I was enjoying my vacation in Sardinia, Italy, when an old friend texted me.  Dennis asked if I wanted to go out to the range with him and his guys, a group of counter-piracy contractors, in a few weeks.  The range was about three hours south of Milan in Castel Del Rio, the site of a major battle between the US Army and the Nazis during World War Two.  As I came to find out, you can still find belts of MG-3 machine gun ammo and Thompson sub-machine gun magazines by scouring the countryside.  Of course I was down for it, busting some caps sounded like the perfect way to wrap up vacation.

When I met up with Dennis, he was on the phone as usual, talking business.  EMT course certifications, weapons certifications, and every other thing you can imagine.  Since I met him years prior, Dennis has been hard at work getting his group of private security contractors, called the Orion Group, off the ground.  They have achieved some great successes and are one of the few groups of Italians who had conducted counter-piracy missions, standing guard in merchant vessels going through the Gulf of Aden.

In reality, it is very rare for these ships to come under attack, but it did happen to Dennis on one of his trips.  He told me the old Ukrainian ship captain grabbed a rifle and was ready to shoot himself a pirate.  Thankfully, it didn’t come to that.  Today, piracy is way down off the coast of Somalia.  Nigeria uses their own people for security against the Niger Delta Avengers, with just a few Westerners there in a unarmed supervisory role.  With that said, business is down and Dennis is looking for other security contracts.

For those looking for a real life insider view of the facts about maritime security contracting, I suggesting reading parts one and two of my series on the subject.

We arrived at Castel del Rio late at night and I met up with rest of the contractors at a local bar before driving up the range.  This place is out in the middle of nowhere, on a 140 acre plot of land called Dark Horse Ranch.  In the past, the property had been used as a milk and cheese factory, now partially converted into space for classrooms and barracks.  There was even a fireplace for our BBQ the next night.


I didn’t fully grasp the size of scope of the range until Dennis took me for a tour during the day.  Dark Horse Ranch is a very, very unique training facility.  Several open areas serve as flat ranges, others can be used to shoot and maneuver on.  Because it used to be a factory, there are large oblong buildings with overhead cover.  One has already been converted into a sort of open air range with a rooftop, the others will be in the future.

The property has other unique training opportunities because there are a number of abandoned buildings as well, including a massive villa straight out of a WWII movie.  With tables, chairs, and other furnishings still present, and the villa itself tucked into the pocket of a valley surrounded by trees; it looks like the type of place that a mafia don would use to hide from the authorities.  Dennis has plans to acquire realistic airsoft rifles so that students can practice room clearing and even do force on force training.  Nearby, is also an abandoned chapel and a two more buildings that were for groundskeepers.