Blackwater By Any Name Is As Controversial

Blackwater has changed its name. The princely-company-of-private-security-turned-Rambo is now “Xe.” It’s pronounced “zee” in case you’re not up on the Periodic Table, gender-neutral pronounsor the latest Cirque de Soleil production.

The rebranding effort comes as the company has been awash in controversy. Founder and CEO Erik Prince might be reeling from the Iraqi government’s decision to not renew Blackwater’s (uh, Xe’s) license to operate in Iraq. The State Department, whose contracts with Xe reportedly account for one-third of the company’s billion-dollar bonanza each year, has said it is not renewing with the beleaguered firm. Though the company says otherwise, it seems Prince has buckled under the weight of market challenges.

The Company Formerly Called Blackwater still will be headquartered in Moyock, N.C., just south of Norfolk, Va. It has changed the names of its other companies, and almost gone is the adorable bear paw logo. Blackwater Airships now is Guardian Flight Systems and Blackwater Target Systems has become GSD Manufacturing. The Moyock compound where Blackwater, uh, Xe, (uh, Cirque) trains its people and others (for a hefty fee) is now the U.S. Training Center. Don’t confuse that with the Army’s National Training Center, though ringmaster Prince and his marketeers might welcome the tie. The training center comes up online under Blackwater USA, and thankfully the pro shop has retained the infamous name (and bear paw!) Apparently those who shop Blackwater have different buying signals (shoot-‘em-up) than those who hire Blackwater (shoot-‘em-up, but don’t make the news). 

Company President Gary Jackson in an employee memo stated, “This company will continue to provide personnel protective services for high-threat environments when needed by the U.S. government, but its primary mission will be operating our training facilities around the world, including the flagship campus in North Carolina.”

While poking fun at this unfortunate set of circumstances is easy, the reality of image change can be daunting. But is the change necessary? Is it riskier to change the brand or to do nothing? The decision probably was a tough one for a company that seems to pride itself on the quality it offers its clients. Don’t know.

To date, Erik Prince has kept his name and is not referred to as the “Mercenary Formerly Known as Prince.” 

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