War Dog

“Anybody on the wrong side of sixty who believes that he can contribute something by going to war in a helicopter gunship in one of the most remote corners of the globe has got to be a little crazy. Or he’s into what aficionados like to term ‘wacky backy’...” So writes Al J. Venter, quickly adding that, in his case, neither possibility is true. He is a war correspondent, as well as a documentary maker, writer and military strategist. He has covered many conflicts, well before turning sixty, chiefly in Africa and mostly alongside those mercenaries dubbed The Dogs of War by his old colleague, Frederick Forsyth. The extract below is taken from one of Vender’s books entitled War Dog. It is set in the summer of 2000, when Al was embedded with the mercenaries of Executive Outcomes who were fighting rebels attempting to overthrow the government of Sierra Leone. He was flying in a Russian Mi-24 helicopter piloted by Neall Ellis, known as Nellis.
Some say that was a “just” war. But that’s not the point here. Once again, journalists are seen here living the life of travelling storytellers. Of those that make you want to keep on living. Even on the wrong side of sixty.


Nellis turned to me. “You got water ?” he asked while his eyes scanned a map on his desk. He did not see me nodding in reply.
“Something to eat?”
“We going out that long?” I asked.
“No, but you’ll need food in case we go down”
“All I have is a can of bully beef”.
He didn’t ansie.
The regular gang traveled light. Most times they didn’t take much of anything other than a singl bottle of water, whic was enough for a couple of hours of Flying. Somehow they just knew that they were going to get back, but then so does every aircrew in just about every war.
I was fractionally more skeptical. From day one, I never went up without a handful of water purifying tablets and my precious Shell Petroleum road map of sierra Leone which, word had it, the rebels also used for navigation, if it came to that, at least I’d know how to get to Guinea.
“Side arms?” Nellis quizzed the others with a studied air of disregard. Each member of the crew had an AK-47 as standard issue. For “luck” one of the gunners cradled a compact little Czech 9mm submachine gun. When dismantled, it could be ridde inside a car’s glove compartment.
The evening before, Hassan had given to me the rundown of what to expert should there the problems. Whatever happened, he tought, we’d have enough firepower to fight our way out of almost any mess. The problem was that the GPMGs we carried onboard, stacked under the seats of the main compartment behind the cockpit when not in use, were comparatively heavy as these things go. Their ammunition cases were in obtuse, sharp-edged wooden cases, whic would have made for awkward lugging in difficult terrainif we had to extricate ourselves from a dangerous situation on the ground in a hurry.
“If anything happens, you’ve got to help fight,” the lebanese gunner told me with a wry smile. There were no ifs or buts about it, he suggested almost as an afterthought. One time he joked that since I was a journalist, I needn’t worry: “Just show them your Press Card”, he chuckled.

From: “War Dog. Fighting Other People’s War. The Modern Mercenary in Combat” by Al J. Venter. Reprinted with permission of Casemate Publishers. Excerpts from page 25, 36-7.