Private Military Contractors – A Short History

pic1.jpgThroughout history, military forces have depended on civilian contractors of one sort or another to give their military personnel flexibility, or to fulfill logistical and support functions that soldiers do not need to do.

In ancient and medieval history up until at least the 1600s, it was not unusual to depend on armies made up primarily of mercenaries and civilian support. George Washington’s Continental Army depended on civilians for a variety of support roles: transportation, carpentry, engineering, food and medicine. These were logistical functions, considered either menial or too specialized to expect soldiers to do them. Frenchman Marquis de Lafayette was one of the first Military Contractors in the US. In 1777, he purchased a ship, and with a crew of adventurers set sail for America to fight in the American Revolution against British colonial rule.

The Marquis de Lafayette joined the Revolutionary Army as a major general and was assigned to the staff of George Washington. He served with distinction, leading American forces to several victories. Upon his return home to France, he worked closely with US Ambassadors Benjamin Franklin and Thomas Jefferson. Even after technically leaving the service of the United States, he continued to work in its interests.

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The Marquis de Lafayette

Logistical, combat and diplomatic functions like this have been the domain of civilian contractors ever since, up through the Vietnam Conflict and today. Often, the contractors hired were locals, people who could be counted upon to know the area, the local foodstuffs, and to be able to find the proper resources for military needs. Other times, they were brought in from the United States, just as the soldiers were.

THE VIETNAM WAR: A CHANGE OF PHILOSOPHY
In Vietnam, there was a significant and basic change in the way the military treated civilian contractors. Business Week, in March 1965, called it a “war by contract.” This was largely because standard military equipment was suddenly technologically advanced, while the average soldier had little technical training besides basic combat skills. There was suddenly a serious need for civilian contractors with specialized skills to work side by side with the troops. Field maintenance crews with companies like General Electric or Johnson, Drake, and Piper dodged bullets at DaNang and Pleiku to maintain and repair field equipment and infrastructure for troops, who desperately needed them. Instead of being kept safely behind military lines, civilian Contractors were in the same danger as the soldiers they were supporting. This was not the only reason that civilian contractors were active in the Vietnam Theater.

Before the war even started, Air America was field-lifting supplies behind enemy lines to covert US Special Forces operatives who were training the CIA formed South Vietnamese’s, Civilian Irregular Defense Group (CIDG). Food, supplies, weapons, intelligence and transportation would have been impossible to access without Air America pilots and Civilian Contractor ground crews who were maintaining Air America’s airplanes and helicopters. The U.S. was still not yet officially involved in the Vietnam conflict, and to commit American military planes and soldiers would have caused the international incident that the U.S. was trying to avoid at the time.

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An Air America helicopter helps evacuate Vietnamese refugees from the top of 22 Gia Long Street, a half mile from the U.S. Embassy.

The men and women working behind enemy lines out of uniform were a unique breed. Some were ex-military, or ex-CIA, with the training necessary to perform covert operations. They did not have the same status, however, of an American soldier, who soon learned how faithless the enemy was, as the number of tortured POWs started to mount. Others were young men (few women) who were moved by high salaries, or by a taste for adventure, and even by patriotism or idealism.

When the war ended, some ex civilian contractors entered the CIA or other US military or paramilitary service afterward; others went on into private life, often finding successful careers. One ex-civilian contractor went on to run a large branch of Goodwill Industries International on the Pacific Rim, successfully transforming his experience with Asian culture into an executive job after he made millions starting and running a 400-employee company in San Francisco. There were numerous other civilian contractors at this time, almost all working for the same companies that built U.S. army electronics or field equipment. These companies and contractors included General Electric, branches of AT&T, Johnson, Drake and Piper, and even Michigan State University.

