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Even more revealing, however, is Wilson's no-nonsense attitude. South Florida's more than 1,000 private security companies range in size and international influence. But they all tend to be run by men like Wilson, who are brutally realistic about life's dangers and the dollars it takes to avoid them. It's no coincidence that his company is called Risks Inc.
"Most people live in a bubble," he says. "But life can be fucking dangerous, yeah?"
Wilson grew up in an English fishing village in the soggy southwestern county of Cornwall (he refuses to say which one). His father was a fisherman, but Wilson preferred hunting rabbits and pigeons with his air rifle. By the time he was 17, he had decided to trade fishing boats for a battalion.
"I was used to being cold, tired, wet, and pissed off," he says. "I thought I might as well be cold, tired, wet, and pissed off in the Army, where I could at least have a gun."
He volunteered in 1989 for the Worcestershire and Sherwood Foresters Regiment, which was deployed to Omagh, Northern Ireland. The teenager found himself on the front lines of an armed conflict between British soldiers and the Irish Republican Army. "The under-the-car booby trap was one of their favorite weapons," Wilson says of the IRA. "If it didn't kill you, it'd take your legs off."
Living in Omagh, where three-fourths of the locals were Catholics who bitterly resented the British soldiers, Wilson gained a reputation as a hard man.
"He was known as 'Mad Willy' back then," says friend and former soldier Matt Trott. "Once [the veteran soldiers] tried to give Andy some grief. He just sat on the edge of his bed sharpening his knives and staring at them. That freaked them out."
Wilson was an excellent — if strange — soldier, Trott says. He was a good shot, he never grumbled, and he got the job done. Bizarrely, though, it was an act of desertion that elevated Wilson's badass reputation to legendary level. "He went AWOL to the French Foreign Legion," Trott explains. "He thought [the British Army] was too tame."
When the Foreign Legion discovered that Wilson was in the British Army, however, they sent him back. He spent 28 days in military jail for the stunt.
Soon afterward, Wilson and Trott were sent to a British military base in Dhekelia, Cyprus, which seemed like a Mediterranean vacation. The soldiers would spend a week or two at a time patrolling the mountains and then descend upon the island's discotheques and Swedish tourists. Trott and Wilson once spent a weekend in a Cypriot jail after a bar fight ended in a car wreck.
When the battalion headed back to England, Wilson met an American woman at a bar and later married her. He quit the military but still had the itch for action.
It was the spring of 1994, and South Africa was preparing for its first elections since the fall of apartheid. "Everybody said the place was going to blow. So I got a plane and went there," Wilson remembers. "Somebody handed me a rusty .357 [pistol] that would have fallen apart if I had shot it." The work was underpaid and overly dangerous but didn't last long. When Nelson Mandela's African National Congress party won power four months later, Wilson's visa was denied.
Back in England, he made a living protecting members of the Saudi and Qatari royal families. But he eventually tired of London. His wife's parents lived in Miami, and in late 2001 — with Ground Zero still smoldering — the couple moved across the Atlantic.
The marriage wouldn't last. But one thing would: Wilson would stay in South Florida. After all, it was a mercenary's wet dream.
On April 1, 2004, Americans awoke to strange and disturbing news. Footage emerged of an Iraqi mob literally tearing four Americans limb from limb. The burnt and blackened bodies were then hung from a bridge over the Euphrates as a young man held up a sign that said in English: "Fallujah is the graveyard of the Americans!"
The four dead Americans were neither U.S. military men nor civilians, but something in between. They were mercenaries paid to fight in Iraq by a mysterious private security company called Blackwater USA. The incident would spark a months-long U.S. assault on the city that claimed 122 American lives and killed more than 1,400 Iraqis.
The Blackwater slaughter also exposed the unprecedented role private security companies had assumed for the U.S. military. Blackwater was far from alone. Thousands of corporations sprang up to seize their share of the trillions of dollars suddenly being spent on security. And a large swath of that shadowy work has been awarded to private security companies — or PSCs — right here in Miami. According to the Beacon Council, Miami-Dade County is home to nearly 500 such corporations. South Florida as a whole boasts 1,010 PSCs, compared with 646 in the entire D.C.-Arlington-Alexandria area.
Miami's mercenary streak can be partly chalked up to low taxes and lush living standards, not to mention the short flight to island tax havens. But the biggest reason behind the boom is South Florida's proximity to some of the most dangerous places on earth, such as Mexico, Central America, Colombia, and Venezuela. Miami is more than the capital of Latin America; it's the region's panic room, where the rich and powerful hide out and hire body guards.