2023 Author: Katelyn Chandter | [email protected]. Last modified: 2023-05-21 13:08
What is the life of a mercenary? On a fake British passport, a Norwegian named Tom has traveled the world as a mercenary. This is a world closed from others, where there is a lot of money, a lot of violence and a lot of men eager for adventure.
“When I approached the hangar at the airport in Guinea, I saw the boxes of weapons that were waiting for us. I noticed that here and there were attached plaques with my name. Then I thought: it will be hot,”says Tom.
Tom sits on the sofa at his home in Trøndelag and recalls how he lived a few years ago. There is a glass of Red Bull on the table. He cannot live without it - this addiction is from that past life.
On the wall behind him is a huge panel depicting a map of the world. A world full of exciting routes, as well as some nooks and crannies best described as hell on earth. Tom visited many of them.
For several years, he traveled from one military zone to another as a mercenary - or a private contract soldier, as it is also called - and performed various tasks. Sometimes - legal, sometimes - in the "gray zone". And sometimes illegal.
He was mesmerized by the army
In fact, he was going to work with children and teenagers. While studying, I was engaged in boxing in my free time. And on the weekend he worked as a bouncer in Trondheim.
“Then I was drafted into the army. I liked it there. Everything was very exciting. We ran across endless spaces on six-wheeled vehicles and snowmobiles, sometimes pretending that we were behind enemy lines."
Interest in military affairs grew as he more and more comprehended military science. Tom began reading books about overseas special forces and began to dream of getting into the SAS (British special forces - author's note).
When his military service came to an end, he moved to Southampton in England to live there with his girlfriend.
“If you work as a security guard, you will always have a job. But for someone who is used to standing and guarding doors in Trondheim, working in England is just a culture shock. And the first weekend I got it for real."
Tom explains that in England a bouncer who gets his snout cleaned needs to be respected as soon as possible. And the chief ordered him to beat someone on the next shift.
“I tried and won. And went straight to heaven. Then I began to act more and more harshly. And gradually fights became commonplace,”says Tom.
Tom liked to use force, he became more and more tough. "Normal" fights gradually escalated into brutal violence.
“Everyone around you knew you as a tough guy and respected you for that. And I enjoyed this respect."
Bodyguard of rock stars
After a few months of working as a bouncer, Tom met the guys who owned a security firm. They were, in particular, involved such rock groups as Oasis and Stereophonics.
“I have had a lot of accidents in my life. So it was that time. They just fired one of the minor bosses, such as the foreman, who was overly addicted to cocaine. And I had the opportunity to test my strength. I had to assign people to duty, always be aware of who was doing what and when."
Everyone who worked for this security firm used to work either in the special forces or in the police. Unexpectedly for himself, Tom was among those of whom he had read before and who for many years had been a role model for him.
While Tom was working as a foreman of the guards, he was sent to a bodyguard course. He, in particular, learned from the police to settle conflicts, the technique of detention, and also attended courses for military drivers. And he was also sent to shooting courses.
Gradually, he was able to try his hand at being a bodyguard. Started working closely with brothers Liam og Noel Gallagher from Oasis.
“Then my dream came true. They were both quite violent, but I was friendly and got along very well with both."
At the time, Oasis was one of the most popular rock bands in the world. As a bodyguard, Tom had to, in particular, keep particularly annoying fans at a distance.
“I remember that some even climbed over the fence of their house. Then we let the Doberman that Noel had on them,”Tom grins.
The owner of the security company, in which Tom worked, had several other firms. One of them got a job in Iraq, teaching the shooting of Iraqi special forces. It was shortly after the Americans took Baghdad during the Second Gulf War.
“Here again everything happened purely by accident. The chief wanted me to go with him. Well, I packed my backpack and drove off. On that trip, I mostly ran errands with the boss."
In Iraq, the war was very close. Although President George W. Bush announced that it was a "mission accomplished", peace in the Iraqi capital was still a long way off. From his room in a hotel in the "green zone", he more than once saw how other hotels were fired from grenade launchers. And tanks were driving around the streets.
“It was some kind of sur. I walked armed from head to toe, although I was just some kind of servant. But I felt the taste. I got a taste for the desert."
And such a thing as a salary also played a role. They paid well, and this motivated them to travel abroad again.
One day, the boss came to him with the application forms for a British passport. Since Tom had a British employer, permanent residence and a British driver's license, he could apply for British citizenship.
“When I received my passport, I saw that my name was not written there. I don’t know how the boss managed to do it. I asked why it was, but he only told me that now they will always call me that when I go abroad."
With a new passport, Tom was sent to Belize, South America.
"I started to think that this was some kind of gamble, but actually I didn't ask many questions about what the boss had planned for me."
When he arrived in the former British colony, he met a group of British soldiers there who were going to train in the jungle. He had to go with them.
“It was terribly hard. I was really bad, it was flowing from all the holes, but I continued to train. There were snakes, we ate snake hearts, and what was not there,”says Tom.
But the training was only preparation for the next stage. Tom began to suspect that he was not being trained to do better as a bodyguard.
