I was a “private military contractor” for years. I worked mostly in Africa, where I dealt with warlords, raised small armies, worked with armed groups in the Sahara, transacted arms deals in Eastern Europe, and prevented a genocide vicinity Rwanda. Before this, I was a paratrooper in the US Army’s 82nd Airborne Division.

After I left the mercenary world, I decided to talk about it. Mercenaries are rising around the world, doing things that would blow your mind. It’s worse (or better, depending on POV) than most think.

I use fiction to pull back the curtain on the mercenary world today. That way I don’t get sued to death. (Or worse.)

I’m now a professor of war and strategy in Washington DC, where I teach senior military officers and intel types from around the world how to fight and win. I have unorthodox views, but that’s what happens when a merc gets a PhD.

My novel DEEP BLACK: A TOM LOCKE NOVEL comes out tomorrow. It’s thinly veiled reality, and a fun read. Think Dan Silva, Brad Thor, Tom Clancy with more…authentic details. Please check it out: https://www.amazon.com/Deep-Black-Tom-Locke-Novel/dp/0062403737/ref=asap_bc?ie=UTF8

More about me here http://www.seanmcfate.com. I’m even on twitter now @seanmcfate

I will answer all of your questions to the best that I can — if I can. If I can't, I will do my best to explain why.

Proof: https://twitter.com/seanmcfate/status/893219928802598912

Comments: 1015 • Responses: 108  • Date: 

Grind0r439 karma

What was the craziest thing you had to do as a mercenary?

seanmcfate543 karma

Stop a genocide in Africa.

Troof_247 karma

Could you elaborate ?

seanmcfate777 karma

Only a little.

The US had intel that an extremist Hutu group hiding in the Congo called the FNL were planning to assassinate the President of Burundi in 1994. If they did this, it would cause a chain of reprisal killings - Tutsi killing hutus and hutus then killing tutsi - that would rekindle the 1994 Rwandan genocide.

The US sent us in to prevent all this from happening, with out the governments of Burundi, Rwanda, DRC etc knowing. Only about 5 people knew in Burundi our mission, including the President and General in charge of their military.

We succeeded. I am sorry that I can't go into the operational details. That's why I am writing fiction now. Stuff you see in my book DEEP BLACK is more non-fiction than fiction.

dondiegodevargas307 karma

What is the biggest misconception on PMC's or Mercenary firms that is currently being published in the political science literature?

seanmcfate600 karma

Another great question, thanks! Political Science and academics in general don't know much because this industry is so opaque. You have to be on the inside to understand it, yet not succumb to it, or get blackmailed into silence.

The common misperceptions are:

  1. Mercenaries are ineffective. Wrong, very wrong.

  2. Mercs are illegitimate. "Legitimacy" is a big word people like to throw around with much thinking. Ultimately, it doesn't really matter that much.

  3. Mercs are all evil. Some are, some are not. Same with soldiers.

  4. We can use international law to curb mercenaries. Wrong again. Mercenaries will just shoot your law enforcement.

  5. Mercs are peripheral security problem. Wrong. The market for force is growing and cannot be stopped. At least not if we leave it on auto-pilot, which have.

  6. Lastly, mercs are not useful. This is wrong. They are like fire: power a steam engine or burn the building down. They can augment UN forces of be used as terrorists.

dondiegodevargas103 karma

Seem like so much attention use to be made on the difference between PMCs and Mercenary firms. No much as been written on the definitions alone. Is there no difference today? I'm referring to security functions of PMCs not logistics or training.

seanmcfate165 karma

Yes. I lay out definitions in my non-fiction analysis of the market for force in my book THE MODERN MERCENARY (Oxford Univ Press).

PMCs conduct uniquely military function but organized as formal private companies. Mercenaries also do military functions but are more informally constitutes. I also discern between PMCs/Mercs and military enterprisers, who generally augment stronger national armies or produce forces for them to use.

Ultimately, it is all in the same category. If you can do one, you can do the other.

Check out my taxonomy in Modern Mercenary.

dondiegodevargas57 karma

Thank you. I just got your book. I've read Singer's work and everything pre-2012 so I'm looking forward to your book

One more questions - Mercenaries seem to have a fixed role in small arms conflicts (like what you said about Africa and the middle east) but with the international security landscape focused nation states and their nuclear weapons, what role do you believe mercenaries will play, if any, in nuclear security?

seanmcfate147 karma

I think the international community is by definition Westphalian and can only see the world like a state. That's why they continue to struggle against non-sate (what they humorously call 'sub-state') actors. Hence the mayhem.

Mercs are rising and can take over states, become a praetorian guard, can bully states etc. Let's not forget that most of the states in the world are fragile or failing. And nothing is stopping the rise of mercenary organizations around the world. 100 years from now, mercenaries will be a bigger problem than nukes.

worksss78 karma

Dude. I'm really interested in this type of fiction right now, which is prob why I'm reading through your whole AMA right now, but your responses are so riddled with syntactical miscues that they're kinda hard to read. Which would be fine or whatever if you were pitching golf lessons or something, but it's kinda hard to imagine buying a book from you now. Not hatin'; just statin'.

seanmcfate138 karma

Sorry. Having a scotch and doing reddit.

seanmcfate70 karma

Also, I forgot.

Peter Singer's "Corporate Warriors" spread a LOT of misperceptions about the industry over the last decade. This was partly because he did his research in late 1990s, before the 9/11 which changed everything. Also, because he sensationalized a lot of stuff later, when he was at Brookings, to get spot light. This has created a lot of confusion in the political science space. Uncool.

dondiegodevargas29 karma

Also seems that events conducted by Blackwater, Triple Canopy and others have added to our misperception because of media reports or books by embedded journalist that scholars cite in the literature.

