Have Gun Will Travel

Friday, July 13, 2007


U.S.-paid private contractors in Iraq now outnumber military combat troops there. But you’d never know that from listening to officials and watching the news. Political scientist Deborah Avant talks about why the war’s privatization is slipping through the media’s cracks.

Comments [12]

mary joy from philippines

may i know how is camp liberty right now? do you Mark Ross Moore? he is Equipment operator in KBR in iraq.
pls response to dis if you know about KBR and Camp Liberty! tnx!

Nov. 26 2007 09:00 AM
Matt Bracksieck from New Haven CT

@ Richard

I do appreciate your perspective & that of those who have been there. I can also appreciate the methods the military uses to meet the needs of those in the field. Your comment did fill in some of the gaps in my knowledge, as did those of other posters.

However, the negative side of contracting out some of the security components did not fall under the analysis in your second post (you did address it to some extent in your first post). I'm not as concerned about the construction and food service contractors not falling under the UCMJ as I am about the security component. Even now there is a case where security contractors may have violated military rules. When that happens, it looks bad for all of us.

Thanks for the knowledge and the dialog.

Jul. 25 2007 10:51 PM
michael mcnamara from Virginia

When I arrived in Kuwait during OIF II, I was totally shocked at the number of civillians doing jobs that use to be done by soliders.

Working in an Transportation unit, I saw that most of the truck driving from the ports up to BIAP was being done by Third Country Nationals at a third of the price of american counterparts, yet they faced the same dangers as the troops, without weapons, body armor, life insurance or equal medical care.

And while the TCNs were paid less, rest assured war profitiers (*cough* KBR *cough*) were billing top dollar for their work.

This story touches on a fact I have known for years: Even though the use of contractors drives up the cost of a war, the lives of these TCNs, who are dying for our country as surely as any troop, is far cheaper than that of American soliders.

Jul. 17 2007 05:40 PM
Tony Heeschen from S Portland Maine

It seems to me that the term contractor is being used by our government to describe the private militias as a way to make them more acceptable to the public much the way the gambling industry positions themselves as the "gaming" industry. Mostly, the media falls in line with the new terms, which is not a real service to the public. The term mercenary was used several times in the story, which is several times more that used in most of the main stream media.

Jul. 16 2007 06:56 PM
Richard from Chicago

Contractors have been used by the armed forces since WWII, primarily in construction and specialty applications. Some skill sets are either to difficult for the military to retain, or only needed on an intermittent basis, that hiring an outside contractor or relegating the role to a reserve unit is a good way to save money; you only use them (and pay for them) when you need them. As far as the quality of the work they do, contractors are held to the same standard that their military counterparts are although they are not subject to the same contractual obligations (they can quit and leave whenever they want) or the UCMJ. I have seen both sides of the fence on this issue, as both an active duty member of the armed forces, and as a contractor to them (technical support role) I can attest to the skill and dedication that these people bring to the mission. Most are former military themselves, and understand that people’s lives depend on the work they do.

Believe it or not, the cost of hiring a contractor and the cost of supporting a soldier in the field are probably pretty close for a mid term comparison. I know that may sound like a difficult thing to believe, but while the government pays $2-5K/week for the services of a contractor, it does cost a great deal to support his military equivalent. Housing, family support back in the states, benefits, equipment, and most costly, training of full time military personnel is very expensive. Considering that it takes years and several hundred thousand dollars to develop the skillsets required to cultivate a talented and competent Special Warfare operator, hiring a retired one as a “temp” can save money and time, and most importantly, immediately fill a critical need.

Highly skilled military personnel leave for the private sector all the time, and as the armed forces becomes more technologically oriented, demand the high value skills in the civilian world (programmers, engineers, power system operators, IT specialist, telecommunications, pilots, mechanics, journeyman tradesmen) will make retaining these people has become more difficult. The military used to not compete as much with the business world for talent, but that is rapidly changing, and has been for a generation.

The military is already offering more pay, longer enlistment contracts, and bigger reenlistment bonuses for high value people, but they have a long way to go to match the private sector.

