"Make no mistake about it," the white Zimbabwe Army officer said with contempt, "Robert Mugabe is a totalitarian Marxist ideologue."
Yet two months ago Lt. Willard Fleetwood of Mill City, Ore., risked his life along with hundreds of other soldiers to put down a military revolt against Prime Minister Mugabe's government in this southern African country.
Fleetwood is one of about 10 Americans still left in the Zimbabwe Army even though the people they came here to fight have now taken power through elections. At the peak of fighting in the Rhodesian bush war in 1978 and 1979, there were about 200 Americans serving here.
Why does he continue to serve in an army now controlled by his former enemy? For Fleetwood the answer is simple: loyalty to his "boys," the predominantly black Rhodesian African Rifles in which he is an acting company commander.
The RAR was part of the Rhodesian military that fought first for the illegal breakaway government led by prime minister Ian Smith and then for the short-lived white-controlled regime of Bishop Abel Muzorewa. "I couldn't just say [to his RAR buddies], 'Well, you lost the election. Let us know how it comes out" and then leave, Fleetwood said.
He was interviewed while checking roadblocks manned by troops he commands in Alpha company of the 1st Battalion of the RAR. The roadblocks are designed to stop movement of weapons and thus avoid a recurrence of intertribal warfare that the RAR crushed near Bulawayo two months ago.
Fleetwood said he had had no problems with the new government, despite his allegiance to the former administration. Although no pressure had been applied, most of the American soldiers have left of their own volition in the last year.
Militarily, the government has had its hands full trying to integrate the two former guerrilla armies, one loyal to Mugabe and the other faithful to his nominal coalition partner, Joshua Nkomo. Most of the RAR has remained outside the difficult integration process while being retained as a Praetorian Guard for the government.
In the February fighting about 300 former guerrillas, some already in the integrated Army, were killed. Fleetwood figures his company probably accounted for at least 15 "kills" in the African township of Entumbane on the outskirts of Bulawayo.
At the time, the mustachioed officer joked with reporters that his forces were applying a "Pax RAR" in the tribally divided nation. The 6-foot, 210 pound Oregonian, slightly going to fat, added that "during the war it took us three weeks on foot to find these turkeys. Now we can jump in a truck shoot them and be back at the barracks for lunch."
The RAR has killed more former guerrillas in the first year of independence, he said, than in the last year of the war. "The 300 during Entumbane in February put us over the top."
Fleetwood sprays his language with terms like "gooks" to refer to his former enemy turned boss, just like the white Rhodesian soldiers who fought so long to keep Mugabe from power. He also shares their generally derogatory attitude toward the former guerrillas and their political leanings.
He is sharply critical, however, of the soldiers in the now-disbanded all-white Rhodesian Light Infantry, most of whom left the Army and the country.
"The RLI gapped it [fled]. Because we stayed the RAR has remained a viable unit. . . . The government had accepted our boys."
There is another, more personal reason, for Fleetwood's continued presence in Zimbabwe.
"I'm a soldier by trade," he explained. "What I do is lead a platoon -- 30 to 40 men. Without bragging, I'm good at it. This is where the trade is being practiced at its zenith.
"In the U.S. Army you can't make a trade out of being a platoon leader. Here was an Army fighting a cause I didn't disagree with and I could be a platoon leader."
Fleetwood, a supporter of the American Libertarian Party, said he was in the U.S. Army from 1975 to 1979 after getting his commission through the Reserve Officers Training Corps at Oregon State University in Corvallis, Ore.
He served one year in South Korea and three years with a ranger battalion at Ft. Lewis, Wash., before joining the Rhodesian forces in October 1979. Even though it is hardly regulation, he wears his U.S. ranger patch and paratrooper wings on his Zimbabwe Army camouflage uniform.
Somewhat sadly, he noted that every time he gets into an army a war ends. "Just as I went into the U.S. Army, Vietnam ended. I got here just as this war finished."
"I'm thinking of signing on with the United Nations," he joked, since his presence seemed to bring about peace. "This country is in the hands of people who are going to destroy it," Fleetwood said and added that he will be looking for another war soon.
"You can call me a mercenary if you want, but don't say I'm in it for the money." He maintained he has lost money fighting here, but his bottom line is that he likes leading men in war.
"I don't see a lot of problems in finding another war to fight," he said. He would be willing to fight in Afghanistan, El Salvador or Thailand but he lamented that "They don't need platoon leaders" there.
Fleetwood already had his next year war picked out. He said he will go south soon to join in South African Army to fight in the guerrilla war in Namibia. "Sounds like fun," he said.