Sunday, March 8, 2009

WAR, Inc.

As I sit down for dinner in a larger dining facility that can seat almost 2,000 people at once; I look around I cannot help but notice that the war has gone over to the private sector. We have sold out to the lowest bidder so many jobs, tasks, and skills that I, as an American taxpayer, am repulsed.

“Contactors” is a loose term, but generally describes the various civilians who seem to number us two for every three Soldiers. By the way, we, the military, are termed, “Green Suiters” by them. They belong to companies with well known names like KBR (Kellogg, Brown, and Root), MPRI, the infamous Black Water (although they merely pass through rather than work here) as well as little known companies like Saber, and Aegis.

Contractors come from across the globe. American consultants, Ugandan gate guards, British convoy security specialists, Indian food service workers, Indonesian laborers, plus Australians, Canadians, and others all fill this FOB. Some of us have learned “thank you” in three to four different languages.

The contractors fill all kinds of jobs. We have people take our trash, empty the port-a-potties, ring up purchases in the Post Exchange, and serve as baristas in the coffee shop. The American skilled laborers provide technical expertise on communications equipments and our vehicles. They are subject matter experts in law enforcement and tribal relations. They also provide skilled expertise on electrical, plumbing, HVAC, and construction. However, they don’t do the actual work. The work is left to the laborers. A vertical construction project on the FOB has a foreman and an interpreter and a platoon of dark skinned workers.

All these contractors all Soldiers to focus on their job. Without them we’d have to fill many of tasks and thereby reducing our overall combat effectiveness. Without them our living conditions would be austere and primal at best; just ask any Soldier living on a COP (Combat Outpost). Without them the war might be shorter because Soldiers might work a little harder to complete the mission, if only to get out from living in a tent.

Of course, it’s all about the money. The guy holding the blueprints to put in a new air conditioner is making in the high five to lower six figures. Tax free. The laborers have it good too. I imagine in some cases this FOB is a huge step up from what they may be used to back home. It’s interesting to note that most American contractors I see all seem to be of retirement age. There are no family men or women here.

Of course it’s about the money and someone is making a lot off of these contracts to the government. War is good for business. For example; we are building a roof over the roof in the dining facility. The roof cost $1,000,000.00 and is meant to defend against mortar attacks. We haven’t had an attack in over twelve months (when the contract was written), but the military is legally bound to spend and build it anyway. Some may argue that one well placed mortar round is worth a million dollars and the hundreds of thousands in labor costs. Maybe they are right.

In 2010, most of the combat forces will be leaving. In 2011, the papers say we will be out of Iraq completely and these contractors will join the unemployed pool of labor back in the US.

War is business and no one should think otherwise. Although good men and women go into harms way because the volunteered and swore an oath, there will always be people who see the opportunity to make money off of it.


Darci said...

What a powerful post, Rich!

Colleen said...

And since economic development is a critical part of building civil capacity, one of the tenets of the US mission in Iraq, for years we should have been hiring Iraqis to fill these jobs. No offense to the wonderful Indian DFAC workers who ensure delicious paratha is served all over Iraq and ever friendly Filipino laundry contractors who bring upbeat Tagalog music to Catholic masses on US FOBs in Iraq...but Iraq has plenty of skilled engineers who could be managing DPW services on FOBs and hiring local laborers. This has been changing over the past 2-3 years, but the shift is too slow for my taste and the entrenched American and Third Country National contractors continue to dominate the job market at the expense of Iraqis.