Robert C. MacKenzie

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Robert Callen MacKenzie
Robert C. MacKenzie, in uniform of Captain, Rhodesian SAS, ca. 1977
Born(1948-11-30)30 November 1948
San Diego, California
Died24 February 1995(1995-02-24) (aged 46)
Sierra Leone
Allegiance United States of America
Republic of Rhodesia
Republic of South Africa
Republic of Transkei
Service/branch United States Army
Rhodesian Army
South African Army
Transkei Defence Force
Croatian Defence Council
Years of service1966–1967
Rank Private First Class (US Army)
Captain (Rhodesian Army)
Major (South African Army)
Commands held C Squadron 22 (Rhodesian) SAS
Sierra Leone Commando Unit
Battles/wars Vietnam War
Rhodesian Bush War
South African Border War
Bosnian War
Sierra Leone Civil War
Awards Bronze Cross of Rhodesia
Silver Cross of Rhodesia
Purple Heart
Good Conduct Medal
National Defense Service Medal
Vietnam Service Medal
Republic of Vietnam Campaign Medal

Robert Callen MacKenzie SCR BCR (30 November 1948 – 24 February 1995) was an American professional soldier whose career included service as an infantryman in the United States Army during the Vietnam War, the C Squadron 22 (Rhodesian) SAS, the South African Defence Force, and the Transkei Defense Force.

Silver Cross of Rhodesia

The Silver Cross of Rhodesia was Rhodesia's second-highest military decoration for conspicuous gallantry.

Bronze Cross of Rhodesia

The Bronze Cross of Rhodesia was a Rhodesian military decoration for gallantry.

United States federal republic in North America

The United States of America (USA), commonly known as the United States or America, is a country composed of 50 states, a federal district, five major self-governing territories, and various possessions. At 3.8 million square miles, the United States is the world's third or fourth largest country by total area and is slightly smaller than the entire continent of Europe's 3.9 million square miles. With a population of over 327 million people, the U.S. is the third most populous country. The capital is Washington, D.C., and the largest city by population is New York City. Forty-eight states and the capital's federal district are contiguous in North America between Canada and Mexico. The State of Alaska is in the northwest corner of North America, bordered by Canada to the east and across the Bering Strait from Russia to the west. The State of Hawaii is an archipelago in the mid-Pacific Ocean. The U.S. territories are scattered about the Pacific Ocean and the Caribbean Sea, stretching across nine official time zones. The extremely diverse geography, climate, and wildlife of the United States make it one of the world's 17 megadiverse countries.


As a contributing editor for unconventional operations for Soldier of Fortune (SOF) magazine, he was sent to cover conflicts in different hot-spots around the globe, including Mozambique, Central America, Croatia, Bosnia, Russia, Thailand, Suriname, Taiwan and Cambodia. At the time of his death, he was in command of and training the Sierra Leone Commando Unit (SLCU).

<i>Soldier of Fortune</i> (magazine) magazine

Soldier of Fortune (SOF), The Journal of Professional Adventurers, is a monthly U.S. periodical founded in 1975 as a mercenary magazine devoted to worldwide reporting of wars, including conventional warfare, low-intensity warfare, counter-insurgency, and counter-terrorism. It has been published by the Omega Group Ltd., in Boulder, Colorado.

Mozambique country in Africa

Mozambique, officially the Republic of Mozambique, is a country located in Southeast Africa bordered by the Indian Ocean to the east, Tanzania to the north, Malawi and Zambia to the northwest, Zimbabwe to the west, and Eswatini (Swaziland) and South Africa to the southwest. The sovereign state is separated from the Comoros, Mayotte and Madagascar by the Mozambique Channel to the east. The capital of Mozambique is Maputo while Matola is the largest city, being a suburb of Maputo.

Central America Place

Central America is located on the southern tip of North America, or is sometimes defined as a subcontinent of the Americas, bordered by Mexico to the north, Colombia to the southeast, the Caribbean Sea to the east, and the Pacific Ocean to the west and south. Central America consists of seven countries: Belize, Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Nicaragua, and Panama. The combined population of Central America has been estimated to be 41,739,000 and 42,688,190.

