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Ivy Leaguers Leave Lebanon First and Fast Through Private Security Firms Print

 July 21, 2006 Ingrid Anid, Astrid Hill & Lara Setrakian Report:

When fighting broke out in Lebanon, college students studying there for the summer anxiously awaited their turn to evacuate. As it turns out, if you were an Ivy League student in Beirut, your turn came first.Among those enrolled in the summer Arabic program at the American University of Beirut, students told ABC News, those from Harvard, Yale and Princeton were in the first group evacuated – by high-end private security firms. Students from other American schools were left behind, waiting it out for days while the U.S. embassy formulated its plan.

A.G. Leventhal, a Junior and Near Eastern Languages concentrator at Harvard University, was enrolled in summer classes at AUB when bombs began falling on southern Beirut. Leventhal was immediately contacted by Harvard and informed of the International SOS service, which would begin evacuation the next day.

While Leventhal and his cohorts were being bussed or flown to safety, other students were told to stay put as bombs falling nearby shook their dorm rooms.

The students left behind recall their frustration and a feeling of isolation. One student who wanted to remain anonymous for security reasons said, "It was unfair that the private, wealthy schools were afforded the luxury of a quick evacuation." Both her university and her government, she says, failed to help her out of a dangerous situation.

With the growth in American students studying abroad in the Middle East, some schools are turning to private security companies to protect their students where they cannot.

Harvard, Princeton and Yale are insured by International SOS and Medex, two private security companies.

Arriving with well-equipped teams, these companies arranged everything for students from land- and air-route evacuations, to hotel rooms, to cold bottles of water at the Syrian border.

"International SOS did a fantastic job," says Robert Mitchell, Director of Communications at Harvard University.

Customer satisfaction with the American government: not quite so high.

The Beirut situation "has shown how horrible the State Department has been in evacuating people…keeping people informed and not causing a state of panic," wrote Leventhal in an e-mail to ABC News.

In a public announcement, the State Department stated, "The U.S. Government is using all resources possible to facilitate the speedy and safe departure of American citizens currently in Lebanon using every means available."

But luckily for Leventhal, his Harvard status kept him safer, sooner.   - July 24, 2006

Certain personalities seem cut out to be security contractors.

Alpha-dog types are prevalent. They’re confident, focused and adventurous. They usually have military backgrounds, often with special operations experience. Most tend to be patriotic, conservative and meticulous. They’re in their mid-30s, married, with children.

“I served with a 59-year-old contractor over in Iraq,” said Bill Go, an instructor at Blackwater. “He’s the oldest I’ve ever known. I guess it all just depends on how your body holds up.”

Staying in shape is a matter of pride. Burly builds are useful for public impressions, but they’re not universal. For all their larger-than-life image, many contractors are average-size guys – fit, but nothing out of the ordinary.

“The days of the 350-pound security guard are pretty much gone,” said Kelly Capeheart, a former Blackwater contractor who lives in Atlanta. “A lot of people want security now, but they don’t want it to be obvious. It’s hard not to notice those big guys.”

Years of training make up for the lack of bulk. Contractors carry a weapon with the same careful ease that a mother cradles her child. They don’t freeze when bullets come their way. When a bad guy is caught in their gunsights, he’s a “target” – not a person. That makes it easier to pull the trigger and still sleep well.

“We are not killing machines,” Capeheart said. “We’re training machines.”

Go says resourcefulness is another valued trait:

“We look for guys who can think on their feet. The kind that if an emergency appendectomy had to be done, you could hand them a book, come back an hour later, and the surgery would be over.”

Money is a major motivation for contractors, but many describe themselves as adrenaline junkies, too.

Slavko Ilic, 39, has been in the private military business for 16 years. He divides his time between Iraq – where he works high-risk VIP protection details – and Moyock, where he runs training classes. He itches for the war zone regularly.

“If this is what you do,” Ilic said, “there’s nothing like being there – in the moment, on the edge, beating the odds.”

He compared the urge to that of a race car driver or skydiver: “It’s the challenge. The excitement of putting all your skills to the test.”

IIic said his profession is also about service:

“When you preserve the life of an important person – someone who is pivotal to making things better – you’ve accomplished something.”

As might be expected, Ilic’s wife isn’t crazy about his line of work.

“She’d like me to stay home,” Ilic said. “But my job is my passion. Every fiber of my being loves what I do. It’s what I am. It’s who I am.” 

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