Thursday, December 29, 2011

What color ribbons for private military contractors?

They are employed by the Departments of State and Defense, foreign governments, and international companies. They serve in a number of countries in support of US foreign policy and company share-holder interests, foreign government objectives, and private company profit objectives. Your tax dollars support them, yet they rarely cross your mind. You may think of them as mercenaries; an anachronism, sorry.

The companies under contract provide a myriad of services; from armed close-protection for high level officials to barbers who cut hair. They pilot unpiloted vehicles. They drive supply trucks. They’re American citizens. They’re citizens of foreign countries. They die or suffer wounds and they get captured by allies and enemies. The vast majority work unarmed, though.

They work in a lucrative industry. Competition is keen.

Your image of them is prbably “Blackwater-esqe”. Blackwater changed its name a few years ago. For your information, Blackwater was a mere tab in a larger consortium’s portfolio that’s since been financially dismembered.
Many of the contracted are veterans.

Some recent contracts have created actual contract security units with a spectrum of capabilities and a chain-of-command. But these units have no colors to case or un-case, no oath to “support and defend”. They have passports from various nation-states but their contracted allegiance is to their company-under-contract.

Our government needs their services desperately and has so for the last twenty years. Our foreign forays could not have been fathomable without their services. Those who’ve died or suffer wounds rarely get mention in the media. Those captured, sometimes receive a footnote. Those who’ve worked rarely discuss the work.

Private military (and state department) contracting companies are now a given. The American people accept the services and pay. There’s ancillary government oversight from government bureaucrats and military leaders; leaders and bureaucrats with short tenures. It’s a rather new addition to the force structure and military and intelligence services veterans serving as contractor company leaders must often feel conflicted, philosophically; on the one hand collecting a pension while competing for contracts. It’s a delicate balance.

If America continues to ignore this new contracted “defense force”, one whose employees work for a US State Department entity one year, then to an international business the next, then back to your tax-paying payroll again, we may lose perspective. In fact, I believe we’re already there. Who is checking? My hope is we can balance.

Contractors deserve your attention. They are not mercenaries. Your tax dollars and stock investments support them. They’ve earned a permanent, emerging chapter in foreign policy history with an American lineage traceable back to the Pinkerton National Detective Agency, perhaps.

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