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One of the many highly technical weapon systems maintained by Civilian General Electric employees in Vietnam was the 7.62MM GE MiniGun

WHAT IT WAS LIKE?
Serving in this manner was extremely hazardous. Many were shot down; others were captured and remain missing today. Air America lost 87 people during the conflict; it is unknown how many men and women serving with other civilian contractors were also killed or captured by the VietCong, largely because these statistics were not maintained by the military. There were also a few French mercenary- class security contractors working in Vietnam at the time, but they were mostly doing cleanup and protecting French citizens and expats who were still in Vietnam despite the war. R&R was a real problem for these contractors, particularly after the Vietnam War started in full force. A few went to Saigon, like US soldiers, but this was an unsafe and often times uncomfortable position for US personnel, and especially for US contractors. A trip to Tokyo, Bangkok or anywhere outside the theater was a prize to strive for.

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Soi Cowboy’s famous Go Go Bars where American GI’s and Contractors went for R & R during the Vietnam War

Civilian contractors who were working side by side with the military maintaining and upgrading their equipment (and getting shot at with them!) were usually the best accepted by US soldiers. Those Contractors who worked independently from the US Military were generally shunned as outsiders or rogues who were only in the war for the money. R&R could be a little surprising.

The men working for US Contractors sometimes got a little stir crazy, and being shot at every day tends to numb your sense of danger. In 1967 in Laos, some civilian Contractors decided to spend their day off, not sitting around the nice safe hostel they were assigned, but searching through jungles infested with enemy personnel for wild orchids, rare and valuable flowers, to beautify their temporary homes. Miraculously, they were not caught doing this, and returned to their home base with a load of beautiful living flowers.

Others found a different kind of R&R. With so few American women in the area, there were few options for romance. A number of civilian Contractors married Vietnamese, Cambodian and Laotian women, bringing them back to the United States with them when the war was over, or even remaining in Asia to start their families.

One of the main reasons these young men put their lives on the line was for money. Civilian Contractors working with US companies were taking the same risks as US soldiers, but getting significantly higher pay, much to the dismay of the US soldiers they were working with. Salaries varied, of course; but some came back to the United States with the seed capital to start their own businesses, while others went on to high-paying jobs in the military- industrial complex or in private industry. A number stayed in Southeast Asia with their hard-earned cash to live the easy expat life.

PRIVATE CONTRACTORS TODAY
The temptation of a high-paying overseas job today and the poor job market for former military personnel often outweighs the risks involved. It’s currently estimated by the Brookings Institute that for every ten military personnel involved in the Iraq war, a contractor is there to maintain equipment or work for the military in some other capacity; because of security concerns, almost every single one is American or from a European Union or NATO member country.

There are dozens of small private military companies and security contractors that provide PSD (Personal Security Detail) teams to high ranking US, European and Iraqi officials, or escort supply convoys through the dangerous “Mad Max” highways of Iraq; these are most frequently the men who die at the hands of insurgents.

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Security Contractors protect top U.S. administrator in Iraq Paul Bremer as he greets Provincial Council Governor Abdul Kareem Barjas in Baghdad this May

Today, the U.S. military relies on Contractors to maintain 28% of its weapon systems. Ideally, they would like to use contractors to maintain 50%. Military contracting today appears to be a real growth industry, particularly for those with the skills necessary to work with the US Military. R&R is more likely to be in Dubai or Bangkok (like their Vietnam Contractor predecessors) and salaries are sky-high. Special-forces-trained Security Operators make over a thousand dollars a day; more than ten times the wage of enlisted equivalents; even a bus driver makes eighty thousand dollars a year tax-free, and companies are starting to offer juicy incentives like profit sharing.

Whatever else can be said, this much is true: as long as the US military has bases overseas, are involved in peacekeeping with the UN, or involved in some sort of conflict, Contractors will always be hungry for qualified workers, and the workers will always be hungry for the high paying jobs and adventure that can only be found working as a Civilian Contractor in a theater of conflict.

