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Retired Generals Sell Expertise Overseas

November 23, 1995

ALEXANDRIA, Va. (AP) _ Frederick Kroesen used to command the U.S. Army in Europe. Huntington Hardisty once commanded U.S. forces in the Pacific. Carl Vuono was Army Chief of Staff during the Gulf War.

Today, they and others like them are part of a company with a hot commodity to sell to the post-Cold War world: U.S. military expertise.

Their company, Military Professional Resources Inc., is unique among the dozens of U.S. firms that sell military know-how.

The others consist mostly of retired majors and colonels. But MPRI is a Who’s Who for a generation of officers who rose through the ranks during the Cold War, led the troops in Vietnam and built an all-volunteer military force of historic ability.

``We like to think of ourselves as the guys who, after Vietnam, rebuilt the U.S. Army,″ says MPRI spokesman Ed Soyster, West Point `57, an artillery officer in Vietnam and head of the Defense Intelligence Agency who retired in 1991 with three-stars on his shoulders.

David Isenberg, an analyst at the Center for Defense Information, a Washington group that keeps a skeptical eye on military issues, says: ``These people have found a niche in the new world order no one was exploiting.″

The company has offered seminars on Desert Storm in Sweden and the Republic of China, sent a team of trainers to Liberia and worked with an Eastern European country Soyster declines to name. He says other nations are interested, particularly those emerging from the rubble of the Soviet Union.

Another MPRI customer is the Croatian defense ministry, a deal that brought unwanted attention to the 8-year-old company.

Recent military victories by the Croatian forces raised questions about the role MPRI may have played in a conflict in which the United States has remained officially neutral. MPRI insists it taught the Croats only mundane aspects of leadership and the military’s role in a democracy.

Nevertheless, some critics are uneasy with the idea of retired military brass who are privy to American military expertise going into business for themselves.

Sitting in the company’s ``Infantry Room,′ which is decorated with Civil War paintings, Soyster downplays such concerns. ``These are guys who devoted 35 years of their lives supporting government policy,″ he says. ``We’re not going to turn our back on that.″

Vernon Lewis, an artilleryman with three combat tours in two wars, started MPRI in 1987 with seven retired generals. Today, he is president of a company with 150 employees and $7.2 million in earnings last year.

Other key figures in the company:

_Carl Stiner, a member of MPRI board of directors, saw combat in two wars. He led the Joint Special Operations Command, and personally helped in the 1985 capture of the Achille Lauro hijackers in 1985, facing down Egyptian commandos to negotiate the terrorists’ surrender.

_Maxwell Thurman, a board member, was known as ``Maxatollah,″ for his demanding presence as head of the U.S. Southern Command during the Panama invasion. He is a brilliant tactician who helped develop modern warfare doctrine. As head of the Army’s Recruiting Command he originated the ``Be All You Can Be″ campaign.

_Kroesen, the board chairman, is a veteran of three wars. The Silver Star and Purple Heart were among his chest full of medals when he retired in 1983 after serving as commander of U.S. forces in Europe. He survived a rocket-grenade attack on his armored limousine by German terrorists.

_Vuono, vice president and general manager, was an artillery officer with two tours of duty in Vietnam. He oversaw both the Gulf War and the Panama invasion as Army chief of staff.

_Hardisty, another board member, flew more than 100 combat missions over Vietnam, served on the Joint Chiefs of Staff and commanded the U.S. Pacific Command. He serves on the CIA’s military advisory panel.

_Richard Trefry, executive vice president, rose from buck private to Inspector General of the Army. He served as a military advisor to the U.S. embassy in Laos and as a military assistant to the White House under President Bush.

Among the company’s leadership, only Soyster, the company spokesman, will talk to the media.

At first, MPRI worked mainly for the Pentagon, which remains the company’s largest customer. The Pentagon contracts with MPRI to analyze management techniques, evaluate and write doctrine and teach leadership. MPRI also has run computerized war games using the talent that formulated AirLand Battle. That lightning war doctrine, developed to counter Soviet superiority in numbers, was used in Desert Storm.

For the past three years, MPRI has been instrumental in a State Department program to send relief supplies to former member states of the Soviet Union. Export records show the company has sent hundreds of shipments of donated food, clothing and medical supplies to ports in Germany, Ukraine, Latvia and other Eastern Europe destinations.

The company branched out to the international market two years ago.

Soyster says MPRI’s reputation led Croatian embassy officials to approach the company in early 1994. The Croats, bloodied by both Serb and Bosnian Muslim foes, were looking to swap their Soviet Bloc mentality for a western-style military organization, Soyster says.

A contract, licensed by the State Department, was signed at the Croatian Embassy in late September 1994. As MPRI held classes behind the walls of the Cenomerec barracks, the officer academy in Zagreb, Croatia rearmed itself with an estimated $1 billion in Warsaw Pact arms and sophisticated Western communication gear that slipped through the UN embargo.

Rumors about MPRI’s involvement in Croatian training and planning grew last August when a Croatian offensive retook most of the Krajina region rebel Serbs had held for four years.

Instead of head-banging frontal assaults favored by their one time Soviet mentors, the Croats surprised their foes and Western observers with quick, choreographed movements of artillery, armor and infantry to flank the Serbs. The tactics echoed the U.S. military doctrine that MPRI generals helped set.

``The overall strategy did not come from the minds of Croat officers,″ said Paul Beaver, editor of Jane’s Balkan Sentinel. ``You’d have to conclude that either someone has read from Western textbooks or been taught from them.″

There were reports that the Croatian high command met prior to the offensive with MPRI’s Vuono and Crosbie Saint, a retired general who helped refine LandAir Battle and battlefield training techniques.

Soyster said the pair was in Zagreb shortly before the August offensive, but only as part of a regular quarterly review of the contract.

``It takes a long time to build an army,″ he said. ``We’re good, but we’re not that good.″

Despite the scrutiny, MPRI is looking to a growing overseas market.

A second contract has been signed with Croatia. Discussions continue with other Eastern European countries eager to form military alliances with the West. MPRI is also mentioned as the logical choice to help train and arm Bosnian Muslims, a U.S. promise made to entice the Bosnians to the conference table.