But what bothered me about the piece from OTM, is that like so much of its coverage is short on real substance (some of which I have tried to provide) and long on rhetoric.

Jul. 16 2007 06:07 PM
Matt Bracksieck from New Haven CT

@ Richard:

You said:

"In a military downsized since the end of the Cold War, contractors make a lot of sense. Why have uniformed personnel doing things like food services, laundry and custodial duties, when with manpower limitations it makes a lot more sense to use the uniformed individuals in mission critical roles."

War takes on different dimensions when numbers increase. If the military had to do all it's dirty laundry (pardon me, I couldn't help it) we would need many more people to conduct war. Surges would entail 50,000 rather than 20,000 and the debate would change as well. The use of private contractors allow the government to conceal the true cost of this war.

In addition, using contractors instead of regular military adds an element of uncertainty in the planning of operations. Contractors are not part of the military chain of command and are not accountable to military procedures and yet are still perceived as a part of the US force. Not a good situation.

Finally, contractors are being paid more than our military personnel. Often for doing the same job. It is unethical that our government would pay some people more money for doing the same job and it should be illegal.

You also said:

"And as much as people love to jump on Blackwater and the other security contractors, bear in mind that “high minded” NGO’s like AI and HRW use them for security as well."

Fair enough. Seems like a reasonable occupation.

Jul. 16 2007 05:17 PM
Matt Bracksieck from New Haven CT

One question that I have is about the term "contractor" itself. At one time, people who hired themselves to a state for the reason of participating in their war was called a mercenary. Since that time the term "mercenary" has acquired many negative connotations and (like the questions raised during the report about how people would perceive the war if contractors were counted in the official numbers) I wonder if people would perceive companies like Blackwater and our government's use of private companies to execute their war if they were called mercenaries.

When did the use of the term "contractors" begin? Who coined the phrase to mean a private citizen who participates in a state's war? Why does the media use the term? It sounds like Frank Luntz wordcrafting in order to put a positive (or at least neutral) spin on a sour topic.

I know that OTM has run stories like "Word Watch" in the past, any plans to look at this term?

Jul. 16 2007 05:10 PM
scott sale from Minnesota

From health care to education, presidential campaigns to toll roads, privatization is encroaching into nearly every aspect of our lives.

Any benefits are short-term--maybe faster service, maybe cheaper costs. But the long-term hazards to our society are much clearer. Private entities can be hidden within other entities, making them (and their money) less accountable. More importantly, if our government is no longer trusted in key areas, others will gain that trust, which leads to an insidious takeover of our democratic process.

I'm glad "On the Media" mentioned this topic because the media, too, is steadily being privatized. And it's not in the owners' interests to point that out.

Jul. 16 2007 02:30 PM
Richard from Chicago

In a military downsized since the end of the Cold War, contractors make a lot of sense. Why have uniformed personnel doing things like food services, laundry and custodial duties, when with manpower limitations it makes a lot more sense to use the uniformed individuals in mission critical roles.

And as much as people love to jump on Blackwater and the other security contractors, bear in mind that “high minded” NGO’s like AI and HRW use them for security as well.

Jul. 16 2007 12:30 PM
Joel Fisler from san diego

An under reported story. The mention of it may put pressure on it to give out more info.

Jul. 15 2007 09:14 PM
Grant Garber from WUNC

Your report on private contractors raised several issues. They give Bush/Cheney a freer hand in what they can do without congressional oversight. The deaths aren't counted among American casuaties, but they get the American taxpayer's money just the same. I wonder, though, if the United States President can be commander in chief of a mercenary outfit. I thought 'commander in chief' applied only to one who has command of the armed forces of a country. In the case of contractors doesn't the CEO of the company they work for deserve that epithet?

Grant Garber
(252) 492-3942
Henderson, NC

Jul. 14 2007 09:14 AM
Sam Stand from Fullerton, CA.

On the Media is the best of everything on NPR!
And NRP is the best of all electronic media of all kinds!
So much more that's relevant without sounding like
just rhetoric right or left biased.
Hang in there, Baby !

Jul. 14 2007 01:40 AM

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