By David Kittredge
I received a streamer fly as gift from friends this past Christmas which was tied by New Hampshire icon, fly tyer and fisherman Ellis Hatch of Rochester, N.H. The fly is called “The Raven 23,” which Mr. Hatch tied in honor of his grandson, Evan Liberty, who helped design the fly. Ellis’ neighbors and associates described him as being easily approachable despite his renown in the fly-tying and fishing community. He taught many about the fly-tying craft, created the Hackle & Tackle Club and the Strafford County League of Sportsmen. Mr. Hatch also was an avid conservationist that helped to protect various wildlife habitats. Due to his efforts, the 3,000-acre Ellis R. Hatch Wildlife Management Area located in the three New Hampshire towns of Brookfield, Middleton and New Durham was named after him.
Ellis was a master at tying flies and many boxes of his flies would fetch $400 to $500 at local charity auctions. He was also a prolific fly tyer often creating upwards of 20,000 a year, many of which he sold to area fly-fishing shops including the famed Orvis company. Ellis Hatch passed away in May 2018 at the age of 86.
My gift, The Raven 23” streamer fly, came framed in a shadow box for display purposes. After initially admiring the fly for a few days, I noticed a label on the back of the box. The label states the fly’s name and date of the construction — Dec. 21, 2008 — but there is also a tribute noted by Mr. Hatch in honor of his grandson Evan and four of his security guard comrades. Ellis had designed flies for each of his eight grandchildren upon their births, but this tie was a bit different, it was designed and constructed later in his grandson Evan’s life.
Evan Liberty was raised in Rochester, N.H. and joined the Marines in July of 2000. After bootcamp, Evan applied for and was entered into Marine Security Guard training school which trains people to protect and defend the United States embassies and our emissaries abroad. Upon completion, Evan was assigned to help protect such luminaries as former President George W. Bush, former Gov. Jeb Bush and former Secretary of State Colin Powell. Evan received multiple awards and letters of appreciation commending his superb attitude and professionalism during his tenure with the Marines.
Colonel W. E. Rizzio, the commanding officer of the Marine Security Guard Battalion, stated that, “I would trust [Evan] completely in any assignment. He has proven to be totally dependable and will perform superbly under extreme pressure.”
At the end of his stint in the Marines, Evan Liberty applied to Blackwater Worldwide, a private security guard agency, so that he could remain in the diplomatic security field. Upon his honorable discharge from the service, he was hired by Blackwater. After further training by Blackwater, Evan was posted to the Raven 23 group in Bagdad, Iraq.
On Sept. 16, 2007, Raven 23 responded to a distress call from another Blackwater security team, Raven 22, which had been attacked by a car bomb at Nisour Square in Baghdad. The Raven 23 team rushed toward the plume of black smoke emanating from the initial bomb. It was quite common at this time for insurgents to detonate one bomb to draw out U.S. forces into the open and then strike with another car bomb in a coordinated attack. After Raven 23 had secured the area, a white Kia pulled out of line of stopped traffic, bearing down on the security guard’s position. That is when the shooting started. The members of Raven 23 saw people dressed in Iraqi police uniforms firing at them as the Kia came at them and started to return fire. This is where the facts become muddled. The Iraqi police later claimed that they had not fired at the American security forces, which could be true. The people dressed as policemen could have been insurgents dressed in black market police uniforms which were readily available in the bazaars of Baghdad. But it also must be noted that the Iraqi police force was fraught with corruption at this time, led the investigation, not the F.B.I. Another fact adding to the quagmire is that Islamic insurgents are often dressed in civilian clothes which makes it hard to determine who the enemy actually is. Unfortunately, civilians were killed in this incident and the Iraqi government wanted these four Blackwater guards punished.
The Raven 23 members were tried in U.S. courts twice and were acquitted of any criminal wrongdoing. The incident was viewed as an unfortunate wartime accident. But the Iraqi government was not satisfied with the outcome, so the men were tried for a third time and were found guilty. Initially, Evan Liberty, Dustin Heard and Paul Slough were sentenced to 30 years in prison, a fourth man, Nicolas Slatten, who initiated the return fire at the suspected Kia car bomb, which did not have an incendiary device, was sentenced to life in prison. Later, the three men who were sentenced to 30 years had their sentences reduced to 14 years, but Slatten, who was sentenced to life did not receive a reduced sentence.
The Raven 23 team has its own website explaining in full detail the incident’s timeline and at the Free Raven 23 website there is a petition asking for a full presidential pardon, available for signing. I urge you to go to the Raven 23 website to read all of the facts for yourself. So far, the petition has received 26,000 signatures.