In addition to your work, can you recommend other scholars or authors to read that have a accurate understanding of the PMC and mercs world?

seanmcfate34 karma

That's a good point. The media has hyped the private military world up, and journal like Scahill and Robert P. Young have sowed even more misperceptions with their super skewed journalism.

Yeah, there is new good work coming out of academia. I am a review for university presses like Oxford, Stanford, Routledge etc. The big problem remains the secrecy. I was able to write on it based on being inside of it. Others are locked out.

seanmcfate188 karma

Thank you Reddit universe! It's been a pleasure and I am humbled by your questions. Be safe.

Signing off, Sean

thekgentleman168 karma

Aren't you afraid of someone putting a 'hit' on you for talking?

seanmcfate349 karma

Yes. That's why I turned to fiction. The Tom Locke novel series started as a memoir and my agent said: no, no, no, nooooooo! Turn it in to fiction. So I did, and Tom Locke a version of me had I stayed in the mercenary world, except he more bad ass and more damaged. That said, there are certain people who don't want me talking about this stuff. I don't give a #$&.

xynder0157 karma

are you aware of any weapons to surpass Metal Gear?

seanmcfate110 karma

Ha. I don't think so. Let me know if you do.

PiIIor122 karma

What are the opinions of the common people about ISIS and about the western world?

seanmcfate200 karma

Depends on whom you mean by "common people." There are a lot of common people in Saudi Arabia and other gulf states who support ISIS. This comes up in my novel DEEP BLACK, where Tom Locke and his contracted SOF team have to hunt down a rogue Saudi Prince deep in ISIS Caliphate. Based on actual on-the-ground reporting from people I known in the region.

turned_into_a_newt96 karma

What is the mortality rate for mercenaries? I would assume that mercenary operations gone wrong would make the news, but I don't see many stories about them.

seanmcfate227 karma

It depends. Let's assume proper mercenaries here, meaning they are ex-military and in conflict zones. The mortality is higher than most 1st world militaries. Also, if you get hurt, you are likely screwed.

Merc ops gone wrong generally don't make the news. Mercs are hired often to work in the shadows, and if something goes wrong, their employers cut them away like a kite. That's why we call these 'kite missions.'

High end mercs are hired because they offer good plausible deniability.

med221b96 karma

Did this kind of experience provide you with insights into a deeper understanding of the interactions between the western world and the middle eastern one? If yes, could you go into details?

seanmcfate268 karma

The novel DEEP BLACK deals with this directly. It's a military action thriller but also undergirded by serious understanding of international relations (I have a PhD in international relations from the London School of Economics).

You can't understand the middle east if you think in terms of "states" or countries. You have to think in terms of blocs of ancient powers warring one another. You have the Sunni bloc, lead by Saudi Arabia and includes the GCC, Jordan, Yemen, Egypt and N. Africa and others.

Then you have the Shia block, lead by Iran and includes N. Iraq, Syria regime, parts of Lebanon.

I call these blocks "deep states," not like Steve Bannon's conspiracy theory but rather networks of power, elites and interest.

These Sunni and Shia Deep States have been at war, in some fashion, since the death of Mohammed. People who don't see the middle east as two warring deep states will be left scratching their heads, which is what many 'experts' here do. Every day.

Troof_86 karma

How does one become a mercenary ?

seanmcfate179 karma

Typically you start somewhere. I was a US Army Paratrooper in the 82nd Airborne. Friends of friends found me, and got my first contract to go to Africa.

neeon8880 karma

Sorry about this political question but I would like your opinion. How do you feel about the US no longer funding these so-called "moderate rebels" in Syria? Do you feel like it was a smart move for the Trump Administration?

EDIT: I spelled some words wrong

seanmcfate156 karma

The US truly sucks at raising foreign militaries, militia etc. Mercenaries are much, much better.

I talk about this in both my novels SHADOW WAR (#1) and DEEP BLACK (#2). In Syria, the US trained local forces who then sold their weapons to ISIS etc or joined ISIS and other terrorist groups. How come we're so bad at this?

seanmcfate100 karma

Also, Bush '43 did this in Iraq, and Obama did this in Syria. I am not sure where Trump is on this.

DoctorMumbles78 karma

What was it like doing arms deals in Eastern Europe? I know you probably cannot go into much detail.

Follow-up question, did you write before deciding to focus on a book, or was it a spur of the moment thing?

seanmcfate333 karma

I transacted arms deal in Eastern Europe to Africa. It's crazy.

First, skip the middle men and go directly to the factories in eastern europe. Have a fixer arrange this.

Work on your alcohol tolerance. Deals (or just office meetings) involve vodka or homemade Slivovitz (think turpentine meets plum favor).

Order a few crates of weapons, then load them into an AN-12. Fly across Mediterranean and over Sahara with a GPS suckered to the windshield as you drink Slivovitz with the crew while smoking on the ammo crates in the back.

Ignore the hydraulic fluid dripping from the planes crevices.

Land in the middle of a sub-Saharan monsoon at night, on a mud airstrip that has no lights. If you're drunk by now, that will help.

Get picked up by local warlord and several trucks to take you through the jungle, laced with other warlords.


Chtorrr68 karma

What would you most like to tell us that no one has asked about?

seanmcfate162 karma

Hmmm. That not all mercenaries are evil people. Be a private military contractor is about freedom. You have freedom to choose your fights, and not just sent into wars that are known to be hopeless.

