial Complex needs to die. Bring our boys back home and strengthen our country with real jobs in Energy, Housing, Transportation, Education and Farming. Kill the corporations that are destroying America. Do you need reminders? Monsanto, Bank of America and our Corporate Controlled Congress!

    [Reply]

  4. bobbo Says:

    An American patriot!. To bad he had to deal with the incompetant a-holes in D.C. Those idiots dont speak of his kind in dinner parties, but they want his kind on that line. They need his kind on that line. I salute you Prince

    [Reply]

  5. psaturn Says:

    I really appreciate Men’s Journal for publishing this informative article on Erik Prince and Blackwater.

    I really am surprised at some of the comments you got from some of your readers.

    Note to these readers who hated Blackwater and what it stood for. Hillary Clinton who also hated Blackwater now oversees a PRIVATE security army that is far larger than Blackwater.

    Talk about irony, eh?

    Maybe they hated Blackwater because it was Republican?

    They wanted Democrat version of Blackwater?

    Is there partisanship even in security business? I guess there must be.

    [Reply]

    Jmark Reply:

    Well said!!

    [Reply]

  6. Andrew Says:

    This man is a piece of shit and the author is a piece of shit so it is easy to see why this article was written.

    [Reply]

    H. Davis Reply:

    You sure seem to know a lot about shit there Thomas, you are probably PC also, however I have never tried to pick up a turd by the clean end (PC defined).

    [Reply]

  7. Spencer Says:

    Goodbye, you thieving A$$hol! I hope someone comes after you for your war crimes. Those of you that think Blackwater did us a favor need to stop watching FOX News and do some basic research. It’s nuts and a violation of our constitution to have a paid mercenary force. Their guys shot “Hadjis” for fun in Iraq! Massacred people in broad daylight and got paid $100K apiece, while the US Army grunts got less than $20K and had to do 3 or 4 tours of duty.

    Billions wasted on a private army in a war we should have never been in.

    Goodbye Fraudster.. someday you will meet your maker that you claim you serve and have to explain all this to him. I wonder how you’ll do that?

    [Reply]

    Bruce Reply:

    Spencer,

    Please identify for me the precise Constitutional language prohibiting the use of privatized security services.

    In addition, perhaps you don’t understand the contrast between a “US Army grunt” and Blackwater. Blackwater staffed, in its’ inception, primarily former special operations/special forces operators. There is a stark difference between the salary of a SEAL Platoon commander and the basic US Army enlistee that provides logistical support by way of ensuring food is delivered or the soldier whose job is to peel potatoes. The services rendered by Blackwater required a higher level of defensive and protective training; training not attained by your “US Army grunt.” You can’t make a nose-to-nose comparison between those SpecOps types of work and/or salary and that of a basic GI. The fact that you so ignorantly attempted to do so illuminates your complete lack of understanding of the importance of contractors.

    [Reply]

    Shawn Reply:

    lol Army grunts making 20K after 3 or 4 tours? They make way more than that in 6 months 1 tour. And tax free. Navy Seals make about 100K to.

    [Reply]

    H. Davis Reply:

    And for what they do it isn’t enough

    [Reply]

    H. Davis Reply:

    Agree with you on the war, but you don’t have a clue and your name calling is very unnecessary.

    [Reply]

  8. The Avenger Says:

    I do so hope Mr. Prince reads his fan mail at the bottom of this column. You’re smart to move to the Middle East. Makes it easier for the Hadjis you murdered to get even with you. Too bad no one in our corrupt government has the guts to put you behind bars where you belong.

    [Reply]

  9. 11B2V Says:

    Erik Price provided the best product possible for a less then ideal situation. Get over it you cry babies, I bet not a single one of you detractors ever served our armed forces. Go back to your beer drinking and dope smoking and get plugged back into CNN.

