(E) A funeral at St. Paul Croatian Church
A funeral service will likely be held at St. Paul Croatian Church in Cleveland
Ohio veteran is among the four civilians killed in Iraq
By JENNY MAY and JOHN ARTHUR HUTCHISON , Journal Register Co. 04/02/2004
TIMBERLAKE, Ohio -- He was determined to do what he felt was right, despite what others thought, and that made former Euclid and Timberlake, Ohio, resident Jerry Zovko stand out, his younger brother said.
Zovko, a 32-year-old Euclid High School graduate, was one of four civilians killed Wednesday in Fallujah, Iraq.
The deaths made headlines for the brutality surrounding them. After the four Americans were killed in an ambush by insurgents, residents of the unruly town burned and mutilated the corpses, according to the U.S. military.
Zovko had been in Iraq for about a year, working as a security consultant for Moyock, N.C.-based Blackwater Security Consultants.
Among other jobs in Iraq, members of Blackwater Security help guard L. Paul Bremer, head of the U.S. occupation authority in Iraq.
Zovko served in the Army's 82nd Airborne unit and Rangers from 1991 to 1997, said his brother, Tom Zovko, who lives in Timberlake. Zovko's parents, Jozo (Joe) and Danica (Donna) of Eastlake, did not wish to comment.
Donna Zovko, however, told the Associated Press she and her husband suspected their son was one of the dead late Wednesday evening because he had been working in Iraq. Their fears were confirmed early yesterday when the president of Blackwater USA knocked on their door and told them their son had died.
''It was the hardest day of my life,'' Donna Zovko said.
''Jerry was a man with a principle, an idea,'' his mother said. ''He loved people. He wanted the world to be without borders, for everybody to be free and safe.''
Tom Zovko said his brother had an independent streak and always followed his dreams.
''He was a great person,'' Tom Zovko said. ''He did everything to the highest. He was a truly exceptional person. He did what he wanted and no one could stop him.''
Zovko performed several duties in Iraq, including being a military police officer and a bodyguard and setting up security where it was needed, his brother said.
Although the family had been concerned when Zovko went to Iraq, he insisted on going because he enjoyed his work, said Tom Zovko.
''He really took it very seriously,'' Tom Zovko said. ''He made a career out of it.'' The Zovko brothers grew up in Euclid, and the family later moved to Timberlake.
Tom Zovko said the family is waiting to hear when Zovko's body will be flown home. A funeral service will likely be held at St. Paul Croatian Church in Cleveland, he said.
Timberlake Village Mayor John Roskos extended his sympathy to the family yesterday.
''My condolences go out to the family,'' Roskos said. ''They've got a hard time with it right now. It's a shame.''
U.S. Rep. Steven C. LaTourette, R-Madison Village, spoke with the family yesterday and expressed his condolences and offered his assistance, said spokeswoman Deborah Setliff.
Out of respect for the family's privacy, LaTourette would not provide any additional details about his conversation, Setliff said.
Gov. Bob Taft said Zovko's service was important to his country.
''Jerry Zovko was performing a very vital role in Iraq,'' Taft said. ''His tragic death underscores the fact that the United States must continue to do everything possible to provide stability to a deeply troubled region and to prevent Iraq from becoming a haven for international terrorism.''
Blackwater is one of a number of security firms, many comprised of former special forces troops from the United States and Britain, that have won contracts with the U.S. occupation authority to provide security services.
The company did not release the names of the four victims.
''We grieve today for the loss of our colleagues, and we pray for their families,'' according to a statement posted yesterday on the company's Web site.
''The graphic images of the unprovoked attack and subsequent heinous mistreatment of our friends exhibits the extraordinary conditions under which we voluntarily work to bring freedom and democracy to the Iraqi people.
''Coalition forces and civilian contractors and administrators work side by side every day with the Iraqi people to provide essential goods and services like food, water, electricity and vital security to the Iraqi citizens and coalition members. Our tasks are dangerous and while we feel sadness for our fallen colleagues, we also feel pride and satisfaction that we are making a difference for the people of Iraq.''
A memorial fund has been established by Blackwater to support the victim's families.
All memorial gifts will be documented and appropriately acknowledged with due regard to the wishes of the donor and the nature of the contribution, the statement said.
Contributions may be mailed to Memorial Fund, P.O. Box 159, Moyock, NC 27958. Make checks payable to ''Memorial Fund.''
The Associated Press contributed to this report
©The Morning Journal 2004
Donna Zovko holds a photo of her son Jerry Zovko, 32, of Ohio. He was one of four American contract workers killed in Fallujah, Iraq, on Wednesday. JOHN KUNTZ/ASSOCIATED PRESS.
By JOANNE KIMBERLIN, The Virginian-Pilot
© April 2, 2004
Special ops guys live their lives under the radar.
They die that way as well – unless their families choose otherwise.
On Thursday, Blackwater Security Consulting refused to release the identities of its four employees killed and mutilated Wednesday in Iraq.
The Moyock, N.C.-based company said its decision was made to protect the privacy of the families of those killed.
By Thursday night, three families had come forward to publicly acknowledge the loss of their sons. The three men have been identified as Jerry Zovko of Ohio, Michael Teague of Tennessee, and Scott Helvenston of Florida. Zovko and Teague were with the Army’s airborne special forces before joining Blackwater.
Jerry Zovko of Ohio had been a member of the special forces in the 82nd Airborne Division at Fort Bragg in North Carolina.
Michael Teague of Clarksville, Tenn., had been a 12-year Army veteran. Teague was a member of the 160th Special Operations Aviation Regiment.
Scott Helvenston of Florida served with the Navy SEALs for 12 years. He also was an actor and stunt man.
Helvenston was a Navy SEAL.
Reports say the unidentified contractor was also a former SEAL. Blackwater would not comment on those reports.
