US: Profile of a Private Security Worker in Iraq

One respects him for his work and taking responsibility for children. Another sees him like a fraternity brother. All recognized him as suffering human foibles, but acknowledged his attempts to overcome them. All but one were named by Blanchard as people
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Shelbyville times-Gazette

As an employee of a military contractor, Rick Blanchard isn't usually in Shelbyville, although he claims this city as his home and the place where he's raising five children from his ex-wife's previous marriage.

A former employer, former co-worker, business acquaintance, fellow church member and a lay minister remember Blanchard and described him for the Times-Gazette.

One respects him for his work and taking responsibility for children. Another sees him like a fraternity brother. All five recognized him as suffering human foibles, but acknowledged his attempts to overcome them. All but one were named by Blanchard as people who know him here. Their recollections paint a picture of a multi-faceted man with a story worth hearing.

Harris Middle School physical education teacher and girls basketball coach Mark Potts worked with Blanchard in the early 1990s at one of the Mark Pirtle auto dealerships in Shelbyville. Potts was a salesman and Blanchard was the finance and insurance man.

"In the last couple of years, we ran into each other at Legends (a North Main Street restaurant) when he was working for Mark Pirtle again," Potts said. "He'd gone through an ugly divorce.

"I don't know whether he brings it on himself ... but he has had a run of bad luck with women and I'm not sure he made all the right decisions. Then last fall ... he pulled a 'Typical Rick.' He just up and left.

"He was sort of a loner when I first got to know him, but we spent a Thanksgiving in 1992 or '93 at my mother's house," Potts said.

"When I got wrapped up in teaching and coaching, I didn't have time" for many other activities, Potts said. "But then there was that night ... It was like meeting an old fraternity brother."

Potts said he was surprised to hear Blanchard could "be in a jam with Marines given his background.

"I would think they'd see Rick as on our side, but I'm not familiar with the military lifestyle. When he did talk about the military, I could tell that he enjoyed that kind of life."

Michael M. Shofner, son of the late Brig. Gen. Austin C. Shofner, said he met Blanchard through business in Shelbyville, where Blanchard has lived for 8-10 years, a variable time "because he was off with the French Foreign Legion for about 1-1/2 years."

They were reacquainted, "probably in February," when their paths crossed at Harvey's Gym on North Main Street.

"He was getting back in shape to go overseas," said Shofner, recalling Blanchard as a "loyal father" of five children from a woman he married after she'd been in another relationship.

"He has a good heart."

Blanchard had a "strong love" for his wife, but she left him, Shofner said, and rather than put the children with grandparents, he assumed responsibility.

That took money and he found high-paying -- but risky -- work.

"It's a way to serve your country and make some money," Shofner said of private security work overseas. "I don't think badly of them. Anybody who serves in Iraq and Afghanistan ... has my respect.

"It's admirable that he's trying to serve his country and make money to help his children."

When told Blanchard reported he's been held by the Marines, Shofner said, "I'm glad he's out of jail and that he was detained by U.S. forces instead of insurgents."

Other American security officers have been killed and their bodies were put on display by insurgents.

"If they were held (by Marines) for weeks, then maybe" it should be upsetting, Shofner said. Perhaps Iraqi residents in the group were mistaken for insurgents, Shofner speculated.

"I look forward to seeing him at the gym when he gets back," Shofner said.

Wilbert Nelson, a lay minister who lives on Greenbrier Avenue, says he met Blanchard while ministering to inmates in Bedford County Jail about 8-9 years ago.

A search of Bedford County Sessions Court record books revealed at least half a dozen charges of passing worthless checks and a speeding ticket against Blanchard.

Blanchard said the checks were passed "from a friend of mine when I was in the Legion," but that explanation wasn't accepted, "so I took a 30-day plea just to get it behind me," although similar circumstances arose in Manchester. But, with money for a lawyer and a detective, those issues were resolved.

Nelson has offered jail ministry on Sundays and says Blanchard "got saved in jail," but Blanchard says he became religious while he was in the French Foreign Legion.

Blanchard's former employer hired him again, Nelson said.

"He married a blond girl with kids," Nelson said. "The old boy straightened up and did right."

Nelson says he knows about Blanchard because "One day he broke down and told me everything."

Pirtle confirmed he's employed Blanchard and knows of his work for private security firms.

"He's been in Iraq for a year," Pirtle said. "He's e-mailed me a bunch of pictures.

"He was in special finance," Pirtle said of a job dealers have for customers with credit problems.

Meanwhile, a member of Shelbyville Mills Baptist Church confirmed he knew Blanchard, but was reluctant to speak as an authority about him, although they participated in some fellowship activities together.

AMP Section Name:War & Disaster Profiteering
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