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Old 12-28-2007   #1
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Default Military Interactions with Contractors in Iraq and Afghanistan

I’m hoping the readers and discussion board participants of the Small Wars Journal can assist with some research we’re doing at Human Rights Watch on private contractors in Iraq and Afghanistan. We’re especially looking for an on-the-ground perspective of those who have been in Iraq or Afghanistan, or are currently there, and who have interacted with private contractors. Below is a very short survey (all answers are treated confidentially) and feel free to distribute it to others who may have more information. Thanks so much!

-Thomas



URL: http://www.polldaddy.com/s/88AD59AB7F5869C2/
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Old 12-28-2007   #2
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Thumbs down

I smell a troll.


Added by SWCAdmin: Nope. Please see post below for more info.

Last edited by SWCAdmin; 12-28-2007 at 09:25 PM. Reason: Addressing unwarranted knee-jerk reaction.
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Old 12-28-2007   #3
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Sad, the recent events with Blackwater have given contractors overall a bad name. Indeed not the case. Been on both sides of the fence in Africa, Afghanistan and Europe. Being armed in some of the world’s most inhospitable places doesn’t directly translate into ‘out of your mind free for all’. The individual, regardless of whose paying him/her, is still morally responsible.

I don’t care much for labeling contractors…most of the folks I know are former military and still hold values and home close.
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Old 12-28-2007   #4
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Speaking as a contractor, who does not go outside the wire on the ground, the only time the Army ever expresses any annoyance with us is when we get confused with paperwork procedures. I have no military experience so it is mostly a mystery to me, but I am learning bit by bit. Civilian pilots tend to be a bit creative sometimes. That works in the States and Africa but it isn't worth the minor trouble it can cause here.

The other thing that is hard for civilian pilots to grasp is how the seeming rigidity of the paperwork procedures contrasts with the flexibility once you get aloft. Flying in the States is very structured, do this now in this manner etc. Here there is a lot more freedom given to allow the tactical job to get done. That is hard for some civilian pilots to get used to.

Other than that, they feed me for free in the chow hall and there are six kinds of ice cream so I am happy.
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Old 12-28-2007   #5
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Quote:
Originally Posted by pcmfr View Post
I smell a troll.
Nope.

This is a serious fact-gathering effort by an organization that is a legitimately interested and involved party in the greater discussion around the practice and conduct of small wars.

Feel free to ignore the survey if you wish. But those who choose to respond, please do so with due consideration. It is beneath this professional forum to belittle this effort.

FYI, in the interest of disclosure, Human Rights Watch conducted us about a paid advertising placement on Small Wars Journal. We encouraged them to participate in this forum for free. They chose to do both. We're OK with that.
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Old 12-29-2007   #6
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Apologize for my wrongful assumption... Best of luck with your fact gathering.
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Old 10-20-2008   #7
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Quote:
Originally Posted by SWCAdmin View Post
Nope.

This is a serious fact-gathering effort by an organization that is a legitimately interested and involved party in the greater discussion around the practice and conduct of small wars.

Feel free to ignore the survey if you wish. But those who choose to respond, please do so with due consideration. It is beneath this professional forum to belittle this effort.

FYI, in the interest of disclosure, Human Rights Watch conducted us about a paid advertising placement on Small Wars Journal. We encouraged them to participate in this forum for free. They chose to do both. We're OK with that.
While this comment is certainly old news, I find it hard to believe that this is a "serious fact-gathering effort." It sounds like they're searching for specific information to support a belief they already have.

The opening statement on the survey is as follows:

"We are very concerned about the ways in which the actions of certain contractors - acting with impunity and outside the chain of command - are undermining the work of the military. Sadly, the Iraqi and Afghan public sees an American acting recklessly, does not distinguish been military and private contractor, and it hurts all of us. We want to ensure that private contractors are held to the same standards that apply to the military – and held to account for irresponsible behavior. First, however, we need to understand the nature and scope of the problem. Current and former members of the armed services could help by filling out this very short questionnaire. All of your answers (including the fact that you answered) will be treated as confidential."

Sure sounds like leading questions to me.
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Old 10-20-2008   #8
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Yep. They are just fishing for "contractors gone wild".

I have a question: Am I a good American for being a Reservist, who not only has deployed in the GWOT but has repeatedly attempted to get redeployed, or am I a subhuman POS eeeeevil contractor for turning to military contracting, once it became obvious that I couldn't find other appropriate employment as long as the GWOT goes on, and I continue to serve in the Reserves.

I get confused, sometimes, whether I'm a saint, or the devil incarnate.
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Old 10-21-2008   #9
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Default There are

good soldiers and bad soldiers, good contractors and bad contractors, good reservists and bad reservists, and good guardsmen and bad guardsmen. As in all human endeavor, most of these folk are individually pretty good. The issue, as I see it, is not good people v. bad people but rather, what functions should belong exclusively to the government and what can legitimately be contracted out. At the opposite ends of the scale it is pretty obvious. But in the gray area in the middle, reasonable people can disagree. My personal bias is that when in doubt, one should not contract it out. But how quickly can you go from an overuse of contracting to an appropriate level?

