I have nothing against the military use of contractors. It would be a surprise if I did – when I left the Army, I immediately got a train to Ramstein, climbed on a plane and flew to Kabul for a two-year stint as a contractor to HQ ISAF. Even before that, I’d seen the valuable work contractors did on operations, and I really appreciated it.
There are plenty of advantages in using contractors to carry out military tasks. In some jobs, like intelligence, PSYOPS or civil-military cooperation, they can give an element of continuity that military tour lengths don’t exactly help with. The US military operates on 12-month tours; most of its allies are shorter, with the UK standard at six months and the Germans at just four. There are pluses and minuses to all of these. My experience has been that US personnel tend to burn out at a higher rate, because a year on operations with at most one R&R break is a long time. On the other hand, they spend less of their tour learning their job, then preparing to hand it over to their replacement.
Contractors can spend much longer in theater than regular military. Their compensation packages usually include much more frequent leave, which prevents burnout, and the financial element is a tempting reason to stay deployed too. I only did two years, before coming home to start writing, but some of my colleagues had been in Afghanistan for five years or more. That’s long enough to build up a formidable level of experience. So, used properly, contractors are a huge asset to any operation.
On the other hand there are bad reasons for using them, too, and I’ve just come across maybe the most absurd example I’ve ever seen. Recently, a Senate committee was looking at the accounts of the current US deployment in Afghanistan and trying to work out why the Army was spending so much money on contractors. During this process, it emerged that late last year, the 1st Infantry Division’s combat aviation brigade deployed all its aircrew, admin staff and helicopters to Afghanistan, but left all its mechanics back in Kansas.
Now, the staff of the Big Red One isn’t made up of idiots. They know you can’t operate helicopters for more than a few hours without ground crews to keep their complex innards in working order. The problem is, there’s a politically imposed ceiling on US troop levels in Afghanistan and it takes no account of operational reality. The government will allow 8,400 personnel to deploy, and that’s it. It doesn’t matter if an extra few hundred are needed so the deployed forces can actually do their jobs.
So basically, once 1st Infantry were allocated their slice of the overall manpower limit, they had a choice: They could send the aircrew with the helicopters, or they could send the ground crew – but not both. They made the only sensible decision, sent the flyers and hired contract mechanics, who don’t count towards the limit.
The solution worked, but it was a ridiculous situation. The brigade had to hire two civilians to replace each soldier, because civilians have contracted hours and aren’t available 24/7 like soldiers are. They also get paid more than soldiers. That’s bad news for the US taxpayer, who ends up paying two extra people to do a job that could have been done by a third – who they’re also paying.
If politicians are going to deploy the military they need to start listening to what the military is telling them. The whole reason Iraq’s such a mess today is that the Bush administration tried to fight a war on the cheap, ignoring military concerns that troop levels were far too low. Achieving a mission needs as many troops as it needs; reality can’t be bent to fit arbitrary caps made up by politicians.
Disclaimer: The content in this article is the opinion of the writer and does not necessarily reflect the policies or opinions of US Patriot Tactical.