Why are private security contractors looked down upon by the military?

Jim Wayne

During the War of 1812, during the British advance on Washington, DC, American militia and a small number of American sailors and Marines formed a defensive line blocking the British route of march at Bladensburg, MD. On August 24, 1814, the British reached the American lines and began an attack. The Americans outnumbered the British by about 2000 men and 15 pieces of artillery, and had time to prepare some defensive positions.

The American leadership was disorganized and confused, and the comparatively untrained American militia forces were forced back and began to retreat. The small force of regulars and Marines, commanded by Commodore Joshua Barney held the key point of the defense, based around the Marine artillery. They were holding despite heavy pressure, when the civilian carters hired to carry the supplies refused to endanger their carts by bringing more ammunition to the front. This left the 330 sailors and 103 Marines with little ammunition for their guns. They nevertheless held off the British forces until lack of ammunition and the collapse of their flank support made further resistance impossible. Commodore Barney ordered a retreat; the commodore himself was wounded in the thigh and captured.

With the capture of the Bladensburg defenses, the way to Washington was left open. The city was captured, although the defense lasted long enough for most of the inhabitants and important government records to be evacuated. The Capitol was burned, with the then-existing Library of Congress. The White House was set afire and badly damaged, but not destroyed. Finding the “city” of Washington to be mostly a near-frontier wilderness, with nothing left of strategic value, the British turned their attention to Baltimore, where they were stymied by the stubborn defense of Fort McHenry.

From then until after Korea, the US did not use civilian contractors near the front lines, reasoning that those contractors, not subject to military control and discipline, were not reliable in a desperate situation. Only in Vietnam, when the government was desperate to minimize “military” casualties, was the practice revived. The wisdom gained from the Battle of Bladensburg that had governed US practice for more than 150 years was abandoned.

Based on other answers, it appears that what Commodore Barney and President Madison learned at great cost, needs to be relearned.

Battle of Bladensburg – Wikipedia

Commodore Joshua Barney, US Navy

Dallas McKay

The guys who man the towers and entry control points were great. Usually they were older dudes who had retired or got out for one reason or another. They were friendly, reliable and did a tedious job that allowed us to do our mission.

It was the dudes that went outside the wire that made life harder. They didn’t play with the regulars. We didn’t know where they were most of the time. This meant that they were often times I’m a sticky situtaion, and calling for help. Had they simply cooperated with us, we could have told them what to avoid, when and why. The Turkish Army, notoriously difficult to work with, was far easier to deal with. This resulted in our guys going to get them. So, either a team on a real mission got pulled to respond, or the QRF gets blown out. Then, we end up patching up their wounded and pulling a MEDIVAC. There are only so many birds that do that. Once they’re in the air, there is no change of mission. So, if a real soldier needs help, he could be SOL.

Remeber that the majority of these guys doing the contractor gig aren’t the cream of the crop. Those guys are working higher profile, better paying, gigs. Embassy security and what not. So the dudes running around the mean streets of Kandahar were mostly dudes who got kicked out or were malcontents who though they were better than they actually were. But, they do Cross fit and wear Oakleys, and they can talk a good gun game, so they must be the best. Sweet beards; too.

I am no one to jump into conclusions since I don’t know what goes through the mind of those who serve in the military.

However, I have some hypothesis:

Hypothesis 1: They could be “jealous” of these contractors since their salary is greater even though they’re practically doing the same job as them.

Hypothesis 2: PMC’s tend to have the reputation of being ‘war criminals’. Along the years, a few contractors have been involved in the murder of innocent civilians.

Hypothesis 3: Those in the military see PMC’s are anti-patriotic for fighting for money and not for their country.


Susanna Viljanen

Because they tend to be unreliable.

“Private military contractor” is just an euphemism for mercenary: a soldier for hire, someone who is motivated solely for pay and loot and is not a part of the regular army. Both conscripts and volunteer soldiers tend to be much more reliable than mercenaries.

The plus side of mercenaries is that they are convenient – they can be hired at will and fired at will – and expedient. This is the reason why the mercenary is the second oldest profession after prostitute. The minus side is that they are unreliable and unpredictable, and prone to deserting – and, at worst, changing sides. They are not only expedient but also expendable, and they themselves know it. They don’t like to risk themselves when things begin to go pear-shaped.

Conscripts can be sacrificed en masse and volunteers will make it with dedication and determination, but mercenaries tend to be unreliable. They are also not bound on Geneva convention, and unless motivated by ideology, religion or sheer hatred, are prone to surrendering or desertion.

Unfortunately the mercenaries tend to be the worst of the worst. They usually are ex-soldiers who have gotten dishonourable discharge or have been drummed out from service, their leadership usually is incompetent or brutal or consist of soldiers who like the killing stuff more than protecting the innocent, their officers are often the stuff unmaking for an officer and a gentleman, and they tend to pick their fights – they are good for protecting VIPs or putting down an insurgency, but they are bad on fighting anyone who knows the trade.

Volunteer foreign units, such as Foreign Legion or Eagle Squadrons do not count as mercenaries: they are part of the side’s regular fighting force.