Cheers

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Old 10-21-2008   #10
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I prefer to question why contractors have become necessary.

I propose that the Army's personnel system has become so "broke", that they are unable to get the right person in the right job. I just finished reading "The Sling and The Stone" last night, and was ready to stand up and cheer when Hammes got to making suggestions on how to improve the personnel system.
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Old 10-22-2008   #11
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What's wrong with being a contractor? I've done three deployments as a contractor in Bosnia and Iraq and my teams were usually given more work than the military and were making more significant contributions. I think what should be remembered is that contracting composes a wide spectrum...from intel to protective services to mess hall activity.

I've never understood the fear of contractors or the whole, "greedy bastards" bit.

I'm deployed as a soldier now and think our contractors are great.
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Old 10-22-2008   #12
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I have to agree, to a certain extent. I'm currently working as a contractor, on the equivalent of "half pay" of my Active Military pay.

I provide the "green-suiters" with a product that frees up active military personnel for other duties, and provide them with a handy scape goat if things go wrong.

Also, in some MOS' contracting may be the way to go. For example, operation of the HIIDE system needs to be contracted out, as it is nearly impossible to get a soldier of the correct rank trained to competency before they get promoted out of the position for HIIDE operator.

The answer, then, is to either get rid of our obsolete and inefficient personnel system, and let competent people stay in jobs longer, while receiving competitive pay for their skill (as well as *gasp* treating them respectfully, and as competent human beings).

The contractor system is a symptom of the overall problem, and that is that the current personnel system is broken, badly.
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Old 04-26-2009   #13
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Quote:
Originally Posted by 120mm View Post
I prefer to question why contractors have become necessary.
Generally for the same reason as draftees, reservists and auxiliaries throughout history, to defray the cost of maintaining given capability in an active force through the normal budgetary cycle. $100 billion for 190,000 personnel--20-30,000 in armed roles--compared to in excess DoD operating and personnel line items + $500 billion for 130-160,000.

Quote:
I propose that the Army's personnel system has become so "broke", that they are unable to get the right person in the right job.
I don't think an occupational specialty is something to change lightly. If you can free up more dollars in the normal budgeting process for riflemen by purchasing the services of cooks, bodyguards, package handlers, network geeks and truck drivers as needed, why wouldn't you?

Quote:
I just finished reading "The Sling and The Stone" last night, and was ready to stand up and cheer when Hammes got to making suggestions on how to improve the personnel system.
Hammes, of course, is talking about a uniformed service reform that would eliminate the need for 20-30,000 contractors in shooting roles and anyone else that could stand substantively impact the security or operational aspects of the mission. If we're for expanding the budget as much as necessary and taking as long as it takes to build and maintain such capability permanently, I'm all for it. I'd suspect at the end of the day you could probably do more, faster and for less by taking the experience and assets brought to the table by companies like Xe and marrying it with a clearer legal regime, guidance on matters of US interests in fighting counterinsurgency, and assigning clear accountability for contractor performance on the contracting authority. At the end of the day, while bodyguards--and by extension, their principals--may get into nasty business that can unduly impact operations, men in those roles are men not out bringing security to the host nation population and the fight to the enemy.

Quote:
I provide the "green-suiters" with a product that frees up active military personnel for other duties, and provide them with a handy scape goat if things go wrong.
You've got to love theory. It occurs to me. Is it really constructive to have a conversation about the strategic costs and benefits of using contractors without talking about how authority (mis)shapes the political and media terrain at home and abroad? I submit that 20-30 thousand people, mostly Americans, getting tarred in domestic print, television and even in government circles more viciously and consistently than Islamic jihadists is evidence of a severe communications breakdown.
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Old 04-27-2009   #14
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Default - mere opinion of a non-participant

A moral predisposition, IMO, is clearly identified with the initial wording. IMO any identified 'bad contractor' would get special consideration and further inquiries made by some other agency. This is clearly more punitive than scientific and the intent of said survey is valid and I'm sure needed, it's just the approach that bothers me - seems intellectually dishonest. There are no real mechanisms or venues given to the participant for input on the dynamics and interplay that causes a disconnect between military and civilian which in turn opens the door for rogue behavior. The approach of getting the bad guys and all the rest will fall into place got us into a bad mess in the first place in Iraq and Afghan and this is more of the same mentality.
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Old 04-28-2009   #15
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Quote:
Originally Posted by 120mm View Post
I prefer to question why contractors have become necessary.
Part of the problem lies in Congress and part lies with both the military and civilian personnel systems.

Congress likes to set caps on military personnel, mostly to save money for nice expensive toys the manufacture of which employs constituents, rather than actually support the personnel needs and requirements of the services, particularly in time of war. Service members typically don’t factor in a Congressman or Senator’s reelection strategy.

