Call Sign Chopper: The Sequel

by Mark Rowe

Author: Chris Nott

ISBN No: Paperback: 978-1-916826-10-6 (also hardback and ebook)

Review date: 12/04/2024

No of pages: 228

Publisher: StoryUp Media

Publisher URL:
https://www.callsignchopper.com

Year of publication: 01/01/2024

Brief:

price

£-

Call Sign Chopper was one of the most vivid memoirs of private security life you could wish for. The author Chris Nott has written an equally unflinching sequel, which again features Haiti; and much else besides.

Readers may have left the first book in 2021 wondering if Haiti as described by Chris could get any more chaotic. The answer appears yes, given that the island has recently fallen further into anarchy, as gangs yet more explicitly take on the authorities. Like any travel book – Marco Polo’s of China, Boswell and Johnson on the Scottish Hebrides – Chris Nott’s memoir serves a double purpose; not only is it a window on the exotic abroad, it allows us a fresh perspective on our relative peace. For example, while guarding forces may be weary of protesters about numerous causes, guards don’t have to face what Chris describes midway through his sequel. A ‘manifestation’, a phenomenon of Haiti that we encountered in the first book:

The front runners of the mob could be clearly seen now, some carrying machetes and some brandishing handguns. I couldn’t make out their chant. Pierre
[a colleague, holding an M4 rifle beside Chris] translated: “If Preval is not president, the bourgeois will die”.

The mob passes by; Chris realises that their building won’t be assaulted. He breaks off to make himself and Pierre a coffee. That’s life as a security contractor, or indeed any paid contractor, in Haiti all over; you are not there to make the place any better; that’s too big a job, even if it is supposed to be your role; staying alive is the most you can hope for. The Haiti Chris shares with us isn’t entirely anarchic (although the United Nations troops are ‘generally ineffective’); when he bumps a car from the US embassy, the ‘feared cops’ watch with amusement, which keeps the crowds at a distance. It’s violent enough, however; in passing he mentions several robberies and executions of security personnel driving at night going on a stretch of road between two hotels (‘dressed in the distinctive “uniform” of safari type vest and combat trousers, the hallmark of the close protection industry’).

And it’s corrupt; if you want treatment in a Haitian hospital (not that any westerner in their right mind would), you have to pay for treatment, although not the security guard with a shotgun at the entrance (if only because he’s asleep). Talking of the cops, once he intervenes to call off a man threatening an on-street prostitute, to learn that the attempted rapist was an off-duty cop. As for what you would do if you had your mobile phone stolen, Chris learns from a Haitian that it wouldn’t do to expect anything from the police: ‘Maybe if you pay them something they might go with you to get your phone.’

Preval, to return to the candidate, does become president, which passes off quietly enough (apart from a riot in the prison in the capital Port Au Prince, which left an ‘undisclosed number’ dead). This president or that doesn’t seem to matter much; public services? Haiti doesn’t have ambulances, taxis carry you to hospital, and if you can’t pay, your body stays where it is. The armed chimères, ‘the local politically-inclined street gangs’ carry out murders and kidnaps (even speaking about it on the radio). Everybody’s at it. When Chris drives clients to the beach one Sunday, he ignores villagers’ barricades on the route, ‘trying to extort money from wealthy beach goers. I just bore down on them, forcing them to dive out of the way’, because if he stopped, he might be robbed or kidnapped. And yet on occasion Haiti can be entrancing; once at the seaside, he orders langoustine fresh from the sea, and beer, alongside Brazilian UN troops pumping out music to dance to.

Chris’ work in Haiti ends and he returns to the UK. He’s back in Bristol, where he had been a policeman until 1995:

I was in a good financial position. In my terms, I had made it. I had taken some huge risks, been under fire, faced and seen death on a number of occasions. It was so relaxing to know that now my life was together and I could take things easy, because that was what you were supposed to do when you were 57, wasn’t it?