US Army service

After finishing high school at the age of 17 in 1966, MacKenzie was awarded an appointment to the United States Air Force Academy. He, however, opted to join the Army, not wishing to miss out on the Vietnam War. At the Army Recruiting Station in San Diego, California, he enlisted as an infantryman. By 1967, he was airborne-qualified, had completed the jungle operations course in Panama and was sent to Vietnam. On 29 May 1967, a bullet wound suffered storming Mother's Day Hill ended his army service. After a year in the hospital, the US Army declared him 70% disabled and he was permanently retired. His last duty assignment was with Co B 1st Bn(ABN) 327th Infantry.

United States Air Force Academy The U.S. Air Forces federal service academy

The United States Air Force Academy, is a military academy for officer cadets of the United States Air Force. Its campus is located in the western United States in Colorado, immediately north of Colorado Springs in El Paso County.

Vietnam War 1955–1975 conflict in Vietnam

The Vietnam War, also known as the Second Indochina War, and in Vietnam as the Resistance War Against America or simply the American War, was a conflict in Vietnam, Laos, and Cambodia from 1 November 1955 to the fall of Saigon on 30 April 1975, with U.S. involvement ending in 1973. It was the second of the Indochina Wars and was officially fought between North Vietnam and South Vietnam. North Vietnam was supported by the Soviet Union, China, and other communist allies; South Vietnam was supported by the United States, South Korea, the Philippines, Australia, Thailand and other anti-communist allies. The war is considered a Cold War-era proxy war from some US perspectives. It lasted some 19 years and included the Laotian Civil War and the Cambodian Civil War, resulting in all three countries becoming communist states in 1975. The outcome of the war humiliated the United States and diminished its reputation in the world.

San Diego City in California, United States

San Diego is a city in the U.S. state of California. It is in San Diego County, on the coast of the Pacific Ocean in Southern California, approximately 120 miles (190 km) south of Los Angeles and immediately adjacent to the border with Mexico.

Rhodesian SAS service

Squadron Commander Capt. Robert C. MacKenzie receives the Silver Cross of Rhodesia in 1979, "for conspicuous gallantry and leadership in action." MacKenzieSilverStar.jpg
Squadron Commander Capt. Robert C. MacKenzie receives the Silver Cross of Rhodesia in 1979, "for conspicuous gallantry and leadership in action."

In 1970, MacKenzie traveled to Rhodesia in Africa, and passing the rigorous selection course, enlisted as a foreign volunteer in the Rhodesian Special Air Service, where from then on until 1980, he rose through the ranks from Trooper to Captain and SAS Squadron Commander.

Trooper from the French "troupier" is the equivalent rank to private in a regiment with a cavalry tradition in the British Army and many other Commonwealth armies, including those of Australia, Canada, South Africa and New Zealand; it is also used by the Irish Army.

Decorations received during this time served with the Rhodesian SAS include the Bronze Cross of Rhodesia for "gallantry and determination in action" and the Silver Cross of Rhodesia for "conspicuous gallantry and leadership in action." When the Rhodesian Bush War ended with the Lancaster House Agreement, MacKenzie resigned from the new Zimbabwe National Army and joined the South African Defence Force as a Special Forces Major. The following year, he joined the Transkei Defence Force as second-in-command, Transkei Special Forces Regiment. In 1985, after 15 years serving abroad, he returned to the United States.

Rhodesian Bush War civil conflict in Southern Africa from 1964 to 1979

The Rhodesian Bush War—also called the Second Chimurenga and the Zimbabwe War of Liberation—was a civil conflict from July 1964 to December 1979 in the unrecognised country of Rhodesia . The conflict pitted three forces against one another: the Rhodesian government, led by Ian Smith ; the Zimbabwe African National Liberation Army, the military wing of Robert Mugabe's Zimbabwe African National Union; and the Zimbabwe People's Revolutionary Army of Joshua Nkomo's Zimbabwe African People's Union.

