Contractor. No not that guy that comes over to your house to fix stuff that is broken. I am talking about the guys we see in movies that everyone wants to be. Well, maybe not everyone but most males, maybe even some females. For those of you who do not know what it is I am talking about, Private Security Companies also referred to as Private Military Companies, employ ex-soldiers and LEO in order to provide mainly large corporations, and in recent years governments training and security. When someone says private contracting, this is usually what everyone thinks of. However, there are companies out there now that also offer “private contracts” to highly skilled individuals for things like repairing helicopters.
I recently got the opportunity to interview a good friend of mine who did just that. For privacy and just plain common courtesy, I will be leaving my source anonymous. I will give gender, male. With that said I will be referring to him as “Hooker” since he worked on CH-47 Chinooks and that is what they called us in the Army. Hooker and I met while at Green Platoon for the 160th Special Operations Aviation Regiment in Fort Campbell, Kentucky. A little background on Hooker, He was Active Duty for 6 years as a 15U Chinook Helicopter Repairman. He received a multitude of awards to include the Army Commendation Medal, two Army Achievement Medals, Army Good Conduct, National Defense Service, Afghanistan Campaign, GWOT Expeditionary, GWOT Service, two Army Overseas Service Ribbons and an Army Service Ribbon.
He did 3 years at Wheeler Army Airfield in Oahu, Hawaii before deploying to RC South in Afghanistan going to Kandahar and other FOBs such as Wolverine, TK and as he put it, “some unlisted landing pads for the guys who have beards and wear all black.” He worked alongside NG units from Florida, Mississippi and New York as well as NATO forces from Australia, Spain, and Britain. Due to his size, they selected him for the “Dart Team” officially recognized as the Downed Aircraft Recovery Team. The guy was at least 6‘2 and 220 pounds so there is no surprise there. Plus, he moved like an NFL linebacker. While on the team they successfully recovered 7 CH-47s with little to no loss of personnel, 3 UH-60s with less than desirable outcomes and a predator with even full armament and payload being accounted for. On one unfortunate day while servicing the combining transmission — which for those of you who are not familiar takes power from both jet engines are well, combines it — a mortar was dropped on the adjacent pad causing Hooker to lose his footing and send him straight on his back from about a foot and a half off the ground. Not until 6 months later when the pain became unbearable did he find out he had 3 herniated discs, a pinched nerve in his spine and 2 protruding ribs with 1/2 inch and 3/4 inch of separation from the spine. After this is when he would be selected for Green Platoon, where we would eventually meet, entering two courses to be dropped on evaluation. At which point they would discover his black injury ending his dream of becoming a 160th Flight Engineer.
Me: Where did you go after green platoon?
Hooker: I PCS’d to Ft. Riley, Kansas, where I joined the 601st, Aviation Support Battalion of the 1st Infantry Division. There I used my experience to lead and teach new soldiers how to work on the CH-47F, setting standards above and beyond anything the battalion had before. I earned my Honorable Discharge a year later and hung up my uniform for good.
Me: Why did you decide to go into contract work?
Hooker: I have always toyed at the idea of contract work after my first deployment in 2012. After meeting the contractors there and bouncing ideas and plans off of them. And more specifically, how much more they got paid. One quote that stuck was “I pay more in taxes than you’ll make all year.” And I figured if those fat bastards could do it, I could too. I signed my DD214, got home, took my jacket off and got a call from System Dynamics International Inc. a personnel contracting company for Northrop Grumman. They offered me over $100k a year and I’d have to be some special kind of stupid to turn that down.
Me: What exactly did you do?
Hooker: I worked on the MQ-5B Hunter UAV. It’s the oldest Unmanned Aerial System in service by the US Military, the Army, Marines, and even Navy have used it over the last 25 years. As a Field Technician and Flight Operations Crew Chief, I conducted maintenance, trouble shooting, launch, and recovery operations. A team of 5 was used throughout launching and recovering the aircraft.
Me: What is contract life like?
Hooker: Contract life is extremely relaxed in comparison to deployments in the Active Duty. In the Army, there are tons of rules and regulations both dealing with aircraft operations and personal appearance. To be honest, the best thing about contracting is growing a beard and not having to call anyone “Sergent” or “Sir.” You’re treated as an adult and honestly, no one gives a f*** what you do, as long as you do your job and you do your job well.
Me: What are the benefits like?
Hooker: Benefits are honestly like every other job, decent insurance, 401k options, travel pay, reimbursements. It wasn’t anything special.
Me: Is the money really worth it?
