What’s it like to be a military contractor?

Private Security, support, logistics, etc.
Paul Ev

Paul Ev, Consummate Participant Observer, Former Marine, Current USN Reserve and Federal Employee

Excuse this answer’s lack of cohesion — I’m writing from a smartphone!

I assume this question refers to a PMC, or Private Military Contractor.  After exiting the USMC in 2003, I floated around for a year looking at options and waiting for a job to start (which never did). I was 27, living at my parents’ house in Iowa City and collecting unemployment when a friend of mine from the Marines IM’d me and said, “Want to be in Afghanistan next week with my company?  $350 a day, every day you’re there.”  I figured “Why not?”

The company my friend worked for specialized in tactical communications intercept gear, and the CEO had created a specialized unit for that kind of thing back when he was in the Marines (http://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/R…).  He specifically recruited former RRP members because he knew our skillset and general attitude.  Everyone who worked in Afghanistan for that company was hired based on reputation and word of mouth alone.

Anyway, we were tasked with implementing the communications infrastructure for Dyncorp’s poppy eradication and police training programs.  Since we had miltary experience and a lot of firearms training, we were able to not only do comms stuff but could go on “missions” and drive folks around.  Here are some specifics:

Living Conditions:

All in all living conditions were good.  Better than enlisted life on the USMC in some cases.  Room and board was included, almost always at a gated compound w/ 24 hour armed security.  Guards were typically Nepalese and made $5 USD an hour.  Originally they were Ghurkas and generally referred to as such.  It was fairly obvious to me that many were NOT Ghurkas (or very well trained at all), and it turned out that the company hired pretty much any Nepali who had served.  At the first compound I lived, we had a pre-fab barracks and a roommate (always the same company).  Afghan trainees lived across the street on a separate compound.  We go to a separate compound for food. The second place I lived had a makeshift barracks built by local labor.  We shared tiny rooms with a roommate but had a catered dining facility next door supplied by a HUGE company called RA, or Reconstruction Afghanistan.  Most of the Nepalese guards ate as if it was their last meal and some became noticably and comically overweight.

Working Conditions:

Management was generally inept and without exception former military dudes who reverted right back to [inept] military mode.  People were fired for minor offenses or outbursts; if you didn’t agree with a management call theyd simply find someone who would. Firings were quick — you could find yourself on the next flight out.  Since most salaries were $500 a day, management had this luxury and frequently used it.

The people we worked with were generally cool and from many countries, but mainly South Africa (generally whites).  Working with these guys was entertaining but it became obvious on a couple occasions that while it was fun to drink scotch with them and tease them about apartheid, they were often scoundrels who would leave you behind in a pinch.

We all had long guns — while working there I carried at some time or another an SA-58, an AK-47, and an AR-15.  People went overboard acquiring weapons out in town — makarovs, sawed-off double barreled shotguns, etc, to the point that management decided that having non-issued weapons was grounds for dismissal.  This wasn’t a bad call, especially when one employee shot both barrels of his sawed-off through his bedroom door and into the adjacent bathroom, wrecking the tile (and his door).

When not out on missions (poppy cutting, which was rare) we basically ran errands around Kabul for our managers.  Drive here, pick up this, swing by the the expat market for booze, etc..  A lot of the time we’d drive to the nearby Army base to workout and drink coffee.  We had unfettered movement around Kabul and got to know the city very well.

There were expat hangouts (bars) dotting the city, though PMCs weren’t always welcome there.  NGO workers weren’t fond of us and blamed attacks on us, saying that extremists mistook them for PMCs.  We all knew this was laughable; NGOs were unarmed targets and much more attractive than we were.  We drove in lical/tinted vehicles and were armed, whereas they drove around in marked vehicles with no protections.  There were also a series if Chinese “bars” that popped up.  At first they were fun to hangout at, but then they turned into brothels and were eventually shut down.

When winter came work was slow — in October we logged about 8 hours of work *the entire month*.  Otherwise we were hanging out, watching TV, waiting for word.

That said, at that time the amount of fraud, waste, and abuse was appalling. Employees were procuring and/or destroying gear at alarming rates.  There was little to no oversight on inventory and many positions were “one deep”, meaning for example that one guy was in charge of supply and had no oversight.  It was very wild-westy.  I didn’t really care at the time and just wanted to get paid, so all the BS I witnessed was fine entertainment. Some of my closest friends from the Marines were out there with me and it was the perfect job for us.  That said, there was always danger, as we saw when the Taliban destroyed one if our buildings with a VBIED:

http://www.nytimes.com/2004/08/3…

No one was surprised when this happened; the company was almost begging for it (which is why we avoided going there at all costs).

Eventually I picked up a job in the federal government where I’ve worked ever since.  I have friends who are STILL working as PMCs, but I was happy to leave.  I liked most of the people I worked with and found Afghanistan to be the most stunningly beautiful place I’d ever seen, but traveling around as we did and seeing what we saw left its mark on me in many profound ways.  Some of the employees were unbearably stupid and boorish and far outweighed the cool folks.  There were 3 times where I thought I was going to die and I had a really hard time with fireworks for a while.  Some coworkers came back with PTSD but aside from some nightmares and the fireworks thing I didn’t fare too badly.  Either way, I would never trade that experience for anything, but wouldn’t necessarily recommend it either.

About the Author

Paul Ev

Paul Ev

Consummate Participant Observer, Former Marine, Current USN Reserve and Federal Employee

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