Lancaster House Agreement

The Lancaster House Agreement, signed on 21 December 1979, declared a ceasefire, ending the Rhodesian Bush War; and directly led to the creation and recognition of the Republic of Zimbabwe. It required the imposition of direct British rule, nullifying Rhodesia’s 1965 Unilateral Declaration of Independence. British governance would be strictly proscribed to the duration of a proposed election period; after which independence would follow. Crucially, the political wings of the black nationalist groups ZANU and ZAPU, who had been waging the escalating, and increasingly violent insurgency, would be permitted to stand candidates in the forthcoming elections. This was however conditional to compliance with the ceasefire and the verified absence of voter intimidation.

Zimbabwe National Army

The Zimbabwe National Army (ZNA) is the primary branch of the Zimbabwe Defence Forces responsible for land-oriented military operations. It is the largest service branch under the Zimbabwean Joint Operations Command (JOC). The modern army has its roots in the Rhodesian Army, which was raised between 1963 and 1964 after the breakup of the Federation of Rhodesia and Nyasaland. A Joint High Command created in March 1980 to oversee integration of the formerly belligerent Rhodesian Security Forces, Zimbabwe African National Liberation Army (ZANLA), and the Zimbabwe People's Revolutionary Army (ZIPRA) officially established the Zimbabwe National Army in late 1980, nearly a year after the end of the Rhodesian Bush War.

Soldier of Fortune

Sybil and Bob MacKenzie with UNITA forces in Angola. MacKenzieAngolaUnita.jpg
Sybil and Bob MacKenzie with UNITA forces in Angola.

SOF's Robert K. Brown gave MacKenzie a job as a contributing editor for unconventional operations, and MacKenzie continued his unconventional career. In Mozambique, he worked with RENAMO, securing the release of seven Western hostages. He also trained and fought in Central America, Croatia and Bosnia. In February, 1995, at the behest of Sierra Leone's leader, Valentine Strasser, MacKenzie took command of a training troop, the Sierra Leone Commando Unit (SLCU) in cooperation with Strasser's right-hand man, Major Abu Tarawali and sixty Gurkhas of the Gurkha Security Guards. Their opposition in that African country was the Revolutionary United Front (RUF), an insurgent army then plaguing rural Sierra Leone.

Lieutenant Colonel Robert K. Brown is a combat correspondent, investigative journalist, and founder/editor/publisher of Soldier of Fortune magazine (SOF), a pro-gun, pro-military magazine which reports on various armed confrontations around the world, as well as on new weapons and other military technology. Brown is also president of Omega Group Ltd, which is the parent group of SOF.

RENAMO political party

The Mozambican National Resistance is a militant organization and political movement in Mozambique. Sponsored by the Rhodesian Central Intelligence Organisation (CIO), it was founded in 1975 as part of an anti-communist backlash against the country's ruling FRELIMO party.

Valentine Esegragbo Melvine Strasser is an ex-military leader that served as head of state of Sierra Leone from 1992 to 1996. He had been a junior military officer but in 1992, he became the world's youngest Head of State when he seized power three days after his 25th birthday. He was the leading member in a group of six young Sierra Leonean soldiers who overthrew president Joseph Saidu Momoh in the 29 April 1992 military coup. They established a military junta called the National Provisional Ruling Council (NPRC).

Final tour of duty

MacKenzie arrived in Sierra Leone in the end of January, 1995. The country's leader, Valentine Strasser had begun to organize a force to counterattacks by the RUF rebels and his right-hand man, Major Tarawali had contracted sixty Gurkhas of the GSG ( Gurkha Security Guards Limited ) to train approximately 160 green troopers that would form the nucleus of the SLCU. MacKenzie's first order of business was to locate an appropriate camp on which to base the troops. On a scouting patrol to assess possible locations for the training camp, MacKenzie, Tarawali and an escort of would-be SLCU came upon a village that had been burned by the rebels. McKenzie and the co-director of GSG, Borlace, wanted to pursue the rebels; however, the inexperienced troops were reluctant to do so. MacKenzie, Borlace and Tarawali went ahead on their own, and their soldiers later followed. Surprised by such determined action, the RUF forces broke and ran. This incident infused the SLCU with new confidence.

