Monday, December 1, 2008

'My Husband was a Blackwater Hero'

Art Laguna was the father of four and grandfather of six, a veteran of thirty years with the US Army and National Guard who served in Bosnia and three times in Iraq.

One of the most skilled helicopter pilots in the sky, he was decorated for valor for saving lives at home.

In January 2007, Art Laguna and his crew were killed while flying a mercy mission to save the life of an American diplomat pinned down by enemy fire in Iraq. The Department of Defense posthumously awarded him the Legion of Merit earlier this year - a decoration for "exceptionally meritorious conduct in the performance of outstanding services and achievements."

Yet when many people hear his story, they don't think of him as a hero at all.

His widow, Marybeth, writes in the Washington Post that she's pretty angry about it. In her words:

My anger, however, doesn't come from the direction you might expect. I'm not angry at Art for the risks he took in life, or at the war that took that precious life. Instead, I too often find myself operating at a slow boil, sometimes exasperated and sometimes irate at those who never knew my husband or his colleagues, yet who insist on tarnishing their memories each day.

Because when Art died, he wasn't working for the military. He was working for Blackwater.

Art considered his job with the private security firm that protects US diplomats in Iraq a continuation of his service to this country. He told me that he believed in the job and respected the mission. But somehow, this one word - Blackwater - gets in the way of a lucid, reasoned discussion.

Art first went to work for Blackwater in August 2006 and was on his second deployment with the company when he was killed. When I tell people these facts, they rarely express appreciation for his services. Instead, most suggest that he was crazy to go back. I've had people repeat the ridiculous urban legend that Blackwater instituted martial law in New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina and ask me whether Art had been a part of that. At a recent social event, someone asked me whether Blackwater was the same company that 'goes around shooting people.' I've heard the news media and even elected officials casually throw around words such as 'cowboy' and 'mercenary' to describe men and women who voluntarily go into harm's way to protect others. Those caricatures are wrong. They might describe someone's antiwar agenda, but they don't describe my husband or his colleagues.

Marybeth Laguna says her husband wanted to use his military skills to serve his country again. That's why he joined Blackwater in Iraq, flying the company's famed "Little Bird" helicopters for the State Department's security detail. As she puts it,

My husband and his fellow contractors answered a call. Art didn't do it for the money. He wanted to contribute in any way possible so that his kids and grandkids could continue to enjoy the American dream. He wanted to test himself and give back to his country using the training he'd received throughout his life.

Just like soldiers, security contractors based in Iraq face daily threats to their lives. Rather than demonizing these men and women, we should be thanking them for the essential service they provide. Whether they are working for Blackwater or directly for the US military, they are all risking their lives to work for the United States. And they deserve our respect.

And our gratitude.


Anonymous said...

It's not the word "Blackwater" that gets in the way. It is the words "mercenary" and "war profiteer." Come off it. You are in it for the money. And irrespective of what kind of legitimate heros you might have been when you were legitimate soldiers, now you are mercs, earning money by being prepared to kill people. And people in our society look down on that sort of thing.

P.S. I notice you have posted no comments. Does that mean that you have rejected every comment you received?

Toby9318 said...

I'm not sure where anonymous gets his/her/its facts but until you actually know a contractor, it's best not to discuss the money side of the equation. Blackwater contracts run for 60-80 days with 30 days back in the states. The 30 days off is without pay. The contractor is responsible for all taxes just like anyone else who is self employed. There is no medical coverage or tax free status. And by the way, mercenaries perform a combat function. Blackwater provides personal security for diplomatic personnel. I doubt the woman who was protected on January 23, 2007 and survived to go home to her family is dickering about titles such as "mercenary or war profiteer". So shut your pie hole and whine about something else.

S. Bakker said...

I agree with Toby9318 regarding anonymous and it's uninformed view of what the truth is. I am a personal Friend of Art and worked with him back in the 80's as a fellow instructor. I recently was able to pay tribute on this Memorial Day to Art and fellow operators that I beleave are the unsung heros of past, present and future battles that we ingage everyday. Guardian337

Anonymous said...

I agree with Toby also--Until you have your facts straight you should spout off --Mercenaries are in it for money--to the highest bidder--that's not the case (at all ) with contractors

Blackwater employees pay their own taxes, medical care(they are only covered by health care while they are working on the job--not on leave--and they dont' get paid leave), they make their own plans for retirement. People think that you make money in this job--YOU DON'T --It's just like any other job -Only you have to pray that you have bought your family enough life insurance to see them through if something happens to you --cause you have to pay for that too--
When you figure out how much money you spend so that you can work--It almost make sence to just come home and work where you won't get shot at --so the only thing that makes it worth it is honor and a drive to serve those in need.

These men are heros--to their country, to the people that they protect, to their families--