The personnel systems are both out of touch with basic human resourcing. The military system takes a significant time to “grow” a military member. This is recognized by the services and there really isn’t a whole lot to do about it, particularly with Congressionally imposed personnel caps. The government personnel system is also too slow to hire and equally too slow to fire (in fact nearly impossible to fire).

Hence the contractor: Government needs expertise in A, writes a RFP, RFP is responded to by several companies, proposals are evaluated, contract let, contractors show up. All in about a month or two. Plus the contractors are usually working for their company “at will” and the government includes clauses that allow them to terminate the work at any time for any reason usually with no penalty.

It’s not so much that contractors are necessary, they are just much easier to hire and fire and typically are not employed for 20 years thus saving the government having the burden of a retirement payment.

A better question is: Why are government employees unionized?
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Old 04-28-2009   #16
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Default Would that be because of lack of professionalism at core structure?

A better question is: Why are government employees unionized?
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Old 07-08-2009   #17
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The thing I think the survey is missing is that it seems to be focused on US contractors when I think the larger problem is Local National contractors that if investigated would be a much larger problem.

Thoughts?
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Old 09-07-2009   #18
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Perhaps the issue is rather: "Are contractors utilized appropriately, for non-governmental functions and within the scope, terms and conditions of the contract under which they are employed?". It's an easy answer, rather than implying a vast global conspiracy to deliver destruction, terror and mayhem.
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Old 09-07-2009   #19
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I have had nothing but positive interactions with contractors. I believe that I already pointed this out on a similar thread (I forget which) but I given how much commentary (not necessarily at SWC) is biased against contractors, I'm willing to repeat myself.

I dealt with contractors primarily in the realm of supply and maintenance. I do not know if it is cultural, bureaucratic, or both, but I had nothing but problems with Army personnel when it came to supply and maintenance. They are never satisfied with your paperwork, their standards seemingly change on a daily basis, which means that your paperwork will always be incorrect, and that is assuming that you are actually able to locate them, as they always seem to be a) at breakfast, b) at lunch, c) on "Sergeant's time," or d) closed until 9am. Often times, "until 9am" turns into "10-ish". And if you need something at 4:30, sorry, we close in half an hour. And heaven forbid that you bring more than 10 items for repair (even though you can only make it to the FOB once every week or two). Sorry, Specialist, but the insurgents didn't stop shooting once 10 of our items broke. Next time, we'll let them know about the 10-NMC-items-per-day limit at your air conditioned office.

Contractors were the most user-friendly folks that I met in Iraq. I remember when the KBR guys first took over 30-level support for our NVDs, weapons, and thermals. We brought ten NMC items - as per the Army's curious limit - and informed the contractor at the desk that we would bring ten more in a week. He asked why we didn't just bring them all today. We informed him of the 10-per-day limit. He looked at us like we were space aliens. Turn around time was immediate for most of the items. Code-out procedures were a cinch. The contractors seemed to always be available - not sure if they actually worked 24/7 or if it just seemed that way. Paperwork not done properly? No problem. The contractor would print out a new sheet and fill it in for you and then give you an example sheet for the next turn-in. Incredibly user-friendly, helpful, fast, efficient. I could go on. More expensive? I don't know. I also don't care.

Added: Also, in regard to local nationals - my only interaction with them was an occasional foray into a FOB chow hall. My understanding is that they were earning about a dollar per day or something absurd like that. Outrageous to an American, but apparently pretty good wages if you are returning to Bangladesh. We gave a few personal items to some of them just prior to redeployment - surprisingly they were reluctant to accept them until we cleared it with their US supervisors. Seemed like hard-working, honest, decent folks to me.

Last edited by Schmedlap; 09-07-2009 at 02:40 PM. Reason: Added
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Old 09-07-2009   #20
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And doubtless the majority are, man. I know this to be true, as well. Like the Army, a "few bad apples", etc.

Where a problem seems to exist with regards to support contractors is out-of-scope violations by entities other than the Contracting Officer.

Case in point: I know of a contractor performing work ordered within scope by the KO to pour sidewalks at a FOB. The sidewalk-making was going well and within cost, schedule and performance parameters. Then a senior soldier (we'll keep the rank out of this on principle) decided he needed a sidewalk to his quarters, along with one for his boss. He directed the contractor to perform this. The contractor's on-site supervisor, not having a full command of the language, and doing what DCUs tell him to, begins pouring the extra sidewalks.

Needless to say, confusion, frustration and anger reigned with both the KO and the contractor when the project busted the parameters. Evil, greedy contractor? Not hardly. Government conspiracy? Nope. Apparent authority mis-utilized? Yep.

While a relatively-harmless (I say "relatively", as no loss of life, limb or eyesight occurred, but your tax dollars bought some turd the luxury of not getting his feet dusty enroute to the latrine), it's a good case in point that the Government/Contractor team can get befuddled or just plain mutually injured. The situation on the ground often aggravates this.



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Seemed like hard-working, honest, decent folks to me.
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