Beyond the more obviously disturbing aspects of warfare, I found over 24 years in the Army the United States’ military’s growing addiction to contractors problematic, for many reasons. Back in the proverbial good old days, organizational security was provided with organic assets—your soldiers. If you weren’t eating MREs, chow was cooked and served in MKTs with organic assets—your cooks. Helicopters were repaired with organic assets—your crew chiefs. Trucks were repaired with organic assets—your diesel mechanics. Then, if they didn’t stay in the Army for the long-haul, those people might very well return to their communities with skills they could use in civilian jobs.
To some degree, it was that kind of training in the military—that, along with the experiences in leadership and service to something greater than themselves—that accounted for the character of those people who became Tom Brokaw’s Greatest Generation. Though we may not have realized it at the time, training soldiers, sailors, airmen, and marines was a long-term investment in the strength of our nation. And while conflicts after WWII may not have produced that sort of expertise and experiences in exactly the same kind and magnitude, military experience continued to produce technical expertise, leadership experience, and morals and values that, later, were reinvested into local communities and their economies.
Military service is still doing that, just on a smaller scale, that’s continuing to dwindle.
THE CONTRACT WAR
In Afghanistan and Iraq, our military’s growing and, in my view, detrimental and diminishing-return dependence on contractors to do what trained soldiers can do and have always done became abundantly clear. Haliburton, KBR, DynCorp, Blackwater Worldwide Xe Academi, and others were the answer, and they all represent one thing: the business of warfare. And business, unfortunately, has been very good.
Proponents may argue that contracted cooks, maintenance, logistics, and security represent good people serving the nation in their own way. They may very well be good people, but, no, it’s not service, not unless we want to water-down that term and squeeze every drop of meaning from it. It’s like equating service in the military to land speculation and real estate investment. It’s a capital venture. Not sacrifice. The nation doesn’t bear the burden of—and decision-makers choosing war don’t have to figure in—long-term care for contractors once the job’s done. Fixed cost. It’s all in the contract.
Local populations who work for industrial contractors—and become dependent on them—to provide chow to troops are doing it for the money, and the industrial contractors organizing them, are doing it for the money. Contracted security forces do it for the money, and they are not bound by the same values and laws as soldiers, and they are certainly not part of that team, as is often made abundantly clear.
They do it for one predominant reason: money. Put aside the rather simple—though some would want to make it complicated—question of morals and ethics and warfare and we’re left with a more practical problem: soldiers are losing expertise.
In “Spies-for-Hire Now at War in Syria,” The Daily Beast’s Kate Brannan reports that “Six3 Intelligence Solutions—a private intelligence company recently acquired by CACI International—won a $10 million no-bid Army contract to provide ‘intelligence analysis services.’” CACI acquired Six3 in late 2013, in what was hailed as the “Single Best Deal” of 2013. Now, thanks to DoD’s intelligence analyst shortfall and a reluctance to really commit with full force to the expanding war against ISIS, the deal is paying off, big-time. As Brannan reports, “At the time of the purchase, CACI CEO Ken Asbury said he thought Six3 would open up an additional $15 billion in contract opportunities. CACI has been providing the U.S. military contractor support for years, including interrogators assigned and working at Abu Ghraib prison at the time of the abuse scandal.”
And there you have it—the simple question of conflict between morals and ethics and the almighty dollar.
When war is not waged with a profit margin in mind, but, rather, with a candid and sober acknowledgment of the enormous, undeniable, and inexcusable short-term and long-term human costs—both figurative and fiscal—it makes a difference.