PBrain259 karma

Who is the most famous "mercenary" you have met?

seanmcfate182 karma

If a mercenary becomes famous then they are a failed mercenary. Mercs are the true "quiet professional." People hire mercs often for plausible deniability. Meaning when you really want a "Zero Footprint" operation, you call a mere SOF team. Ultimately, they are expendable, unlike SEAL Team 6.

So, famous mercs are posthumous.

seanmcfate136 karma

On the other hand, when I was in Africa I met some of the guys who were once part of Executive Outcomes, the (in)famous South Africa mercenary company in the 1990s. They were pretty effective at their jobs, and hearing their war stories was something else.

med221b26 karma

So, are there any possibilities or ways to get access from the normal press into the mercs-associated activities in differernt world zones??

Surely, besides told stories in forms of fictionally covered events by persons who had worked in the industry.

seanmcfate55 karma

It's hard. The mercenary world is super secretive and there's a lot of BS in this space. Lots of war stories and exaggeration. The best mercs generally don't advertise it, and work finds them via word of mouth.

If you want to learn about it, go to conflict zones where mercs are working (Iraq, Syria, Ukraine, Africa...). Also find the bars they hang out at, and build your network (Kampala, Irbil). Just don't come across like a journo or academic. Not cool.

PBrain221 karma

Posthumous then? Also, Who is better British or American?

seanmcfate81 karma

It's a good question. British SAS, SBS and the paras (paratroopers) are very good. Common grunts are about the same, although Americans now have more combat experience. US SOF is the best (and best funded) in the world, in my opinion. No one can beat US SpecOps team.

seanmcfate45 karma

In terms of mercenaries, it's up in the air. It depends on what part of the British or American military they came from. Ex-SOF etc are the best, followed by ground pounders and then cooks and other nonsense like that.

There's a lot of charlatans in this space. You need to know how to vet wannabe mercs.

PBrain222 karma

Who is the richest mercenary alive in your opinion?

seanmcfate101 karma

Hahaha. Putin? Erik Prince? Depends how you measure it.

The sad thing is that mercenaries really don't get rich. They get used.

Just like most professions, no?

Ryn99658 karma

What was the best/worst compensation for the contracts you've been on?

seanmcfate154 karma

Worst. Not getting paid what was owed me.

Best. Getting paid six-figure for a two-week walkabout among the armed groups of the Sahara. Oil company.

HIMaritz58 karma

When writing Deep Black, how did you find out about said " actual events in the caliphate". Will it be possible for the average discerning reader to separate fact from fiction?

seanmcfate55 karma

I know a lot of SOF guys coming back from the region, and not just US SOF but from other countries as well: Jordan, UK, Turkey, etc. They tell me things. I also have Iraqi friends here (in Washington DC where I live now) who talk to their friends over there, in places like Irbil, "Kurdistan." The Peshmerga do patrols into the ISIS caliphate. I also know some mercs operating our of Irbil, and you meet some of them in DEEP BLACK.

seanmcfate86 karma

Will people know real facts? Yes and no. Some may be obvious, like what General Suleimani, head of Iran's Quds forces (special forces), operating out of various Shia shrines in Iraq.

But there's a lot of "dog whistles" for those in the know. For example, one of the first things ISIS did when it occupied Mosul was take control of all the bakeries. You control people's food source, you control the people. Other details like that.

TheTrueLordHumungous49 karma

I always had the impression that Eric Prince was throne to the wolves after Blackwater became less critical to US security operations. What are your thoughts on this?

seanmcfate143 karma

I know Erik.

Erik made money the old fashion way: he inherited it. He's also politically connected. His sister is Betsy DeVos, US Secretary of Education now.

After Prince left working for the US, he's now working for China in Africa and many think he's a mercenary (he is). Not a very good one, though.

He's currently shopping a mercenary solution for Afghanistan, that he would likely run as the "Viceroy" to pacify those pesky warlords. Crazy as this seems, Steve Bannon and others like it, and it may be going forward.

It's the stupidest idea I've heard of in a long while.

seanmcfate71 karma

BTW Big fan of your work in the wasteland, Lord H.

fartass4544 karma

Is it good to have an knowledge of geopolitics related to the war you are participating in as a mercenary?

seanmcfate63 karma

No. Optional.

The only knowledge you need to master is how to operate in a fire team.

fartass4543 karma

Can you drop some light on the level of discipline in the mercs (wrt rape, plunder,etc) during interactions with non-armed civilians? Have you personally witnessed any such incidents? And what are the strategy, mercenary units employ to check these?

seanmcfate101 karma

Good mercs do good things, bad mercs do bad things. Just like national armies around the world.

Tom Locke, in my novel DEEP BLACK, leads a merc SOF team. They are very respectful of the innocent. It's bad karma to harm civilians, if nothing else.

However, I ran across mercenaries in the Congo that were pure evil. Really evil. It was sad.

seanmcfate98 karma

BTW this is a serious concern you raise. I don't have an answer because what mercenaries do is introduce market dynamics into warfare. Supply and demand dictate warfare as much as traditional military strategy.

Example. When I was in West Africa, some warlords used rape as a tactic and strategy of war. You could hire mercs to terrorize and cow local populations this way. You could also hire mercs to kill those mercs. But you are left with a world awash in mercenaries, and that's what I fear is coming.

TheWhitestFang41 karma

If this hasn't already been asked, how's the pay?

seanmcfate93 karma

Pay can fluctuate. First of all, there's a lot of deadbeats in this space. For example, Liberia asked me to create a littoral sea fighting force, but I couldn't figure out how they would actually pay (regardless of promises) so I walked away. Never work for the UN. Total deadbeats.

