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Saturday, January 12, 2008

Savin' the blondes!

Blackwater saves the day in Kenya!
By Bill Sizemore
The Virginian-Pilot
© January 8, 2008

Yeah, I'm totally lagging here. lol.

Blackwater rocks! How can you NOT love 'em!

Blackwater may have its detractors, but one father in Michigan is singing the company's praises this week.

The Moyock, N.C.-based private military company evacuated three young Michigan women from an orphanage in a remote Kenyan village after a disputed election Dec. 27 set off a wave of violence that has left hundreds of Kenyans dead.

The three women arrived safely in Grand Rapids, Mich., on Monday.

Blackwater security contractors are under investigation for a September incident that left at least 17 Iraqi civilians dead. But Dean VanderMey said Tuesday that he has seen the company's humanitarian side.

"It wasn't the image that most people have of Blackwater," VanderMey said. "These were dedicated men, professionals, just saying, 'We know how to help people in times like this.' "

VanderMey runs Set Free Ministries, a nondenominational Christian ministry based in Grand Rapids that has operations in Africa. His daughters Brittanie, 21, and Aubrie, 19, and a friend, Jamie Cook, 20, had been volunteering at the Kenyan orphanage on a mission trip since Dec. 1.

They had planned to stay through February. But after the violence erupted, VanderMey spent five frantic days trying to find a way to get them out.

"There were towns all around them burning," he said. "I don't even think the kids knew how much danger they were in."

Unable to locate a helicopter or airplane to pick them up, VanderMey called his mother, who reached Blackwater founder Erik Prince through a mutual friend, U.S. Rep. Vernon Ehlers, R-Grand Rapids. Prince grew up in Holland, Mich., about 30 miles from Grand Rapids.

Soon, VanderMey said, he got a phone call from Prince, who told him, "We're going to do everything we can do to get your girls out."

A Blackwater employee flew from Afghanistan to Kenya to run the operation, VanderMey said. The company located a 10-passenger single-engine plane, which picked up the women at an airstrip near the orphanage in the village of Kimilili and flew them 185 miles to Nairobi, the Kenyan capital, where they got a commercial flight home.

VanderMey paid the charter fee for the plane, but Blackwater charged him nothing for its services.

"Erik wouldn't hear of it," VanderMey said. "He said, 'This has nothing to do with money. This is about getting Americans out of harm's way.'

"They got it done. I was pretty impressed."