    [Reply]

    Gary Reply:

    Only the folks who have never experienced the harsh realities (truths) that existed and still exist in Iraq, who live in some fantasy bubble of a protected life, make statements like we see here.. 11B2V… I agree with you… Sheep will always blah blah..

    [Reply]

    H. Davis Reply:

    Right on, could not have said it better myself.

    [Reply]

    Silver Wings Reply:

    Get some, Ranger!
    Was Blackwater perfect? Nope but thats the nature of working in a fluid, threat laden environment. These weak kneed couch monkeys find it easy to try and justify their own monochromatic lives by sitting in judgement over situations they could never fathom nor survive. It makes them feel better about the comfy lives and security provided by those willing to risk and sacrifice to provide it for them. The bozos posting here are precisely the reason that military types have a low regard for so many back home. You benefit and thrive in the safeties provided for you by the same men you denegrate for doing the rough work necessary for you to live those lives. You are hypocritical cowards who try and hide your fears and insecurities behind a facade of moral superiority. Weak hearts leading little lives whose only contribution is bravely posting in anonymity against those who are your betters while you risk nothing more then carpul tunnel.

    [Reply]

    21B762 Reply:

    Amen! Couldnt agree more. All the haters are probably tree hugging hippy liberals.

    [Reply]

  10. Spartan1 Says:

    Shame on those of you bashing Mr. Prince. It is because of him that sissies like you enjoy the freedom so you may sit behind a computer and bash him. None of you bashers have the guts and nuts to go to a place where nearly everyone is trying to kill you. None of you bashers go into a place like that knowing your own country will try and burn you at the stake when their use for you is over. So what if he made money on it. He and his men put their life on the line doing things that all of these crybaby bleeding hearts in this country would never even think of doing. Everybody wants to go to heaven but nobody wants to walk through hell to get there. What a bunch of bitches you are.

    [Reply]

  11. Ike Says:

    I’m no fan of hill-billy right-wingers with too many guns, but this man right here? James fucking Bond. It’s always been obvious that Blackwater-bashing is now a political schtick, ever since the Nisour event made that name poison, just like it’s always been obvious that something terrible happened on that day. But that does not make me admire less this man. Why? Because I’m a realist. Shit happen, and sometimes, terribly awfully regrettable shit happen too.

    [Reply]

  12. JayR Says:

    Douche Bag Just like the author. This country is in dire need of new leadership. http://georgewashington.blogspot.com/2005/10/hit-them-with-truth.html

    [Reply]

  13. state department functionary Says:

    This guy is an American Hero. A real-life Tony Stark. Beltway politicos fete a low-level CIA analyst like Valerie Plame like she’s a national treasure but are conspicuously silent when an out-in-the-field asset is outed. The contrast in narrative is striking, and tells you all you need to know about the institutional media.

    [Reply]

  14. Brother Malcolm MC Says:

    You knuckleheads who are praising the work of this mercenary should realize that he comitted criminal acts in prosecuting a criminal war on an innocent people. His force was useful to the war mongering government leadership of the Republican Party who needed a secretive force of Black Shirts who could do their bidding clandestinely and without scrutiny of the American public. Well, the jig is up and we`re coming after you. So, run you coward so that you don`t have to face the wrath of the People whose laws you abused. And just in case you haven`t figured it out, there is no place to hide. You won`t find any redneck sanctuaries in the Middle East. You are a dead man walking. It`s just a matter of time. Now we can see you for what you really are. A Big Bitch without a gun. Take your ass back to South Carolina and get a real job, Bitch, until Justice comes for you.
    Amen and Amen, I pray!

    [Reply]

    bl Reply:

    Malcomb—There was no criminal war–Congress approved the invasion–aimed at US’s right to protect itself from Saddam Hussein. SH violated the terms of right to UN inspections, not the US.

    Sorry if you don’t feel that the 5,000 Iraqui citizens killed by a chemical missle for retribution of a failed asassination on SH were innocent. SH was a brutal murderer, in control of 22 million innocent people.

