Mercenary Schools: From Hired Gun Training to 'High Adventure'FRED BAYLES , Associated Press
Jun. 29, 1985 11:46 AM ET
UNDATED Undated (AP) _ ''LIVE OR DIE. The Choice is Yours.''
The choice can be found in the backwoods of Alabama, the mountains of Colorado and the desert of Arizona. It can cost $2,500. It can turn you into a hired assassin or merely bolster a Walter Mitty ego.
It is a paramilitary school, offering courses in weaponry, hand-to-hand combat, how to set up an ambush, ways of rigging booby traps, and even sniper techniques.
No one keeps records on the schools, but a check of magazines like ''Soldier of Fortune,'' ''Gung-Ho,'' and ''New Breed,'' revealed advertisements like ''LIVE OR DIE'' for more than a dozen schools in Alabama, Arizona, Colorado, Illinois, Indiana, New Mexico, New York, North Carolina, Mississippi and Missouri.
''It's a very popular thing these days,'' said Harry Belil, editor of New Breed, who estimates there may be as many as 25 such schools in the country.
''Ten years ago we had the cycle with hippies and long hair and the ultra- leftists. Now it's everybody gung-ho,'' he said.
The schools range in quality and price, from a $2,500, two-week session in Pittsview, Ala., to a ''mercenary course'' that costs $300 for five days in the North Carolina woods.
One school, Frank Camper Jr.'s Recondo School in Dolomite, Ala., came to national attention last week when it was learned one of his former students was a Sikh extremist being sought for his connection with an alleged plot to assassinate Indian Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi and for questioning in the possible bombing of an Air India jumbo jet that went down off the coast of Ireland last week.
Sen. Jeremiah Denton, R-Ala., says his Senate subcommittee on terrorism will investigate such schools.
''I believe much more needs to be done in this area to find out what camps exist, what they are teaching and what laws apply and should (apply) to get control over these camps,'' he said last week.
''All you can train somebody to be in five days is a corpse,'' said Jim Morris, editor of Eagle magazine and a 10-year veteran of the Special Forces.
Federal officials say the schools are within the law. Even instruction in automatic weapons is legal as long as they are licensed.
''There is nothing against the law about grown men putting on fatigues and blackface and going out in the woods and playing war,'' said John Russell, a Justice Department spokesman. ''You could even consider the Boy Scouts a paramilitary group.''
The schools offer different things for different people.
Bill Waldron, a former Special Forces soldier, runs the Rocky Mountain Commando School in Hotchkiss, Colo. It offers seven days of scuba diving, parachuting, survival and martial arts lessons. Firearms training is not included.
Waldron said his students, who pay $1,700 for the week, ''are in the 40-to- 50 age bracket who haven't done anything exciting in their lives.''
In Mooresville, N.C., the Commando School charges $300 for a five-day ''mercenary course'' in ambush tactics, knife fighting, infiltration and ''sentry removal.'' Students receive instruction on semi-automatic weapons, mines and grenades.
''We have just plain people who want to go into the mercenary field and Vietnam veterans looking for the high they get off this kind of thing,'' said the school's ''commanding officer'' who identified himself as ''Col. Patton.''
Patton, who said he served in the Marines and as a mercenary in what is now Zimbabwe in southern Africa, says he has taught construction workers, doctors and foreign nationals.
''We do some screening,'' he said. ''We do not allow communists in.''
Bill Guthrie, executive editor of Soldier of Fortune, says his magazine has little to do with the schools.
''People call us and say 'I want to be a professional soldier, where can I go?' We tell them to join the Army. There is no private school that can turn out a soldier in 10 days.''
Even some school operators question the claims of some camps.
''It's ridiculous to think you can train mercenaries in that period of time,'' says Harry Claflin, a former Marine with special unit training who operates the Starlight Training School near Liberal, Mo. ''If you were a foreign power, would you hire someone who took a five-day course to be a commando?''
Claflin offers courses in firearms and has weaponless ''high adventure'' backpacking trips where students learn how to live off the land. He also has special programs limited to those on active duty or reserve status with the armed forces.
While most schools operate within the law, officials have acted against some.
In April, FBI and police blockaded a camp operated by an Arkansas survivalist group for four days before arresting five members of the Covenant, the Sword and the Arm of the Lord. Police seized automatic weapons, explosives and 30 gallons of cyanide poison.
''Some of these schools are operated by people who are on the edge of hate groups. Training by the Klan and other people of that ilk get some attention,'' says Jack Killorin, a spokesman for the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms.
But Killorin says his agency keeps a hands-off attitude toward the majority of schools: ''We're not going to get involved in the people's right to do lawful things and people have the right to assemble and go off to live in the woods and fire guns.''