The US pays you about double what you might make in uniform, which ain't much given the risks. All the stories of guys making 2 grand a day are BS. Maybe a few guys at the beginning of the Iraq war. Also, the US might pay Blackwater $1500/day for you but Blackwater pays you only $400/day, pocketing the rest.

The best is extractive industry, especially those that are private owned. You can find these in Houston, with the right connections.

Jim10539 karma

What do you wish the common people of the western world knew more about?

seanmcfate118 karma

That mercenaries are coming back and they're one of the biggest threats to world order, if left on autopilot.

Forget ISIS etc. That's nothing. We can hire mercs to take them out, just like Nigeria did - secretly - in 2015 to get rid of book haram.

Not all mercs are bad, but many are. They can set the world on fire and will change war.

workaccount21337 karma

How do you acquire your equipment? Especially for situations where you're raising a small army.

How much latitude are you given when it comes to picking and choosing your assignments?

Are there any mercenary firms that you refuse to work with? If so: why?

Lastly, what would you say are the primary differences when it comes to working for the military versus the private sector?

seanmcfate89 karma

It depends on the client. When I worked US government (USG) contracts, they would pay for it and I would go get it. Hence I did shopping sprees in Eastern Europe.

Working for other clients is more risky. You generally buy things in the theater of war that you are operating, for certain legal reasons.

There are many whom I would refuse to work with. For example, China or Russia. Actually, any who is the enemy of the US, since I'm still an ex-soldier at heart and blue passport holder.

However, a lot of people don't care and go where the money. Erik Prince, founder of Blackwater, left the US and now works for China in Africa. He's now in DC pimping an idea to hire a mercenary army to "fix" Afghanistan. It's a dangerous idea.

GreatBlueNarwhal36 karma

Former Navy small arms development here, and I've got a question. I'm out now; I work in commercial aircraft.

What do you think about the Western arms market? I've always been curious about the varied moral opinions of producers in Western Europe and North America.

From a standpoint of both engineering and morality, would the industry stand to gain from directly interfacing with PMC's? Emphasis on the moral question, because I think that industry could have used some more humanity.

seanmcfate33 karma

First, congrats on your background. That's very impressive.

I was in the small arms business briefly and the margins are thin, the risks high.

I think the arms industry and PMCs would make a great alliance. Blackwater, before it changed it's name and booted out Prince, was trying to sell a wheeled APC.

I can see a future where arms dealers are making low-end but effective things for PMCs. We can do better than Technicals!

endlessinquiry36 karma

What contribution to humanity do mercenaries provide?

seanmcfate56 karma

Mercs could augment UN peacekeeping missions, if certain rules were emplaced, and promote stability around the world. In fact, they can be hired to do costly missions in Iraq and else, again, if the right oversight mechanisms are emplace. It's crazy we don't do this, and which is by we spend $43 BILLION a year in Afghanistan. Crazy, stupid money.

FettyWapsLeftEye33 karma

Did you lose any close friends who were also Mercs during your time in conflict?

seanmcfate99 karma

Yes. A friend was killed in Liberia. Also, a few friends disappeared. I suspect they were killed or locked up in some #$*&hole someplace. But they could also be on a beach in the maldives right now, for all I know.

Plc2plc231 karma

Would you ever pull a metal gear solid and create your own sovereign nation based entirely of mercenaries? Or what do you think of the idea at least? Would it realistically be able to work?

seanmcfate58 karma

I think it will happen. Not next year, but probably in the next 50-100 years.

This happened during the Middle Ages, when mercenary captains would take over a territory. For example, Sforza took over Milan Italy and ruled it for decades.

We have narco-states right now (Guinea-Bisssau) so why not mercenaries-states?

HIMaritz30 karma

Hi Sean, I've been following your stuff ever since I read your recent Atlantic article. I am looking into joining the British Army and I have a bit of a blue sky question for you. Do you think it's possible to live a fulfilling life that centres on armed conflict?

seanmcfate43 karma

Yes, for sure!! The british military is going through a tough time right now, with their huge budget cuts. That said, they are a fine place to cut one's teeth. However, think about going private sector when it's time! Being a "warrior" doesn't just mean serving in a national army.

Tom Locke, the character of my novel, spends a lot of time pondering this very questions. The mercenary characters in the novel are based on actual people, who each have a different take on what it means to be a mercenary and why they are doing it.

quartzmonster26 karma

Do you see any parallels between people who relocate to live in the Caliphate and people who moved to Russia in the 1950's and 1960's?

People who don't want to fight, but do want to live in a Muslim Utopia / Communist country?

If so, are there lessons from the cold war we can use to stop people from moving into ISIS territory.

seanmcfate34 karma

Interesting, I had not thought of it. I actually wonder how many people did relocate to the Caliphate. There were some high profile cases, like the girls from UK. (I'm sure that didn't end well for them). Clearly, ideology is the driving force. I think if ISIS could have remained in MOSUL, people would come.

Greymor26 karma

What's your favourite book? Favourite movie? Do you play videogames and if so, do you have a favourite?

What advice would you give to 20 year old you?

seanmcfate51 karma

I loved Heart of Darkness as a kid, and Apocalypse Now.

I do play xbox. It's fun! I like halo and other first person shooters. I don't want to go too far with this, but it can help instincts a little bit. However I play to relax.

Robpool200026 karma

Did you ever lose hope, or fear that you were going to die?

seanmcfate72 karma

Yes. Being a mercenary at first is exhilarating, and then it starts to get old and then terrifying. It's like being a goalie: most of the time it's boredom interspersed by moments of terror. For some, however, it never gets old.

thepluralofmooses25 karma

What is the rule on killing kids? Surely there must be times where one must take out an aspiring extremist teenager

seanmcfate49 karma

There are no rules.

seanmcfate42 karma

Unless they are written into the contract.