Author – Jamesintheworld

Jamesintheworld is the editor and founder of www.CivilianContractorJobs.com a free site for people looking for high paying overseas jobs with civilian contractors in conflict areas . He has worked for Contractors throughout the Middle East and is currently working in Iraq. James spends his leave time at his homes in Virginia and Indonesia. Contact him at: james@uscontractorjobs.com

  13 comments for “Private Military Contractors – A Short History

  1. July 7, 2006 at 11:35 am

    I have dusted off a place on my mantel for my Pulitzer

  2. Stiv
    July 7, 2006 at 11:55 am

    Interesting. Didn’t know there was that sort of involvement during the SE Asian conflict. Not too surprised though.

    Heck with a Pulitzer I’m waiting for a “Bastard”!

  3. captain_stu
    July 12, 2006 at 5:31 am

    wow thats interesting.. didnt really realize Lafayette was a contractor but once you think about it, it makes perfect sense. good job.

  4. Pete
    June 6, 2007 at 6:44 pm

    My dad was a civilian contractor in Vietnam, working for Marconi. Have not go a clue what he did. Can anybody enlighten me?

  5. Thomas Moon
    July 10, 2008 at 3:03 am

    I worked for Vinnell from July 1970 until Dec. 1974 in Vietnam. I left five days before the Fall of Saigon. Anyone still out there who worked for Vinnell in Vietnam. I am in contact with a few guys, but most have disappeared. I did a little time on Soi Cowboy when I could get out of Saigon.
    .

  6. Henry
    August 3, 2008 at 4:18 am

    I had a contract with USACE for four months in early 1973. Unfortunately I didn’t do anything as exotic as maintain some of the weaponry shown above. I just made sure the military got what they specified and paid for. Actually found some MPC’s in a box I hadn’t touched in a few years!

  7. dhika
    January 2, 2010 at 4:56 am

    Interesting !

  8. p
    January 2, 2010 at 6:48 am

    Military madness is killing our country.

  9. James sheldon
    March 17, 2010 at 6:37 pm

    PMC’s have to be the most underused assets today, most look at them as immoral but the truth is they are just the same as any military personel, i belive that between here and 2012 the need for them will skyrocket

  10. Ron
    November 19, 2011 at 10:02 pm

    I’m glad you posted this. I worked along side the military in Vietnam for 5 years. People ask me what I did or what it was about. I passed your web site along to them and their response to me about it is pretty much the same as above. Some were impressed, some said they were not surprised.
    I passed your web link to some of the guys I worked with over the years and they liked it.
    Good job on the information you posted here.

  11. George
    February 25, 2012 at 2:15 pm

    $1000 for PSD? Uh, no. Not that half that for PSS isn’t really good.

  12. Robert Marshall
    August 20, 2012 at 1:23 pm

    Maybe you should rewrite that not everyone working there was well paid.

    I worked for LSI and other companyies of the same were paid the same.

    Less than same wage in the USA.

    12 hours a day 6 days a week OT for the 6th day I think OT on the 4 over? $1700 before tax.

    We got $13 a day for living in a tent.Per Diem The GI lived in building so with A/C.

    In Phu Loi we had it better than some and worse than others. TET 1968

    The guys in my tents knew I would be waking them when anything was coming in.

    One guy said I sleep with one eye open one foot on the floor and my head in the bunker.

    We didn’t get bunker pay. Awake for a hour or two ? and still worked the next day.

    We lived by candle light. Black OUT. We didn’t have trouble getting back to sleep.

    IF you stayed out of the USA 18 months then it’s tax free ( you get refunded )

    Any “Phu Loi Finks”out there a group of guys who would ride 50cc& 70cc Honds

  13. September 25, 2013 at 11:20 pm

    I was in Vietnam from Aug 1970 to Sep 1973 as a U.S. contractor working for Lockheed Aircraft Services, NHA (Norman Harwell Associates) & LSI ( Lear Siegler Inc.) US Army helicopter maintenance starting and ending at Qui Nhon, Dong Ha (Lam Son into Laos), Tuy Hoa, Cam Rahn, Long Thanh, Bien Hoa and finally Plieku, Camp Hollowway. After the war we were in Plieku (LSI) in Sept ’73 retrograding A-1 Skyhawks for VNAF. VC rocketed us there in mid-afternoon. Time to go home…bye Vietnam.

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