    You just never stop and think about the facts. Just ramble on with Democrat, Liberal drivel, but dis-regard the facts. Like in Vietnam. Lets pull out, this is not a justified war. Then millions of South Vietnamese were slaughtered….Oh well…..no biggie right??

    And you didn’t even comment on Democrat Hillary Clinton, Sec. of State hiring an “private army” of 7,000 private security contractor personnel to maintain security in the 210 acre US Embassy in Baghdad. Oh no, its only Republicans bad, Democrats good. You’re just a young kid right? Keep studying. You will eventually see the world is full of bad dictators, who murder, rape, torture, abuse their citizens, without consequences. Except for Mr. Hussein.

    Study up on North Korea, Syria, Iran, Saudi Arabia, Algeria, Pakistan, Taliban in Afghanistan, Yemen, Sudan, Zimbawe, Tunisia, Burma, China, almost all of Africa, Egypt, Somalia…..I could go on, but i won’t. Watch the movie “Hotel Rwanda” for a taste of what life is like when you’re waiting for the UN to come in to save you from the bad guys…..

    [Reply]

    H. Davis Reply:

    What are you a lawyer, he hasn’t been charged with a thing and until you get your cowardly ass off the sofa and try some danger your opinion is just like what you wrote….Shit!!!!

    [Reply]

  15. gaiapunk Says:

    Erik Prince will rot in a hell of his own creation, oh wait he is going to be living in Dubai, that should suffice.

    [Reply]

  16. TRUE AMERICAN Says:

    I love the fanboys here who are valiantly defending this infatilest. This man believes that he has the right to murder civilians an imperil the American war effort. Really this suggests that he suffers from piossible mental problems and should be kept somewhere where he can no longer threaten the lives of others. Also note his calling to John Galt a man who let the world burn and millions die to get what he wanted. Thats not a patriot thats a sociopath.

    [Reply]

  17. Atlas Spanked Says:

    Private Military Contractors can be every bit, or more, professional than any government-sanctioned soldier on earth. However, there is a problem when constantly trained special forces personnel, now off the government leash, suffer from a serious need to ‘get in the show’ just so they can whup ass with real bullets.

    And that’s classic Eric Prince. Theoretically he could have forged a professional, efficient mercenary force – and too bad if he hates the term mercenary because that’s exactly what he is – but Prince, like most Christian ‘conservative’ kneejerk thinkers, went cowboy Rambo, winged it on the organization and personnel end, and ended up in a raging civil war we had no business being in, with too many trigger-happy spraydown artists.

    He got investigated, and prosecuted, and remains ‘persecuted’ for perfectly good reasons.

    So waaaah, he’ll ‘go Galt’ in true Randian retard fashion, taking daddy’s money and sulking in Abu Dhabi. But surprise! No one will miss him except a half handful of incompetent CIA spooks looking for plausible deniabiity. His absence, and Blackwater’s, will make zero difference. So much for self-styled heroes.

    Unfortunately, however, I suspect Prince won’t actually retire. He’ll assume he’s needed, when actually his egomania just needs to meddle in world affairs and oil whore colonialism, shooting at little brown targets who just want us to freaking leave their country.

    Ironically, America doesn’t need out-of-control jarheads like Blackwater to fight terrorism or protect our free-dumbs; We just need actual border security.

    In summary: What a whiny little rich boy buffoon. Good riddance Bubbah.

    [Reply]

  18. prior service Says:

    How can any of us know what really happened. There is truly 3 sides to every story. To place this near religion is wrong. To say OIF is illegal is stupid. A lot of people profit from war to include politicians who send soldiers into harms way. Don’t taint the Operators that worked for Blackwater or the other security companies.

    [Reply]

    H. Davis Reply:

    You are to nice to the leftwing, bed wetting, thumb sucking, tofu farters my friend, psychological causes of political madness is how I define them. They will and cannot be covinced by the facts and the truth has no bearing, they truly are a waste of time and effort. I regret to my grave they benefited from my service to this great nation. Like history has shown they are destroyers of great nations not builders.