BTW mercs make moral choices. They can say 'no' to a contract or ROE, unlike soldiers and marines. They can also go 'off contract' or rogue.

HIMaritz23 karma

US foreign policy. Where do you fall between Rumsfeld and Chomsky?

seanmcfate39 karma

I met Chomsky when I was at Harvard. There's the real version and the lampoon version portrayed in the press. That said, I'm neither Rummy nor Chommy. Both have serious flaws in their thinking. A "known known."

asdjfweaiv23 karma

Do you regret going the contractor route after your military service was over? I had the opportunity to do so but I turned it down for a regular 9-5 job, and now years later I still wonder if I made the right decision. Looking forward to reading your book!

seanmcfate35 karma

No, I don't. I got to do things in the private sector that you can't do in the US military, where we have super restrictive ROE and they encourage Fobbits. I wanted to do my job, and get beyond the wire and think creatively. I got to do those things as a contractor or mere.

FunPunishment21 karma

Is your work considered peacekeeping, or are you on a definite side of the wars you've been part of?

seanmcfate85 karma

"peacekeeping" is one of those weasel words that diplomats like to throw around to cover their operations. Putin said he was doing 'peacekeeping' in Chechnya. The UN does "peace enforcement," which they did in the eastern Congo in 2013.

I'm straight faced about it. We do war.

seanmcfate42 karma

Also, mercenaries are famous for switching sides. There's a lot of evidence for this in the Middle Ages, when mercs were a major component of warfare. It would be like the eBay of fighters - people would have bidding wars for the loyalty of the mercenary army.

HovaTamura21 karma

So, just curious if there are female mercenaries, or is this just a male arena?

seanmcfate50 karma

You know, I looked. ;)

I never found any female mercs, although it doesn't mean they are not out there. I ran across female warlords in Africa, who would cut off you undercarriage in a heartbeat. With a rusty machete.

There are women on the battlefield are who hard core. I put them in my novels. DEEP BLACK has a woman named Kyla, daughter of an IRA martyr who ends up in Irbil running a medical clinic, and walks around in black fatigues, red hair, ak-47 and million SPF sunscreen.

feronen20 karma

Compound question.

During your time as a Merc, how many times have you had run-ins with SOFs from other countries, which ones, how many did you actually have to fight, and which ones scared you the most?

seanmcfate57 karma

All the time. People cluster around skillset, so if you have a SOF or paratrooper or ranger etc background, you will gravitate to those with like skills and either form a team or join one. The novel DEEP BLACK shows some of this.

The best are from US, richer European countries and many of the former Soviet republics. Latin american SOF is good too. The worst are African and Middle east countries. Scariest: ex-Soviet. They are...different than the rest of us.

Spiridor20 karma

How large is the industry, and would you say that it is mostly larger bodies of armed men, or do mercenaries also do smaller, covert ops missions in tight, single digit groups?

seanmcfate35 karma

It's really hard to say how large and how much money is sloshing around the private military world. There's no Department of Labor and Statistics for Mercenaries.

During the height of the US wars in Iraq and Afghan, contractors worked in large military corporations. Now that this market has dried up, mercenaries are atomizing into smaller units. Some, like in the book DEEP BLACK, are tier-1 SEAL team level units. Others are just glorified gate guards are personal security details in war zones.

Read DEEP BLACK. It will show you how high-ends mercs really work today.

BilboT_Baggins19 karma

What happens if you run across uniformed military operations while on the job. How do you steer clear of getting killed or detained just simply for being there?

seanmcfate36 karma

Depends on the job. If I'm on a US contract, I avoid them. I generally did not do contracts where I was working side-by-side with US troops. In fact, come to think of it, most of my contracts required me to avoid all government and UN interactions. I had a few exceptions, like Liberia.

Yes, you can be detained just for being there. South Africa is an example. This has happened to me (not in SA) and it's not fun. You generally have 3 options:

  1. Call a connection to get you out (and you pre-arrange this before you take the job)

  2. Bribe your way out

  3. Hope they find you innocent, or at least have a trial

I prefer #1. But it's not a pleasant experience.

BilboT_Baggins8 karma

Having been in the military and having experience and knowledge in the PR process, this really is the aspect that I find least attractive of your career choice. Being detained is not something I want any part of.

seanmcfate16 karma

I agree, and partly why I left it behind.

TheSnailHerder18 karma

You talked about British and French mercs a fair amount. Do you get them from other nations as well. I was specifically wondering if you see a fair amount of Israeli's in your line of work?

seanmcfate16 karma

Yes. I worked alongside people from most every continent. Including Israeli. Israeli contractors/mercs are in Africa. I work near them in west africa at one point, and they did good work. They were ex-SEALs or equivalent, doing stuff vicinity of the Niger delta.

rising_mountain_18 karma

How has the battlefield changed in your lifetime? I imagine tactics are changing every day with each new advancement in equipment, but did you foresee the role of drones playing such a large role in current conflicts? It seems like we are heading towards wars where soldiers will never be in line of sight or am I thinking far too down the road?

seanmcfate42 karma

Well, there's war and warfare. War never changes; it's bloody, violent, political etc. Warfare changes all the time, including tactics, leadership, environment, technology.

Drones are cheap and easily rigged into kamikazes. Expect mercenary "air forces" of suicide drone squad. There are also cyber mercs called "Hack Back Companies."

That said, technology is over rated in war. The US has loads of tech and yet can't conquer Taliban, Al Qaeda, ISIS etc. Meanwhile the humble IED remains a big tactical problem.

