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“I’ve always felt that misfits are far more interesting than normal folks.” Jen Turano, Diamond in the Rough

“I couldn’t place the music in a specific genre. Sometimes it’s better not to put things into the correct box. Just let it be for it can only be perfect outside the box. But the problem with leaving things outside the box is that it might turn into something that should not have existed.” Sanchita Sarin, Murder in Maldives

“The history of progress is a history of freaks.” Abhijit Naskar, Karadeniz Chronicle: The Novel

Last week we looked at a new genre of fighters that have entered the battlefield in Ukraine. They will provide a look that is usually kept in the shadows, but for this war’s purposes, it will be brought out into the light for the scrutiny of everyone to see.

Please note that I did not call these new players on the battlefield ‘soldiers.’ After having served over 20 years of my adult life as a soldier, I can assure you that the men and women of which I speak do not embrace the qualities that are demanded to earn the title of a soldier. Here are my presuppositions about what a soldier is.

Soldiers maintain several qualities that allow them to serve with honor and distinction no matter what their special role is. The first character quality that I always looked for in soldiers I led was, were they honest? They must be honest because there is absolutely no room in our military world for dishonesty, half-truth, or any other shade in between. If I could not trust what a soldier was telling me, it complicated the entire mission. If soldiers could not completely believe that the soldiers fighting next to them were telling the truth, they had little respect for them as soldiers. It deeply affected unit morale and the integrity of the mission.

The second character quality this requires is courage. As a soldier, you will be called on to be courageous in many ways. In battle, you may have to keep moving forward in the face of heavy enemy fire. The lives of other men may depend on this kind of courage. Battle plans are based on it. Battles are won and lost on the courage of the soldiers fighting them. Courage is not the absence of fear. It is doing the right thing in the face of fear. Courage is doing what is right, even if it costs you your own life. Because it is right.

Thirdly, a required character quality is self-control. As a soldier, you will be living and working closely with other soldiers. You will be leading a highly disciplined life. Good self-control makes this discipline easier. It will also help you avoid temptations that may plague you — temptations to dodge your duty, to indulge in immorality, or to use your power unfairly. Sometimes you may be the law itself, and only your sense of right and self-control will stand between you and your abuse of power as a soldier.

Self-control is “inner discipline.” You were not born with it, but all good soldiers have acquired it through the years by checking their tempers and desires, and by “considering the cost” before they acted.

Fourth is the character quality of decency. This means personal habits that make it easier for others to live and work with you. Your honesty, courage, and self-control will strongly affect your companions, but in addition, it is important that you give them the same consideration that you’d like them to give you. This means respecting their property and views, keeping yourself clean in body and speech, and accepting others for what they are – not for the color of their skin or where they came from.

Last, and perhaps the defining character quality that separates genuine soldiers from fighters, often referred to as soldiers of fortune, is conviction of purpose. This means that these soldiers fought well and were able to endure the hardships of war because they were convinced that what they were doing was right.

Admittedly, this quality isn’t easy to have. Many combat veterans will tell you that they were never quite sure why they were fighting. Some say that they fought to save themselves. Others say that they fought for the men around them, or because they hated the enemy. There is never any single reason why men fight. Our truly great soldiers, however, have fought for our country because they believed that our freedoms and way of life were worth the sacrifice.

This is simply a short treatise on my convictions of soldier-hood. In many ways, it is a statement on what I believe manhood should look like. I am writing this because it is important that we be able to distinguish between soldiers and gang members. I have served in combat units for most of my military career. These quality traits are what I strove for in my life as well as that of the soldiers I commanded and led into combat. 

It is my impression that the news stories you hear about the crimes and poor judgements of US Soldiers represent a small percentage of the American fighting force. I am not saying that I did not have soldiers who violated the codes of conduct and combat, but when they did, punishment under the Uniformed Code of Military Justice (UCMJ) was fair and swift. I was never asked by a superior officer to do anything illegal, nor was I ever tempted to do so. The conviction of my purpose, as well as that of the soldiers I led, was resolute.  We were prepared to give our lives for that purpose, the purpose of defending the Constitution of the United States. That was our purpose.

Ok, this is leading into a much more in-depth discussion on my convictions than was intended. But I hope it clarifies my distinction between soldiers and fighters. Fighters fight and kill for themselves and for money. Soldiers fight for you and for the honor that comes with protecting and preserving freedom for their fellow citizens.