Junaluska Hall

Thx for A2A

Mercs. It is as old as war. Regs I knew didn’t hate them per say, more like they were alway loudly in the way. When I Say loudly I mean for example, PMC is in area. DM for PMC thinks no one but them know what the hell is going on . Therefore they are loud and in the open air making noise/trouble over something not right. meanwhile. US military has a search that is going to be conducted in same area. To do this over watch is sent out ahead and digs in.Prior to digging in, same over watch may set out lures, lures that idiots for PMC walk right into or point out loudly. Now over watch can do what lure was set out for, take out threat that approaches ( and sometimes wishes he did) or can break silence and let team know PMC in area and all have scrambled thanks to the fat goose in the roadway. Picture is of a event I just described happening ,lol.Sorry it went to the top lol. So communication and old feelings are more to blame than anything. As others point out a lot are vets from the US and other countries. I dabbled in it briefly when I first got out. Not all it was cracked up to be. It has a different feeling going to kill with fellow countrymen than it does with a small group of strangers. Leaves a oil slick on you for a little bit. Just my personal opinion.

Christopher Aeneadas

Three reasons off the top of my head:

Envy: Servicemen are making a hell of a lot less than those contractors. They also cannot veto a particular deployment due to family issues, political views, or just thinking a particular place sucks in a way they’d rather avoid.

Most will make an argument that they feel this way because they joined for patriotism rather than money, making the contractors simply greedy bastards enriching themselves.

To that argument I call bull____.

As a recruiter I almost never met someone for whom the money, benefits, and job stability of enlistment didn’t factor into their decision to put on a uniform. Patriotism and duty were almost always there too. It’s almost always a mix of reasons.

Those contractors? Hell yeah they are getting paid. They are mostly veterans too. Many are retirees that the military wouldn’t keep due to age. Patriotism is in their bones too. They have just done their duty already. They learned a valuable skill or ten in the process, and now they are selling their knowledge back to their former employer at market rate. Just like any retiree consultant.

Behavior: Contractors generally operate with some independence from military oversight on a hour-to-hour basis. They are generally not bound by military law. Many (not most) misbehave. Some of that behavior is criminal or shameful to the military. Few miscreants who are caught are punished beyond being sent home and fired or reassigned.

That understandably makes your average soldier at least slightly suspicious and resentful of contractors they don’t know personally.

Law and propriety: Go find me the Geneva Convention that covers contractors. I’ll wait.

Generally they are basically either camp followers (protected) or mercenaries (unlawful) depending on your interpretation of their behavior. Our governments stance, of course, is that they are legal and protected in all cases. That makes sense for food service personnel. It’s questionable for truck drivers. It breaks down when Blackwater flies a Blackwater flag while carrying barely “defensive” weapons thst would get them arrested in the US, and engages in “unplanned and defensive” firefights outside areas controlled by our military.

Yet the locals see Americans when those unsupervised gunmen come to their town and end up in a firefight with a group of “militants” that used to be the mayor and police force. It reflects badly on the military so servicemen resent it. Doubly so because at some level of military command those contractors were approved, meaning it is that service members duty to publicly support it.

So the reasons for the friction are pretty clear. Each serviceman who has a negative feeling about contractors may have their own spin on it. They may not even grasp or specifically agree with the reasons I gave above. Those are, however, the underlying flaws in the system that cause the friction and make contractors unpopular with many (not all) troops.

Wei Lai

Because of different motivations.

The military serves the country, for the people. They are selfless.

The contractors serve the companies, for the money. They are money-motivated.

From the perspective of morality, it’s reasonable for the military to look down upon these contractors.

Let me put it simply: would you really trust someone who just fights for money?

Those are mercenaries and they fight for whomever has the largest pile of cash. No loyalty whatsoever, no accountability, nothing.

Largely because they were a fucking pain in the ass. They answered to nobody, did things often detrimental to the mission as a whole, presented themselves as a threat to members of the military (e.g., forcing military members to prone out and holding them at gunpoint after a traffic accident with them), they engaged in a lot of corrupt – and even criminal – practices (e.g., it was pretty well known that Blackwater was running guns and other black market items), they made a shit ton of money doing it and rubbed our faces in it, and then they showed up in NOLA after Katrina with the same mindset.

We don’t look down upon them…It really depends on the individuals and the individual company. I know some contractors who are amazing to work with and others who just suck at life.

My least favorite are the former military guys who never went to war while enlisted. They are usually too Hooah for their own good.

I believe a big problem troops have is how much the contractors get paid while we make next to nothing in comparison. But hey, it’s America, can’t hate a guy for making a living.

Contractors are a great asset when used properly. For example, they can be used to protect VIP’s, or guard something giving us one less thing to deal with which allows us more time to conduct offensive operations against the enemy.


Alan Smith

No one likes a wild card in the deck when it works against them, and often PMCs/Private Contractors/Mercenaries will act in ways that are contrary to the present military forces’ codes of conduct.

Blackwater, for example, is probably the best example of how a PMC can cause trouble for the country itself.


Harry Hache

I cannot pretend to read minds, but my time down-range as a contractor tells me that there is some resentment, to be sure. The average E4 makes about 1/4th what a contractor makes. Sounds great, right? Well, there is a flip-side. I saw PMCs get into really sticky situations and they had no backup – that is, they cannot call in indirect fire, call for air support or even rely on a dust-off – – all those guys could do is cry for help and hope an Army or Marine unit (air or otherwise) was in the area to assist. So while many resented these folks, many also found them to be… well, idiots.

Me, I never went ANYWHERE without troops in tow. I wanted to come home upright.

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