Soldiers in the "gray zone"
The private military industry has become a billion-dollar business. As a result of the war on terror, there were clearly not enough soldiers, and the industry itself began to receive more and more orders. Companies like Blackwater have made billions from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. The US government was by far the largest employer for these companies.
From 1991 to 2006 the number of private contractors working for the American government has tripled. The most fruitful year was 2008, when, according to the US military, there were 160,000 mercenaries in Iraq and 70,000 in Afghanistan. They worked for the Americans. And there were also those who worked for other countries.
The Norwegian authorities do not know how many Norwegians work in this industry.
“The Armed Forces do not collect information about what our former employees do after their service with us has ended, we have no idea about this. And if former Norwegian military personnel engage in activities or do things that do not comply with Norwegian law, it is up to the police and the prosecutor's office,”says Colonel Sven Halvorsen, spokesman for the commander-in-chief of the Norwegian armed forces.
From a legal point of view, working as a mercenary is not against the law. But a person does not participate in battles on a legal basis, he also does not have immunity for legal military actions. This means that mercenaries who are armed and operate where there is a military conflict can only use force when it comes to self-defense.
And the mercenaries are considered civilians.
Although the number of mercenaries, for example, in Iraq and Afghanistan, has dropped significantly, it is still a very lucrative business.
“The active pirate activity leads to the fact that there is a market for maritime contractors who are involved in providing security, guard merchant ships in the seas where pirates operate. There are private military firms operating in Africa. South African society played a central role in the fight against Boko Haram in Nigeria in 2015,”says Halvorsen.
The Norwegian authorities say they are not going to use the services of private contractors for military purposes or to protect prisoners.
Baptism of fire
When Tom returned from Belize to Southampton, the security firm moved. Tom has a new office in the basement.
“When I went down there I saw a map of Africa and next to my name. It turned out that the chief was gathering the people who were supposed to go to Sierra Leone."
All those Tom had to travel with turned out to be mercenaries.
They first went to Guinea. In front of the hangar at the airport, there were boxes of weapons, a box on a box. Some rifles and pistols had nameplates attached to them.
“Then I thought: it will be hot. But he didn't ask any questions. Then we went from Guinea to Sierra Leone. We didn’t have a clear idea of what we would have to do there”.
A little later, Tom realized that they were in the country illegally.
Since the early 1990s, Sierra Leone has been engulfed in a bloody civil war. Thousands were killed, millions were forced to flee. Government forces and part of the militia fought the rebels called the United Revolutionary Front (RUF). For private companies that seized the opportunity and made money in the war, it was a real Eldorado.
Blackwater mercenaries in Iraq
“There were more private contractors there than UN soldiers. In addition, the blue helmets were not particularly eager to go where it was worst,”says Tom.
The work was very different. They guarded people from the government, diplomats and those who needed to travel around the country.
They also trained the militia that supported government forces.
Tom and his colleagues lived in a village a few miles outside Freetown when they trained the militia. A small village with dugouts and several crumbling stone buildings.
There are few civilians left in the village. Most were either killed or fled.
“Although the rebel soldiers were on the 'right side', they were not very pleasant people. They kidnapped women from the enemy, raped them. They did not kill them later, but they cut off their breasts so that if the women had children later, they could not feed them."
Tom saw with his own eyes how people's hands and feet were cut off. In addition, many of the rebel soldiers were extremely superstitious.
“The worst thing was when they cut out the women’s shameless lips. They then dried them and ground them into powder. And then they sniffed this powder, mixing it with black powder and cocaine or amphetamine. They believed that this mixture would make them invincible."
Tom once witnessed how two rebels in the camp raped a woman in the most monstrous way. Colleagues warned him not to interfere in anything, but then everything went dark in his eyes.
“I killed both. I had a real breakdown, I stood and crumbled one of them until my colleagues grabbed my hands and stopped me."
Other colleagues surrounded Tom to protect him from other rebels who literally rattled their sabers. Friends pushed him into a car and took him to another camp.
"In that camp, everything was practically the same, but there no one bothered me like that."
To the Middle East
After Tom returned home from Sierra Leone, he again had a job as a bouncer, bodyguard and foreman of security guards. But from time to time there were also assignments abroad. From time to time they became more and more complicated. He has traveled to the Balkans, provided security on ships in the Indian Ocean, and also worked in the Middle East.
“I increasingly began to fly to Iraq and the Middle East. Officially, the war in Iraq was over, but in reality it continued there in full."
The tasks of the private contractor were different. For example, accompany people or materials from one city to another. Or just be a bodyguard.
But the Americans were looking for many of the former Saddam regimes who had gone on the run. A reward was promised for their capture. This meant that private firms could try their luck.
“If we worked for an oil company, we could send more people there than we actually needed there. This means that those who were not on duty could cheat. And no one could stop us from looking for the people the Americans wanted to capture."
In this way, private companies could make an incredible amount of money in Iraq. Because the reward for the capture could reach several million dollars.
