Contractors, or mercenaries as they were called more frequently in the past, have existed alongside traditional military units for as long as traditional militaries have existed. These individuals have useful martial skills and function in much the same capacities as a government-controlled fighting force. There are diverse ways of referring to them based on their talents and occupational specialties, but at the end of the day they are private citizens paid to be in private armies.
Often in popular culture, movies, TV shows and video games, contractors are shown as aggressive cowboy types wearing shemaghs and Crye Precision pants, keeping on their Gator sunglasses even at night because the light glinting off of their Gucci gear is blinding. They are loose cannons, more often than not turning out to be heartless, lazy war criminals willing to sell their own grandmother’s fresh corpse for profit.
From personal experience, this is a ridiculous concept. Please don’t misunderstand, these people do exist. Especially in other areas of the world. But As far as American contractors are concerned, they are few and far between and the rest of us usually shit on them for being weird try-hards.
The majority of third-party contractors, often referred to as TPCs, fill some specific role for which an equivalent military or technical position already exists. Knowing that, has every person you’ve ever met in the armed forces looked like Jack Reacher? Does the Air Force kid who works on the surveillance cameras seem like a killer for hire? That is not to say that some of my coworkers over the years haven’t looked exactly like updated Vikings, but it’s more the exception rather than the rule.
So, what’s the point of having them on the payroll of the government when the government already has their own version? As with everything the government does it comes down to money.
If we take the standard infantry soldier from the Army or Marine Corps with training and a few years of experience as an example, their direct pay may not be great, but the general expense of them to the government can be. Medical, dental, educational, all these things add up to a great deal. Even daily expenses like providing food and housing rack up quickly. One day, the Soldier or Marine decides he wants to go back to being a civilian, and now the military has to go through the trouble and expense of making a new one to replace them. The cycle of national debt continues.
On the other hand, what if I decide I don’t want to incur those costs? Consider buying or leasing a used car. They have a few dents and scrapes, and the back seat has that weird smell, but often I can get the same car as it was when it was new without losing value when I drive it off the lot.
Instead of the government hiring and training new war fighters, we hire the old ones that are already trained and experienced for less. It may not seem less at first, especially when pay rates can get as high as hundreds if not $1,000 a day, and the companies that hire them get to wet their beak as well, but therein lies the rub. If I don’t have to incur the cost of six months of training, 14 months of combat experience, and all the benefits in between, I’m getting well over my money’s worth. As is the government that’s hiring us.
Requirements vary between each country that utilizes this service, but for American and many NATO governments there are a substantial number of restrictions in place.
The TPC has to have the correct background for their position, security clearances, clean records for the most part, more stringent rules, and often need to be a citizen of the country they’re working for. They function without a lot of the traditional support systems of military and law enforcement units, so backup is less guaranteed, and they don’t carry the same immediate command presence of camouflage utility uniforms.
Overall, the contractor cowboy is mostly a myth. Considering the way Americans respond to the behaviors of certain Eastern European contractor agencies, it seems that we know this somewhere deep down. While private military contractors don’t always act in good faith morally or financially, their white-collar crimes are far more often corporate rather than military in nature.
We are not all cutthroats or sell swords… I just happen to enjoy the job I had in the military but with drastically better pay and a casual Friday option.