Mercenaries also change war. They open up strategy to the laws of the market place. Future Generals may need to know more about the laws of the marketplace and Wall Street, so they understand how to increase or decrease the flow of mercenaries into a battle space.

forava718 karma

what is a moment you can still vividly recall today?

seanmcfate47 karma

Digging up children's teeth in the genocide killing fields outside Bujumbura, Burundi.

med221b16 karma

I am not that familiar with the normal or publically known protocols of the mercenary world, so please I would like to know: If it possible that other countries say Qatar or another gulf country could hire a certain merc to intervene in other regions of its interest?? And, how often something like this could happen?

P.S As reported, these countries fuel extremist militia, but if possible for them, why won't they utilize more sufficient ways of intervention?!

seanmcfate46 karma

Yes. UAE hired mercs from latin america to kill houthis in Yemen. Happens every day, but not really covered in the west. Go figure.

InfinityCircuit16 karma

How does the merc profession mesh with family life? I imagine it takes one away from family a lot.

Is it different than being in the 82nd, constantly going to JRTC and deployments?


seanmcfate25 karma

Sounds like you did some time on Sicily DZ!

Merc life is pretty incompatible with married life. You're always "deployed." You can maybe do something like 6 months on a defensive lucrative mission, like defending oil pipelines in the desert. Then 6 months at home.

vkashen16 karma

If a SoF such as yourself is wounded in a mission, how is the evac/medical care/follow up handled? Obviously the US government is not going to pay to patch you up and any physical therapy you may need (unless you are working for Uncle Sam and it's in the contract I guess). And what kind of medical facility is ready to receive you while a mission is underway?

seanmcfate28 karma

This is a key point. Mercs have to rely on each other to get themselves out, and that can be dicey. What I did is contract with a company called International SOS, if the contract paid for it. A lot of mercs die of wounds (DOW). Or get sent home and dumped into medicaid or on the street, depending what country.

Medical care is a big challenge that would-be mercs need to think about.

Also, carry your own needles. Don't get Hepatitis or Aids from used needles in war zones.

Specialnick15 karma

Saw your comment about the Ex-Soviet Mercs being scarier than the rest. How so? Psychologically they're different? Their skill sets?

seanmcfate25 karma

Yeah. Many of them are crazy and tough. They use to have this think in Spetznatz training called the Rule of the Grandfathers. Recruits would have bones broken.

HIMaritz14 karma

Have you always been interested in writing?

seanmcfate24 karma

Sort of. I liked writing when I was younger but never thought I would become a professional writers.

All my Big Plans always crashed and burned. The best things in my life appeared out of no where, and I went with it.

Not sure what that says about me.

Krazyonee13 karma

  1. I saw your comment that mercs get used and you have no choice about what side you are on in a conflict/mission. This sounds like they say "we are going to give you 3k for a mission...accept or decline?" is this about how it goes and you get mission details later or up front?

  2. How do you obtain supplies when i the mission area if it lasts longer than expected? If you do not fit the racial populace i would imagine that getting from locals would be really hard and planes or convoys would be a bit noticable.

  3. In the mercenary world do governments ever try to knock off mercs after high profile missions or is there fears/concerns over it? Or is it seen more like a "both of us are safer if no one talks/takes a step"?

seanmcfate28 karma

I will do my best to answer these three big questions. 1. Mercs really want a 'sugar daddy' of an employer. That means, a trusted employer over the long run. Clients want that too, assuming they have a constant need for mercenary services (which is broader than just SOF missions). I never faced the "take the contract or die" offer, although someone did do this to me once in Africa. However, they weren't credible and I just laughed. Some mercenaries betray the clients and sell out for a bit of coin but that's bad karma. What goes around comes around, and some of those guys will disappear of unnatural causes. It's almost a greek tragedy.

  1. Supplies are a big problem. Mercenaries need to be lean, with a high tooth to tail ratio. You need to live off of locals, and (in my opinion) not alienate because they provide you material, intelligence and cover from the enemy. They can also screw you if you betray them. Owing to this, I always worked with at least one "fixer." Finding the fixer can be a challenge, but I used ex-CIA networks and sometimes a good journalist or embassy person knew where to look.

  2. Not my experience, but I can see it happening. Make sure you are working for a government with strong rule of law. Don't works for the DRC or Russia etc.

muthertrucker11 karma

Were you watching interracial porn when you titled the book?

seanmcfate15 karma

Ha!! No. But yes.

NSLoneWanderer11 karma

Thanks for having this AMA. Do you have any thoughts on disinformation warfare between states?

Namely Russia's efforts to destabilize western democracies such as those in Finland, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Germany, etc.

seanmcfate33 karma

Yes! Information is a weapon today, and more powerful than firepower when used well. Think Sun Tzu and the Art of War.

Mercs are a part of this new warfare because they provide good plausible deniability. I talk about this in my first novel SHADOW WAR, set in eastern Ukraine. Putin could have taken that place with an armored blitzkrieg but chose covert means instead: spetznatz, mercs, proxy militia, LGM etc. They all offer plausible deniability in an information age. How can the US or UN rally the world to push back against Putin when the very facts of the who is there is in dispute? Putin is a savvy strategist.

23-and1011 karma

How do you stay in shape? Also, what do you do to unwind?

seanmcfate23 karma

Honestly, I'm no longer in shape.

When I was working, it's just like being a soldier. I worked out a lot in garrison but body declines when on mission.

Smintjes10 karma

Belgian mercs used to be notorious in Africa in the 60s abd 70s, with our former colony and all. Did you ever work with Belgians during the 94 Rwanda genocide? Ten Belgian paras were massacred then, did that influence your work during that time?


seanmcfate11 karma

I was in the 82nd during the 1994 Rwandan genocide. The Belgians were notorious mercenaries during the wars of decolonization in the '50s and '60s. They were mostly replaced by South Africa mercs but the time I hit the scene in early 2000s.

