The continent of Africa in the 1990s was a cauldron of warlords, failed states, and genocide. From the Rwandan genocide in the east to the decades-long civil war in Angola in the west, to the changes in post-apartheid government of South Africa, people were dying, dictators oppressed their own people, and the continent cried out for solutions.

The world’s first reaction was to send in the blue helmets of the United Nations, which normally brought a trail of bureaucracy, illicit trade, and impotency. Opportunists of all sorts, from arms manufacturers to dealers in blood diamonds, sought to profit off the immoral killing and plundering of the common villager. Instability reigned supreme.

Those soldiers and militaries from the U.N. fared poorly in their attempts to intervene and advise in these conflict zones, much less to “keep the peace.” Those soldiers from the nation of South Africa who had come through 20-plus years of fighting in familiar terrain and climate conditions, and against familiar hostile combatants, knew that to bring certain conflicts under control required African soldiers.

Enter Executive Outcomes. EO has come to represent nearly everything both good and bad about private military companies. Yet the true story is known by very few. Many journalists still mistakenly believe and print that it still exists. Other charlatans with no association with the PMC have used the name to start businesses or claimed to have worked in the conflicts associated with EO, attempting to gain employment or company contracts.

Eeben Barlow has published a book chronicling EO’s inception, contracts, and closure in his book “Against All Odds.” He tells the story from the founder and CEO’s position. It is a fascinating true story. Movies have been made, novels published, and recently, even a graphic novel has been published claiming to tell their story. Colonel (ret.) Roelf Van Heerden takes us inside the operations in Angola and Sierra Leone in his book “Four Ball One Tracer: Commanding Executive Outcomes in Angola and Sierra Leone.”

Colonel Van Heerden has soldiered for more than 40 years on the continent of Africa. In his book, he takes us through his military history and quickly paces us into the recruitment, clandestine travel, and initial landings in Angola through to EO’s final mission dismantling the RUF.

International powers that be and the U.N. were afraid of EO’s incredible performance with a minimum of personnel, equipment, and time. They put pressure on Sierra Leone and other countries to end any associations or contracts with Executive Outcomes using threats and intimidation to end world support for embattled nations. There would be no monetary loans or military assistance if they continued to allow these ‘white mercenaries’ to work and protect their nations.

Colonel Van Heerden was gracious enough to allow me to interview him about his long and storied career, which continues on today: He’s now working counter-piracy missions around the Horn of Africa. He commanded the effective release of the crew of ICEBERG 1 after 32 months of captivity, and he continues his work ‘somewhere’ in that part of the world. For more on his life story, check out his book, “Four Ball One Tracer” (it is available on Amazon in paper or a very affordable Kindle edition). Whether you are a serious student of irregular warfare in Africa or simply want to understand how the first modern private military company operated and won conflicts, this book is without equal.