“We could ride our cars, and there were also two helicopters that flew in front of us and lowered snipers onto the rooftops. After we passed, they were collected and lowered onto a new roof in the direction of our movement. You can imagine how much it cost to use two helicopters for this job,”says Tom.
Although working in Iraq was extremely dangerous, Tom was not afraid. Through training, he was able to drop both fear and conscience.
“We traveled a lot in a column between Baghdad and Tikrit. There, the rebels usually took up positions on both sides of the road at a distance of a kilometer and fired at us all the time. But I was not scared. I must have something in my genes, it turned me on,”says Tom.
They usually went on such transport missions in armored vehicles.
But one day everything went wrong.
“We were transporting quite a trivial cargo - lumber - from Baghdad to some village. I was in one of the escort cars. At that time I was part of the so-called counter attack team. This meant that if the column was attacked, we would have to stop and defeat the attackers, and the rest of the column would continue to move."
The column was ambushed. The driver of one of the escort trucks panicked, and his car began to roll from side to side. He drove into the car that was in Tom, and she flew into the ditch at high speed. And although the car was armored, it was just soft-boiled.
The rest of the column continued to move, while Tom and nine of his colleagues stayed behind to fight the enemies who were in cover and fired at them.
“I remember that my back hurt like hell. But I continued to sit in the car and fired through the door, which swung open as a result of the accident. I fired and fired, all the magazines that were on my body were empty. And then there were no bullets left in the pistol either."
One of his colleagues dragged Tom out of the car and shoved him into the only car that was on the move. Before taking off, they threw two grenades at the crashed car to make sure the rebels didn't get any of the equipment there.
“I was taken to a German field hospital, they had to see what was wrong with my back. But I especially bothered about this, they gave me some kind of pain reliever, and soon I left the hospital. And I didn't think about my back anymore."
After that incident, Tom and other colleagues went to Abu Dhabi to blow off some steam.
“There were girls, wine and songs. And then back."
But life in the war zone gradually began to take its toll on Tom. Many of his friends were killed, others found other jobs.
“Before leaving home, I was close to committing suicide. I took on the most dangerous tasks. Such, when they do not expect that someone will return alive. And there were fewer and fewer professional assignments”.
Tom went home to Norway.
He had a girlfriend, and then they had twins. But despite the fact that he had children, he was not ready to give up the old way of life.
Life in the war zone has left its mark. He has no feelings for others - except for his two children.
Tom found himself in a somewhat vague world, began to "work" for a criminal biker club. He was prosecuted several times for using violence.
“It was so strange there. Once I spent six months in prison in an isolation ward because I was a danger to other prisoners. At the same time, I had two children who came to visit me and were everything to me. But overall, I was extremely calm."
Tom was released from prison six months later. But his back, which he suffered from the accident in Iraq, worried him more and more. He underwent six operations, but the pain persisted. He became disabled.
“I sat and felt that I had to do something. Use your abilities. I watched the movie “Machine Gun Preacher” once. As a result, I started looking for humanitarian organizations that might need my help."
Tom found an organization that helped children in Africa. And now he is responsible for the safety of her employees when they are “in the field”. Everything is on a voluntary basis.
“We came to the place that the organization chose to provide assistance. And some 800 children rushed to me. And then something happened to me. It seemed to compensate me for all the bad that I did, all the lives that I have on my conscience. It was karma."
Tom has especially good relations with children - former soldiers. He always attracted those with whom others did not want to do business.
“I think I'm looking for balance. In the years when I did not live like this, I caused grief to many. I killed parents with children, I killed children who were in the wrong place at the wrong time. And in order to understand myself, in my head, I need to get rid of karma. I believe in it,”says Tom.
Today he is engaged to the head of the humanitarian organization for which he works. Thanks to her and his humanitarian work, Tom again looks at life with optimism. They are expecting a baby, and life is slowly but surely becoming "normal."
More recently, the super-tough mercenary turned into an agreeable father of the family. In the store, fellow villagers sometimes glance at him. Not because he looks somehow intimidating, but because he allows children to paint his nails with varnish and paint his face with makeup.
With karma, too, everything is gradually getting better.
“I regret that I lived like this before, in the sense that I could do something else, think about my family, home, etc. But at the same time, it was the life that I lived that made me what I am now. … Karma is on the right track. I will obviously not be in the black, but, in any case, I am beginning to find balance."
This is Tom's story. Much of what you have just read is impossible to verify for authenticity, and besides, he avoids calling colleagues by their first names, so that others are not involved in his story. Nevertheless, this story provides an opportunity to look into the world, a part of which is becoming more and more people who receive more and more tasks and take on more and more tasks that were usually performed by ordinary soldiers in the past.
People who find themselves in the legal gray zone many times.
NRK contacted some of Tom's former colleagues, people from the same industry. We also spoke with his psychiatrist, whom he visits after returning home to Norway. All confirm the veracity of his story.
We also saw pictures taken while he was working as a bodyguard for Oasis. But it was impossible to use them in the material because of the obligations he signed.