Robert C. MacKenzie (standing, wings on hat) with some of the Sierra Leone Commando Unit he was training with the Gurkha Security Guards. Andy Myers is second from left, kneeling. MacKenzieSlcu.jpg
Robert C. MacKenzie (standing, wings on hat) with some of the Sierra Leone Commando Unit he was training with the Gurkha Security Guards. Andy Myers is second from left, kneeling.

On 17 February, MacKenzie led a convoy of vehicles from their base camp 91 miles from Freetown, the capital, to Mile 47, a town which had a government garrison. This stretch of road had to be secured if they had to hold onto their training camp (Camp Charlie) deep within bandit country. On this particular mission, they were ambushed by an RUF contingent. Marshaling the Gurkhas and the SLCU troops, MacKenzie drove through the kill zone and began flanking maneuvers, surprising the enemy at the aggressiveness of their response. The rebels turned and broke contact. Thick undergrowth prevented effective tracking, but three blood spoors were found, indicating that the RUF forces had taken some casualties.

These successes in the field, however, deluded the government hierarchy into believing that the RUF would crumble in the face of any organized resistance. They ordered MacKenzie to attack the RUF base camp in the Malal Hills. MacKenzie countered that the SLCU had not been trained yet and that it would not be ready for such a major engagement. Back came the word that MacKenzie should take the Gurkhas on the mission, and leave the green SLCU troopers to be trained later. MacKenzie again countered that legally this would not be possible, since the GSG were contracted for training alone and not for combat. Finally, the army chief of staff personally wrote MacKenzie, ordering the attack for the 22 or 23 February. Determined to do his duty, MacKenzie agreed to investigate the possibility of attacking the Malal Hills.


MacKenzie gathered what little intelligence he could in the face of the government's impatience. In preparation for the assault on the hills, jets borrowed from the Nigerians were to drop cluster bombs on the rebel positions in order to soften them up. However, the Russian pilot flying a Mi-24 helicopter tasked with bringing in the Nigerian commander who would communicate with the jets, without any explanation simply hovered over the camp on the 23rd and left. Calls to HQ fell on deaf ears, and when the Nigerian jets arrived the next day, they bombed the wrong hill. Alerted by ordnance falling on unoccupied terrain, the rebels were ready for MacKenzie's group when they approached their objective.

MacKenzie, leading from up front with Tarawali and Lieutenant Andy Myers, came under fire from a bandit ambush. Tarawali was killed in the first volley, and an attempt to carry his body back was made. Fire was heavy, coming from the enemy hidden deep in the undergrowth. The SLCU dropped Tarawali's body and ran, actually trampling the Gurkha medics who were a little behind the command group. MacKenzie ordered that everyone should retreat and the senior Gurkha medic saw MacKenzie take two rounds through his legs and one through his back. MacKenzie dropped his rifle as Lieutenant Myers bent over him to give him assistance. This was the last anyone saw of either. Intercepts of bandit radio revealed that they had taken Tarawali's and MacKenzie's bodies, but there was no word on Myers. He would be later presumed dead at 9:00 on the 24th of February.


Robert C. MacKenzie is survived by his wife, Sybil MacKenzie and a son, Ian MacKenzie.

He was the son-in-law of Ray Steiner Cline, Deputy Director for Intelligence for the Central Intelligence Agency in 1962. MacKenzie's wife Sybil was previously married to Stefan Halper of Contragate notoriety. [1]

Bob MacKenzie - (was) an outstanding soldier - a man I was very proud to be associated with as a soldier and as a friend. America can be justly proud of Bob's achievements: We Rhodesians most certainly are.

Lt. Col. Ron Reid-Daly, CLM, DMM, MBE, Commanding Officer, Selous Scouts Regiment, Rhodesian Army

See also


  1. Leeman, Bernard (1999). Lesotho and the Struggle for Azania, 2nd Edition.

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