However, their legacy is still their, especially in the Great Lakes region. They are despised.

The french still meddle in their former colonies in Africa and are also generally despised. For example, in Mali.

Executive Outcomes (EO), a now defunct mercenary company in South Africa, did influence my work. Once you work in Africa as a mercenary (or 'contractor') EO guys come to you. They are good at what they do, but some have serious baggage.

dirty_wastelander10 karma

Do you still carry a weapon on a day to day basis?

Also, Glock or Sig?

seanmcfate17 karma

I don't carry a weapon anymore since I live in Washington DC (super restrictive gun laws). I like both Glocks and Sigs. Tom Locke, in the novel, like Beretta Nanos because they fit anywhere. He also carries the SCAR 7.62

Hibronating10 karma

In your opinion, what is the best approach to handling North Korea? (Assuming Kim Jung-Un is akin to an African warlord or something similar.)

seanmcfate30 karma

DPRK is the headache that keeps on giving. If we strike them, they shell Seoul with artillery. China uses them as leverage to extract favor from the US.

Ultimately, no one wants to see DPRK fall. China and South Korea don't want to absorb 20 million deranged refugees and no one wants to tempt the DPRK leadership's will to launch everything they have.

Ultimately the best course of action is the status quo, which is why nothing has changed in 70 years.

seanmcfate41 karma

BTW Kim Jung-Un is a little like a warlord but has nukes in a volatile region, so not a one for one comparison. Also, I wonder who's really in charge: the fat kid or some cabal of generals?

forava79 karma

as a mercenary, what is the biggest misconception people label you guys with? and why?

seanmcfate32 karma

People think mercenaries are villains, etc. This is BS.

People often throw machiavelli in my face, who said mercenaries are "faithless whores" or something like that. He was the guy who wrote The Prince (which I love, as well as his Art of War and Discourses on Livy). But he was a total failure. During the the early 1500s, he was in charge of Florence's defenses and got seriously burned by his lame mercs. So he Mr Sour Grapes. Most mercs - then and now - are not like that.

The prejudice against mercenaries is extremely unjustified. Would you rather be taken a prisoner by Blackwater of the Zimbabwe army ? I recommend the former.

Kraker_jak3569 karma

Was there anything "dirty" that you didn't want to do morally yet still followed through with?

seanmcfate10 karma

Yes. Sadly. But I really don't want to discuss it here on Reddit. Maybe over a drink.

Buttcheese429 karma

Thanks for making the post, I'm curious as to how you would get into this business without friends getting you an in with someone.

Additionally, what is the average compensation annually for a merc?

seanmcfate26 karma

Are you thinking of signing up? You should.

Mercs don't use monster.com or other employment web sites to find talent. It's all word of mouth, which is why there are a few mercenaries communities in the world: English speakers, Russian speakers, Spanish speakers, and the rest. Language is both the "command language" and also provide some semblance of shared military background and experience.

You need to get into one of these communities. Maybe you're not a shooter (yet). You can start as a service support guy. For example, the unit quartermaster, or intel etc.

Compensation can vary. I have a post below that describes some of the pitfalls and rewards of the mercenary retirement plan (not). But really, I did answer this. Let me know if you have more questions though.

SkincareQuestions109 karma

Attention everyone:

This guy is a total liar. How do I know? The 82nd Airborne Division is a regular-Army unit. They teach NOTHING about:

...where I dealt with warlords, raised small armies, worked with armed groups in the Sahara, transacted arms deals in Eastern Europe, and prevented a genocide vicinity Rwanda.

He is a complete fraud. Now, had he been former Special Forces, who train 100% for each of those scenarios (except transacting arms deals, that's done by the CIA), his claims might be credible.

What a shame that my post will get buried and this guy is about to make a million dollars from straight-up lies, while offering zero proof other than a fake copy of a top secret security clearance and a copy of his shitty novel (I used to hold a TS btw, they give you nothing of the sort, in fact they give you no paperwork at all to verify it, it just shows up as 2 letters in your records).

seanmcfate15 karma

How charming.

Who says I learned about how to deal with warlords etc in the 82nd airborne? They don't do this. Nor does ANYONE in the US military. You have to learn elsewhere, which I did.

Also, I don't make a million dollars (oh, that would be totally awesome!).

I too hold a TS clearance. No TS secrets are revealed in my books.

paulysch8 karma

You said that mercs are famous for switching side. Did it happened to you? Did you had to shoot at "ex-allies" just because someone offered mote money or is it better to just walk away?

seanmcfate16 karma

Fortunately not. However, I have mercenaries friend who have. Some were training militias in Iraq that later were shooting at them. I guess Russia or Iran paid them better. Or someone.

seanmcfate8 karma

Dear Reddit Universe,

I must sign off in 20 minutes. Please send me your AMA questions! Sean

Once_Upon_A_Dimee8 karma

What do you think about John Wick?

seanmcfate12 karma

Freaking bad ass!

JasonTheVILE7 karma

How do you feel about your time as a mercenary vs paratrooper?

seanmcfate36 karma

I worked with good people in both. But they are vastly different cultures. Serving in uniform is about duty, honor, legacy and sacrifice. It's sacred. Mercs turn all this on it's head but making it transactional. That's why they don't like each other, and this goes waaaay back. In the Middle Ages, knights and mercs killed each other...just because.

