Meeting not just for mercenaries Conference: This year's Soldier of Fortune convention attracted more adventurers and 'warrior wannabes' than gun-for-hire types.

Sun Journal

November 09, 1998|By Paige Bierma | Paige Bierma,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

LAS VEGAS -- Small talk at this year's Soldier of Fortune convention revolved around the evils of gun control, the pleasures of the blackjack table and the possibility of mercenary opportunities in Africa, but actual mercenaries were scarce.

Most of those at the five-day conference, sponsored by the magazine known as the Bible of mercenary soldiers, were Vietnam War veterans, police officers seeking training their departments don't provide, hunters and gun enthusiasts. Many wore desert camouflage and baseball hats with slogans such as "Gun control means hitting your target."

Andrew Massimilian, 35, a real-estate analyst from Harlem, isn't sure that he is typical of convention goers -- "but I'm definitely not a mercenary."

He teaches women to use guns for self-defense, he says, but can't legally carry a gun on the street. So he is attending the knife-fighting seminar, listening attentively as an instructor explains how to make sure the blade slides between your enemy's ribs.

Cheryl Current, who teaches ballet and tap dance to children in Albuquerque, N.M., is in the .45-caliber pistol competition at the convention's renowned three-gun match. She took second place two years ago in the women's division.

"I just really like shooting," she says. "This convention has a bad rep. I think most of the people here are recreational shooters. I don't think there are any mercenaries here these days."

She's wrong: There are at least two.

Rob Krott, 35, blond, robust, Harvard-educated and fluent in several languages, does not fit the typical image of a mercenary.

He trained in the Army's Special Forces (Green Berets), but left the Army in 1990 to "go independent. I had a definite attitude problem" in the Army, he explains.

He has fought in the Croatian and Bosnian armies and has lived with rebel groups in the Sudan and Myanmar. As a chief war correspondent for Soldier of Fortune magazine, he has also covered conflicts in El Salvador, Guatemala, Uganda, Somalia, Cambodia and Angola.

Krott denies he's in the business of war for money. He does it for the "adventure," and to help balance out what he calls the United Nations' "worthless" attempts to aid refugees in places like Croatia and Kosovo. He became a captain in the Croatian army in 1992, he says, "because there was a war on and I was bored."

Another authentic soldier of fortune at the convention has added to his name tag the legend "War Criminal."

Mike Williams, 73, fought for government armies in the Congo in the 1960s and for Ian Smith's regime in Rhodesia in the 1970s. That's where he got the "war criminal" label.

Williams says the charge is bogus. An Associated Press photographer took "posed" pictures of his troops pretending to torture rebel prisoners of war, he says. But since he believes he is still wanted in Zimbabwe, the successor state to Rhodesia, he won't risk going there.

"There are a lot of things I am, but stupid is not one of them," says Williams.

Some of the soldiers of fortune at the convention are more "wannabe" than warrior. A competitor in the "pugil stick" contest -- in which two opponents wielding giant Q-tip-shaped sticks stand on a plank over the swimming pool and try to knock each other into the water -- can't swim. He has to be rescued by convention staff when his opponent dunks him.

Another man sports a curled mustache, dresses strikingly in black and claims to be a French foreign legionnaire. But he speaks no French.

Convention celebrities include Randy Weaver, the white separatist whose wife and son were killed by FBI sharpshooters during the 1992 siege at Ruby Ridge, Idaho. His keynote address denounces gun control and the threat of "one-world government" and urges conventioneers to arm themselves. They give him a standing ovation.

The other featured speaker is retired Gen. Paul W. Tibbets, pilot of the Enola Gay, the B-29 Superfortress that dropped the first atomic bomb on Hiroshima in 1945. He received Soldier of Fortune's Signal award, a bronze combat boot.

Tibbets says he regrets that innocent women and children died at Hiroshima, but without the bomb, Americans "would be talking either Russian or Japanese today."

Soldier of Fortune editor and publisher Bob Brown, 65, who founded the magazine 23 years ago, contentedly hails the convention as further proof that a market remains for a "conservative, pro-military men's adventure" magazine. He is a former Green Beret who set up a military training camp in Honduras in the 1980s to instruct anti-Communist Nicaraguan contras.

The magazine faced tough times in the early 1990s with the end of the Cold War and the filing of three lawsuits against it. It has rebuilt circulation to about 70,000 through widespread coverage foreign conflicts such as those in the Balkans, and through vigorous editorial attacks on gun control and the Clinton administration.

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