    [Reply]

  19. Al J Says:

    Wow! Libutards hate this site. Good article. Good site. In my Favorites now! Shows the hipocracy of our politicians who bureaucrats who, like the libutard commenters here, let guys like Prince do their fighting and fu*king for them. It’s a shame these wimps will never know what it is like to live.

    [Reply]

  20. SWATDOC Says:

    Prince is an American Hero. We need more like him and less like this current group running the CIA. Good luck to him.

    [Reply]

  21. Derek Says:

    I have a problem with Prince and Blackwater. First off he painted himself as a big patriot, doing this for the country. He was already loaded financially, he could have accepted $1 for his services like real patriot military contractors did years before him in WWII. Secondly he was sucking talent and personnel out of our special operations community in order to stock his private army. The tax payers were investing millions in these men- Army SF, Ranger, Delta, Navy SEAL, AF PJ, etc… and he was getting a sweet deal when their service was up and they went Blackwater. The lure was strong- the money and increased freedom was great, at tax payers expense. There is the moral situation regarding hiring mercenaries. You can call it whatever you want, security, private operators, whatever, but the fact remains Blackwater and Prince’s vision was a private professional small force of mercenaries. If you think that’s down with everything it means to be American, our spirit, our beliefs, etc you’re flat out fucking wrong. When democracies go to war it requires a special trust and commitment between the government and the citizenry. Blackwater flubbed that relationship. I haven’t even talked about the moral issues between soldiers, marines, etc having to see these guys parading around Iraq knowing they have a lot more freedom, make TONs more money, etc. I spent 5 years in the U.S. Army as an infantryman and got out an O-3. I served. I earned the right to say whatever I want about Blackwater. Military contractors, sure to an extent, I can live with them. But when military contractors started becoming mercenaries, which is what Blackwater was, I say fuck no.

    [Reply]

    H. Davis Reply:

    Have you ever heard of capitaism Derek, if you do it right you get richer. Hopefully you’ll get it right someday, good luck.

    [Reply]

  22. blah Says:

    I was with bw in iraq, and never witnessed anything illegal. State dept was up bw ass every second ensuring compliance. Bw has had the reputation that if u screw up, you are out. And I saw it many times, many idiots getting the boot for being dumb asses. I loved my time downrange, I am proud to have served with many great guys, and anyone who believes all that mercenary bs and criminal crap is ignorant and plain stupid. Was there mistakes? Maybe. But the diplomatic mission supported by bw has been nothing less than competent and professional. Don’t believe the hype.

    [Reply]

  23. Condor Actual Says:

    Mr. Prince built a team that did the work that needed doing. Since it was “war work”, any expectation of it being pretty or perfect is naive. My bottom line is that Americans were kept safe and alive by the effort. Way to go Erik Prince.

    [Reply]

  24. Doc 8404 Says:

    As a active duty military person I personally take my hat off to Mr. Prince. It is with great shame that Xe has been put in the lime light. I wish you the best of luck in your new Energy venture and wish the best to your family. You sir are a true American and aa great American at that.

    Doc

    [Reply]

  25. Eric the Chartruse Says:

    Many here have no understanding of military history. One need only look to the American Revolutionary, Civil and Spanish American wars to find mercenaries hired by our government. Were you aware that the government hired the NY Mafia to protect our eastern sea ports during WWII? It appears Mr. Prince played loose and fast, but it was George Bush, not Mr. Prince to took us to war in the Middle East. One thing Mr. Prince certainly has correct is that one cannot trust government.

    [Reply]

    H. Davis Reply:

    A merc is a person who sells himself to the highest bider of a foriegn nation, they worked for America, they are not mercs. If they are so is our entire military.