In some ways, soldiers are like a wife and mercs are like a prostitute.

crazy_angel15 karma

How does one go about hiring a mercenary, is there some dodgy deep web website?

seanmcfate9 karma

All my contracts came word of mouth. People found me, usually. There might be a "dark web" solution but the real challenge is knowing who is a fraud from the deal deal.

The best way to hire a serious mercenary outfit is being in the right circles, going to places that individual mercs hang out near war zones, or asking those whom you know hired them in the past.

ArkanSaadeh4 karma

have you ever read Forsyth's The Dogs of War?

That's sortof what got me interested in you guys

seanmcfate6 karma

I love DOW. Also, a great movie with a young Christopher Walker.

It's real stuff. Fredrick Forsyth knew a lot of those guys, like Denard, and uses fiction to tell real stuff. This was part of my inspiration for DEEP BLACK.

Zixme4 karma

Did you ever do something you regretted? Maybe the employer said something but used you for something else (maybe some "bad stuff" or just other stuff that you didn't knew). Also what is the link between mercenaries and local law enforcment? I understand that in some country they would turn their eyes other way or be helpfull for you but where there some conflict between mercs and local law enforcment?

seanmcfate10 karma

Yes. I have. I don't really want to discuss it.

I hope understand.

xamza16083 karma

Thank you for doing this AMA. How many military medals have you won? What was your most live threatening experience?

seanmcfate5 karma

I forget how many ribbons I won. Honestly, in my opinion it doesn't really matter. Military ribbons today, unlike WW2, are usually not given out based on merit or valor, but as a matter of course. There are exceptions, of course, and certain MOH is monumental.

My most threatening experience? Hard to say. Probably during a night firefight in Burundi. Also, if you get hurt, you generally die in place. It's not like there is a medevac chopper waiting to scoop you up and send you to a military hospital or back state side. No one even notices you're dead, other than your war buddies.

Unclemeow3 karma

Have you ever watched Homeland? Anything to say about it?

seanmcfate5 karma

You know, I never have. People say it's awesome and that I would like it. I probably should.

HIMaritz3 karma

Can't believe no one has done this but tits or ass?

seanmcfate8 karma

Depends on the day ;)

mutt_butt3 karma

What is your opinion of the idea that private contractors are absolutely NOT mercenaries? I ask because I was surprised that you referred to yourself as a merc.

seanmcfate7 karma

That's a good question. No one likes to say they are a mercenary but ultimately if you're an armed civilian in a war zone doing military stuff, you are what people traditionally term a mercenary. The industry hates it, as it's bad branding.

Before I became a novelist, I wrote a serious non-fiction book called THE MODERN MERCENARY which breaks down the difference between a mercenary and private military contractor. However, ultimately, if you can do one then you can do another.

bnkrnr3 karma

What's your opinion on the situation with N. Korea and the USA? Why doesn't the USA have a merc take out Kim?

seanmcfate11 karma

Good question. Because DPRK (north korea) is a totalitarian user-police state who can detect even South Korean infiltrating their bizarro country, so mercs would have a really hard time. Second, because if ANYONE makes a move on the dear leader, DPRK shells Seoul with thousands of rounds of artillery from across the DMZ. Millions would die in one day. That's what makes the N Korea problem so sticky.

seanmcfate13 karma

Also, the real threat with these DPRK ICBMs is not that they would nuke LA but they would explode and EMP to make the west coast dark.

amirolsupersayian2 karma

Is it true that most of the Muslim in ISIS camp is not Muslim?

seanmcfate6 karma

Depends who you ask. They think they are awesome Muslims, and they get a lot of money from other muslims in Saudi Arabia and the Gulf States.

Then other Muslims say they are not muslims at all, but murders, rapists and thugs.

faolchu10142 karma

What sorts of non-millitary exclusive skills helped you the most or did the best to keep you alive?

seanmcfate5 karma

Cultural skills. When you are operating in Africa or elsewhere, you need to be cultural attuned. First, I'm a white guy with straight teeth, which means I'm American. That can be very disadvantageous in some parts of the world. You have to have a good intuition about people.

23-and102 karma

Ever want to have a family?

seanmcfate3 karma

Not when I was a merc.

W2072 karma

What is that one thing most people believe and is not true about mercenaries?

seanmcfate6 karma

That they are always the bad guys.

Please see below. Someone actually asked this and I answered. I'm happy to elaborate though.

Why_Did_Bodie_Die1 karma

How many people have you killed? How old where you when you killed your first? Does it get easier the more you do? Is it addicting?

seanmcfate0 karma

I really don't want to get into that on Reddit. Maybe over a drink.

Specialnick1 karma

How do your friends and family react to hearing your about profession? Did or do they know that you were a mercenary?

seanmcfate2 karma

I don't tell them until I know them better. When people asked what I did, I would say "Overseas Consultant." I would follow with prosaic conversation about balance sheets and labor issues etc. People's eyes glazed over and dropped it.

Now that I'm "out" I have to own it. I've gotten some ugly reactions from friends. However, a lot of people are cool with it.

FS4JQ0 karma

Islam is a religion of peace. True or false?

seanmcfate12 karma

Soooo complicated! There is a lot of violence in the quran and hadiths. However, not every muslim is 'unpeaceful' and let's not forget the christian crusades (which also happened in Europe).

It's too complex for a yes or no.

But ISIS is definitely violent, and Tom Locke shoots a few.

ItsYouNotMe7070 karma

do you have any opinion on whether 9/11 was set up by political and corporate elite?

seanmcfate3 karma

I don't think it was.

JungAchs-1 karma

How does someone with a PhD and who is a writer do an ama with so many typos?

seanmcfate4 karma

Cause I'm drinking scotch.