Moyock lies just across the state line from Chesapeake, and employs many former military and police officers from Hampton Roads. Most work as independent contractors, gathering information and guarding VIPs and convoys in hot spots around the globe.
The nature of what they do fosters a culture of secrecy already ingrained by years of undercover work for the government.
The four ambushed Wednesday were said to be escorting food shipments in the Fallujah area, about 30 miles west of Baghdad.
Jamie Smith, a former vice president of Blackwater who left the firm in 2002 to start his own security company, says he wrote Blackwater’s “no names” policy – a practice also followed at Smith’s new business, SCG International Risk, based in Virginia Beach.
Compassion for the families is uppermost, Smith said. Safety is right on its heels.
“The enemy may have contacts in the U.S.,” Smith said, “and if you start putting names out there – any names – and they start finding out who your friends are and asking questions, it could become a security problem.”
Speaking by satellite phone Thursday, Smith said he was in the Middle East, but would not say exactly where – only that he was “close” to the area of the ambush.
Smith said his company has 51 contractors in the region doing similar work as their counterparts at Blackwater.
The private security industry is a tight-knit community overseas, he said.
“At some point, you’ve worked or trained with just about everyone over here,” Smith said. “You become friends.”
Smith described the contractors he works with as “extremely patriotic, extremely motivated.” Fear is not a factor.
“They’re not like little boys who suddenly want to go home because they didn’t expect this,” Smith said. “All of them – myself included – worked for the federal government before this. We’ve been taking these risks for years. We accept them.” Zovko’s mother said she and her husband had suspected that their son might be among the dead, and their fears were confirmed Thursday morning when Gary Jackson, the president of Blackwater USA, knocked on the door of their Willoughby, Ohio, home.
“It was the hardest day of my life,” Donna Zovko said during an interview in her suburban Cleveland home. “Jerry was a man with a principle, an idea.
He loved people. He wanted the world to be without borders, for everybody to be free and safe.”
Zovko’s family wouldn’t say whether he was married or had children.
Jerry Zovko joined the Army in 1991 at age 19. He was a member of the special forces in the 82nd Airborne Division at Fort Bragg in North Carolina, his brother, Tom Zovko, said.
Teague, of Clarksville, Tenn., was a 12-year Army veteran who earned a Bronze Star for service in Afghanistan and also served in Panama and Grenada, his wife, Rhonda, said in a prepared statement.
She called her husband a “proud father, soldier and American.”
Teague was a member of the 160th Special Operations Aviation Regiment – known as the Nightstalkers – out of Clarksville, Tenn. Teague had worked in the security business since he left the Army six years ago, but he joined Blackwater Security only two months ago, WTVF-TV of Nashville reported.
Helvenston was identified by a family spokesperson who said the family would comment today.
Helvenston lived in Leesburg, Fla., before joining the Navy when he was 17. He served with the Navy SEALs for 12 years and later worked as a fitness promoter, starting a company called Amphibian Athletics.
He also was an actor and stunt man for movies including “G.I. Jane,” according to a company Web site.
In Moyock, the news trucks and cars that crowded the narrow road to Blackwater’s gate had disappeared by Thursday afternoon, though company guards still watched warily.
Many of the town’s homes displayed yellow ribbons knotted on porch posts and faded paper flags taped to windows, most remaining from the beginning of the war in Iraq or various deployments.
Staff at Moyock United Methodist Church said there has been talk of organizing a memorial service. Yet no one seemed quite sure how to mourn, not knowing the names of all those who died.
“I hope it’s none of our friends,” said Ralph Holder, 60, a retired torpedoman who spent 26 years in the Navy.
One of Holder’s granddaughters said the news was disturbing to the town’s children, because some of them had parents serving in Iraq.
“We didn’t talk about it in school because some kids got very emotional,” said Amber Hunt, 13.
Some Moyock veterans were saddened but not surprised by the deaths of the four contractors.
“I’m sorry as I can be that our neighbors were involved yesterday,” said Edward “Earl” Brickhouse, who lives down the road from the Blackwater training facility. But, he said, remembering his own experience in the Air Force in Vietnam, “that’s just one of those things that happens. It’s wartime.”
If the United States tries to police the world, “you can expect to take hits like that,” Brickhouse said, gazing solemnly up the road toward Blackwater. Like Blackwater, Zel Technologies LLC of Hampton has workers in Iraq, as well as in many other hot spots, according to Jack L. Ezzell Jr., the company’s president and chief executive officer. The company provides IT services to the military for intelligence collection and battle management, among other things.
Most of his employees in Iraq are doing office-related work, he said, but some are in harm’s way.
“We always factor that in when we think about doing work abroad,” Ezzell said. “Safety is always looked at.”
Many defense contractors have prior military or law enforcement experience and are prepared for the conditions they face.
The deaths of the Blackwater employees has not and probably will not cause defense contractors to pull out of Iraq, said John Williams, spokesman for the National Defense Industrial Association, an Arlington-based trade group that represents 1,200 defense contractors.
With 15,000 contractors on the ground in Iraq, most are working without incident, he said.
“These people have been killed before, and it did not cause a mass movement in that direction,” he said.
About 30 contractors have been killed in Iraq since fighting began a year ago.
Since the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, insurance policies for these workers have increased significantly. Global Underwriters Inc. of Cincinnati covered many of the workers who were killed in Iraq, and has written policies for defense contractors from Hampton Roads.
Its policies go beyond medical and travel insurance, and cover accidental death and dismemberment, kidnap and ransom, terrorism and 24-hour evacuation assistance. Staff writers Melissa Scott Sinclair and Allison Connolly and The Associated Press contributed to this report.
Reach Joanne Kimberlin at 446-2338 or joanne.kimberlin@piloton line.com