    [Reply]

  26. Mario Says:

    I just hope that no matter how fed up Mr. Blackwater is of the US that he doesn’t do something in the UAE that he used to take granted in the US. In the UAE, officials will arrest you even if you kiss in public. I guess I’d be fed up with the US too—if I were a sexless virgin! What a loser!!

    [Reply]

  27. Contractor Says:

    Mercenary is someone hired and paid by a foreign government to serve said government regardless of political or idealistic views. We are as much mercenaries as the thousands of US Troops in Korea stationed there on a regular basis to prevent the north from invading. Why don’t we call the troops in Korea, Germany, or Japan mercenaries? The US government pays their checks and guess what, they provide the money to pay ours as well. When people call us mercenaries they truly show their stupidity in the matter. People of simple mindedness (most likely liberals) have to use the term mercenary because it’s such a negative connotation even though it doesn’t apply. It’s laughable at this point. I work with former SF, Marines, and Rangers. We are doing things in our field of expertise and getting paid more than what we got in the military. Guess what, that’s just smart. Maybe we should have stayed in the military and got paid less. That would make sense. Think about this, instead of complaining that the PMCs are sapping talent from the military maybe you should complain about the lazy spineless fucks that don’t even join. No you can’t do that because that would encompass most of the useless liberals out there. That is except the ones that join the army for a ride through college only to complain when it finally comes time to fight. Most people who comment on BW have no idea what they are talking about. My father met an army guy that said he had no positive opinions about BW and that they were always bailing them out. First off, he was probably just trying to look cool. Secondly, if BW was in a shitty situation, it was because some stupid Dept of State college kid wanted to visit some ministry in the middle of bad guy land despite the fact that an IED was found 2 blocks away the day before. Contractors don’t go around looking for fights. We are out everywhere because some moron from the embassy needs to have dinner with Ahkmed and talk about the millions of dollars he needs to keep the electricity in the city running.
    I was with BW up untill they left Baghdad. It’s a business. It’s not a humanitarian organization. I can honestly say they treated me the best out of all the others I have been with up till they lost the contract. Then we were thrown to the wolves but that’s business. If people are mad that a business is successful then they have been listening to too much Obama crap and should move to Russia.

    [Reply]

  28. An American Says:

    Mr. Prince, thank you for your service and vision. You served your country and pioneered an industry that will allow the U.S. to continue to be successful into the 21st Century and beyond. The great thing about our country and its people is that in times of crisis we have individuals who are able to rise to the occasion and help the rest of us out through creativity and ingenuity. Unfortunately it also brings haters out of the woodwork. Thanks again for all you’ve done and good luck with your future endeavors. Fair winds and following seas.

    [Reply]

  29. chris Says:

    I read this piece, and am amazed you would back a racist like Prince…I guess you would say Hitler, and Stalin were your hero’s as well, I am a Vet of the Military…..Eric prince(Of darkness)is a extremist individual, no different than the KKK or the Aryan Nation. The reason he moved to UAE was due to the fact of The war crimes his group committed…

    [Reply]

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    [...] moved to Abu Dhabi last year as legal and governmental scrutiny of Blackwater intensified. ?I?m done. It?s all sold or shut down,? he told journalist Robert Young Pelton shortly before boarding his farewell flight. ?I?m getting [...]

  19. Blackwater Founder Builds Mideast Mercenary Army to Put Down Revolts « mylesklein1128 Says:

    [...] moved to Abu Dhabi last year as legal and governmental scrutiny of Blackwater intensified. ?I?m done. It?s all sold or shut down,? he told journalist Robert Young Pelton shortly before boarding his farewell flight. ?I?m getting [...]

  20. Blackwater Founder Builds Mideast Mercenary Army to Put Down Revolts | uterubegani Says:

    [...] moved to Abu Dhabi last year as legal and governmental scrutiny of Blackwater intensified. ?I?m done. It?s all sold or shut down,? he told journalist Robert Young Pelton shortly before boarding his farewell flight. ?I?m getting [...]

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