This week, following this lengthy introduction, I want to take a brief look at why these fighters, who are just now showing up on the battlefield of Ukraine, are walking into a very difficult situation. It is a learning lab for everyone. The US and its allies are watching what will happen next as are the Chinese, and especially the Russians. How this unfolds will say volumes about the effectiveness of private military companies (PMCs) on the battlefield.

I will focus my look at “combative private contractors” from four entities that will most certainly be or become significant players in the “fighters for hire” industry. Let me start off by saying that anytime one begins to dig into these things, it is difficult to separate the egregious from the naive. The reason I am piling all of them into the same bucket is that when push comes to shove it is all about money…. each is a “fighter of fortune.” 


According to the Center for Strategic and International Studies, while mercenaries have long played a role in warfare, the prevalence of private companies in modern combat has grown more pronounced than ever. PMCs and private security companies (PSCs) provide policymakers with attractive ways to project power, including low-profile alternatives to uniformed military deployment and significant cost savings. Moreover, in the current era of strategic competition among the United States, China, and Russia, the struggle for influence is playing out deliberately at a level below the threshold of armed conflict, and such companies are a useful instrument to expand regional and global influence and to create new dilemmas for competitors.

Private security is expected to grow to an $81 billion industry by 2023, and that’s just in the United States, according to the Freedonia Group. It goes way beyond security guards hired to protect industrial areas, commercial areas, and residential areas. And the industry is now going global.

The four significant players in the fighters of fortune industry are: The Wagner Group (now called ‘Liga’), Blackwater Group (now called Academi), Executive Outcomes (now called ‘Strategic Resource Corporation’) and the Chinese Private Military Companies. What bursts from the page as you read this is the number of times that these massive organizations continue to change their branding, image, and registrations. This corporate sleight of hand is not easily seen unless you are intently looking. Look once  again at the size of the private military demand…81 billion dollars. That is a huge sum of money in the hands of a well connected business elite and lots of young men and women with guns and the skill to use them.

I am going to delay one more week with my comparison of these four major Private Military and Private Security Companies. It will become obvious why they pose a significant threat to the realm of diplomacy and the furtherance of national egregious goals. Their size and impact is only growing as the demand grows. It is a threat to be reckoned with. Next week we will put these four entities alongside one another and look for similarities and differences in their strategic execution of orders and operational outcomes.


 I think it is not difficult to see the accelerating degradation of peace. What price are societies willing to pay for their safety and security? Are they willing to open their treasuries that are being demanded for their services? As of now, many are calling it a dividend and a savings. How high in payments are societies willing to go? What if an enemy offers more with more benefits. Will the future wars be bought and paid for by the highest bidder? There are a host of problems with the commercialization of warfare. 

When you begin to separate men from their character and from their conviction of purpose all sorts of nefarious things abound. Immoral and unethical acts unfold at an alarming pace when accountability and governance are abandoned. We need to understand the ramifications of elevating expedience over effectiveness when it comes to warfare.


We need to ask ourselves if we are becoming a people of character; honest, courageous, self-controlled, decent, and people with a conviction of purpose. If we are not, then we may be becoming part of the problem, rather than part of the solution.

Karl von Clausewitz once said, “We maintain…that war is simply a continuation of political intercourse, with the addition of other means.” War, according to this grandmaster of strategy, is an addition to the diplomatic channels as discussions break down. My thesis is: in the words of Twain, Maslow, Kaplan, Baruch, Buddha, and unknown— nobody knows exactly who said it… “I suppose it is tempting, if the only tool you have is a hammer, to treat everything as if it were a nail.” This is called the Law of the Instrument as labeled by Abraham Maslow in 1966. The law of the instrument, otherwise known as Maslow’s hammer, is a cognitive bias that involves an over-reliance on a familiar tool.

My point is, if you begin to develop the use and reliance on a particular tool such as PMCs, then sooner or later you will be fighting all the time, because that is the only tool you own. Soon you no longer need political intercourse, because it is easier to send a bunch of highly trained experienced fighters, and then deny that you know anything about them. Next week we will talk about what Putin is doing in Ukraine with fighters for hire as well as Iran’s use of the Hezbollah and China’s use of Private Security Companies as a means to establish a military/non-military presence all over the world.

The follow-up.

Russia says it is changing its war aims in Ukraine…

The Taliban Have Not Moderated: An Extremist Regime Is Pushing Afghanistan to the brink

The feed-back.

For your comments or questions about any of our digests please feel free to write to me at:


FM 21-13, an Army field manual published in 1952…


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