Hooker: When I first started contracting, I was freshly divorced, didn’t have a single f*** to give. So, it was easy, it was amazing. When those first OCONUS paychecks hit the bank, your Amazon Shopping cart gets full really fast. It’s easy to spend a couple thousand a week on sh*t you don’t need. As time went on a new relationship grew, my family became a larger part of my life again and I really started to see what all I was missing out on. Living in a 10’x10’ plywood box and working 12hr shifts 6 days a week started taking a toll on my patience and my demeanor. I was losing track of my goals and what I wanted. And every time I went back to the states it was a bittersweet reminder of just how amazing it is in the United States. The freedom, the options, the people, its night and day from overseas. All in all, no, the money wasn’t worth it. I began searching for stateside jobs ¾ of the way through my deployment. I knew the paychecks didn’t make up for the family I was leaving behind.
Me: Do you plan to keep contracting?
Hooker: I do not, some guys do it for 5-10-15 years and love it. The money wasn’t worth the lively hood for me.
Me: What was the impact like on your significant other?
Hooker: The impact is tough. It’s not like a normal long-distance relationship. There are days that are harder than others. Being overseas, in the Nangarhar Province, the most dangerous part of Afghanistan, under constant threat of being overrun by ISIS and Taliban forces, it adds a whole new aspect. She handled it like a champ through the guidance and support of myself and my family.
Me: What was the best thing about being in country?
Hooker: The best thing about being in country would have to be the schedule. You can fall into a rhythm and the days fade into weeks into months, and next thing you know it’s time to go home again. It became monotonous.
Me: What was the worst thing?
Hooker: The worst thing is sleep. You don’t sleep over there. You take a nap each night and stock up on Ripits and pre-workout to power through another day.
Me: Did you interact with active military?
Hooker: We worked hand in hand with multiple units, providing an overhead live video feed of missions and constantly updating intel.
Me: What was that like?
Hooker: It’s an experience going from being an E-4 Specialist to having a 1-star general call you “Sir.” You get cocky sometimes and flex your position over rank when need be. For the most part, the green suiters with us were every bit as helpful and supportive as our co-workers. It’s a balance that makes the mission run smooth.
Me: What is comradery like amongst your fellow contractors?
Hooker: Nine times out of ten, contractors are all Vets. So there’s just as much grab ass and d*ck jokes as there was in the Active Duty. After all the sh*t talking and pranks, we came together as a team when the need arises. I’ve made friends there that will last me a lifetime. Stories I’ll tell my children and their children.
Me: Is there a sort of rivalry with other companies?
Hooker: It’s hard to have any rivals when you have the oldest and most tested airframe in the US Military. That’s like a JV football player talking sh*t to an NFL player. We didn’t even hear them.
Me: What’s the craziest thing that happened during your time overseas as a contractor?
Hooker: The craziest thing that happened, we were sitting around the DFAC table eating our cardboard steak smothered in A1, as was our “Turf and Turf” Friday tradition, when we got the call for “A POS BLOOD TYPE” to report to the Medivac center. I walk into the room and there are two bodies covered in blood, you couldn’t tell if they were white, black, army or marines. I gave two bags of blood and tried giving more. A 19-year-old kid died that day. Right on the table next to me. It was eye opening to the trials of war. Complacency that I let build up was washed away immediately. I called my family and told each and every one of them I loved them. Then I got up and went to work 6 hours later. Contract life doesn’t have time to mourn, time to sit around and think. You have a mission to meet. A job to do. And we did it.
Me: Would you recommend contract work to ETSing service members?
Hooker: I have recommended it to each and every soldier I’ve had under me. The kids who I used to be a squad leader for. All the ones who are single and are just waiting to get out of the Army, I say absolutely. Before you slow down and get used to being a civilian again, go over and make that money. Even if it’s just for 1 year, it’s a door opener for sure. Companies who previously overlooked my resume are now calling me, asking me to work for them. I say do it while you’re young and care free. Get the experience, make the money, build that resume, and move on with your life.
Me: You recently got hired by Lockheed Martin, what do you do for them?
Hooker: I landed a full-time employment working on various Rotary Wing aircraft at Ft. Campbell, KY. The projects specifically, I am not at liberty to disclose.
Me: Any cool projects you are at liberty to discuss?
Hooker: The MQ-5B Hunter UAV, actually has some pretty awesome payloads and missions, from finding IEDs and locating high profile targets, it was amazing to see the eye in the sky at work. We saved a lot of lives.
Me: Do you regret contracting and doing something else?
Hooker: Some days I regret taking that year overseas, I missed my grandfather’s funeral, my nephew being born, and a whole NCAA football season. The money helped me experience all kinds of things I couldn’t have anywhere else. I spent two weeks in the U.S. Virgin Islands, and Hawaii. You can’t do that on the GI Bill.
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.