There is the life and motivation of many in the military side of private security contracting, summed up; the money may have been good – many thousands of pounds a month – but (like combat) it, while terrible, had an appeal that was hard to shake. He goes into anti-piracy work in the later 2000s, when Somali pirates were at work in the Gulf of Aden and Indian Ocean: ‘My spirit was still restless. One last big job? I needed to do something.’

That something was first unarmed security on cargo ships ‘probed’ by Somali skiffs; the first, improvised defences were scrap metal from the decks (to throw at the pirates) and lobbing paint tins with fuel over the pirates and their vessels, and then threatening to set them alight with a flare. On a moonlit night a skiff comes in and Chris and the other mercenaries deploy; as according to protocol the crew go into a ‘citadel’ (safe room).

We take it in turns to quickly stand up with our weapons held aloft above our heads in both hands. We are exposed for probably less than two seconds each. It was at this point that I expected the skiff to either drop back or veer off back to the mother ship but no, it held its course. It was now about 50 metres away from us and doggedly closing.

The security men fire a warning shot twice, but the skiff is still around. Once it gets under the shelter of the overhanging stern, it can throw grappling hooks onto the deck; then it could be combat. When the skiff gives automatic gunfire, the ship security team respond in kind. Arguably the next minutes are the most tense, as the team wait and then scout, finding nothing. Either the skiff went away or they sank it.

Chris wrote that he didn’t mind being a team leader, or member; ‘for me it was all about the adventure, but others sought the prestige and the extra money’. That adventure included being prepared when the unexpected happened, a lesson for anyone in new or unusual places. You’re in a bar and the lights go out suddenly? Chris in Columbo, the capital of Sri Lanka grabbed his beer with his left hand and his right hand covered his wallet in the right rear pocket of his jeans, in case the darkness was a cover for robbers (who might also spill his beer!?).

Where does the book end, after stories of detention over a visa violation in Ukraine (which cost hundreds of dollars to fix), Madagascar, Mombasa, and a charitable piece of building work in Zimbabwe? Naturally, wearing an SIA (Security Industry Authority) licence around his neck, doing security at the O2 Academy in Bristol. Concert security and stewarding is done by 10.30am and while Chris goes home (relatively) early, other SIA badge-holders go on to work at a city centre nightclub. Chris pulled ‘the public relations job’:

The patrol was to appease residents who had complained of antisocial behaviour by club leavers wending their way to the city centre for the late night eateries and taxis home. The usual catalogue of complaints was noise, urinating and the occasional fight. I could cope with that and the £40 on top of the gig money would make the night more worthwhile.

Readers of Chris by now should realise that his jobs don’t go that smoothly. At 2am he is unable to de-escalate a pair of loud youths who threaten him. After punching them, he related:

I’m yelling and chasing them, kicking them both up their asses. I had lost it. It was hard work running and kicking them both, so after about 50 metres I gave up. I turned and walked back into Orchard Street breathing hard. As I regained my breath I looked up. I spotted the close circuit television cameras. It dawned on me that my exploits had been captured on film. I stood there expecting the police to arrive but they didn’t. I had learnt my lesson; I needed to ease out of the more robust type of security work.

It’s a vivid, important and telling story. As he added in the next chapter, he ‘was close to burnout with confrontational work’. When shortly after the Bristol night episode, he was working at the Glastonbury open-air festival as one of the night shift eviction officers, processing hundreds of visitors who had broken the rules, Chris got wound up by one and threw him out of the portable cabin (‘the next few clients were rather subdued’). While the young man didn’t make a complaint, Chris realised he had been stupid and had become a liability, as did his colleague, who advised “that I had a very narrow escape and that I really must get out of hard contact security”. I suggest this passage is a brave one for Chris to have told, and all too true. He has since used his first aid qualifications; he signed up with a private ambulance company, and has worked seasonally for UK Border Force, among other things. And indeed written his two most enjoyable and worthwhile memoirs.

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