In Defense of Military Contractors
18 March, 2010
D. Alan Johnson
Many times in the past few years I’ve heard news persons and commentators condemning the horrible morals of the private military contractors. They speak of the killers working for Blackwater, the black-clad mercenaries of Triple Canopy, and the white slavers of DynCorp. As a private military contractor I am tired of getting painted with this tarry brush.
“How can those men go overseas and kill and maim thousands? Have they no conscience?” These questions are asked by PhD’s, radio talk show hosts, and ladies who have never been anyplace wilder than Sea World in Orlando. Others see dark conspiracies that these specialized companies are out to overthrow weak governments and steal their natural resources. This propaganda makes for great copy on MSNBC and in Mother Jones magazine, but is it true?
First of all, private military contractors (PMC’s) are not mercenaries. Instead of being paid as front line soldiers to fight battles for a country not theirs, contractors are specialists supporting the military. PMC’s are more like the blacksmith and the armorer that rode behind the knights fixing their armor and weapons than the black knight who fought for whoever paid his fee. Don’t get me wrong, most of these men are not what I would consider good candidates to marry one of my daughters, but neither are they the bloodthirsty sadists painted by the left.
Today’s PMC jobs include managing electronics installations, maintaining aircraft, providing administrative services, collecting intelligence, and hauling freight. The US military could perform all of these functions, yet a civilian company can do it better and cheaper. By regulation most contractors are not even armed. These jobs attract men and women who are willing to work in conflict areas, who want to make a difference in the world, and who want to make more money than is available for the same job in the States.
But the world seems fascinated by the small percentage of PMC’s that are “shooters”. As a group these men are some of the lowest paid contractors, yet have the highest mortality rate. These are not frontline soldiers, but mobile bodyguards and search and rescue. One of the nicknames for them are the “fender runners” since they often accompany diplomatic convoys through Bagdad running next to the armored vehicle carrying the dignitaries.
The battle of the traffic circle at Nisur Square in Bagdad captured the world’s attention in September, 2007. Three armored vehicles, callsign Raven 23, acting as a mobile reaction force, received radio traffic that a large vehicle borne bomb exploded close to another team’s location. They blocked off a traffic circle, diverted traffic, and took up a defensive position. A white Kia or Toyota (court documents differ) approached at high speed, (again, testimony differs as to the speed) driving on the wrong side of the road. The Blackwater guards fired at the car fearing that it was a car bomb. The driver and passenger were killed. The guards and the State Department officials report that Raven 23 then started taking small arms fire. In the mayhem 20 more civilians were killed and 17 were wounded.
In January, 2010, after over two years of being tried and found guilty in the world press, a US appellate judge dismissed all charges. He found that the Blackwater guards’ company reports were used without giving them their Fifth Amendment Rights. He also took under consideration the testimony of the other guards riding in the convoy. The antiwar crowd is apoplectic. How can these murderers be released?
You know, facts are funny things. While they may be true, they often do not reflect the truth. The facts are that Blackwater employees fired into a group of unarmed people. Many innocent civilians lost their lives in that traffic circle that day.
But put yourself in the place of those men guarding the State Department officials. A vehicle borne bomb has gone off less than a mile away. A car is approaching you at high speed going the wrong way. You have a split second to make a decision that will impact the lives of your charges and your buddies. Add to the mix that you have already done two tours as an active duty infantryman where you saw many of your friends killed by IED’s. Your reflexes are honed to stop bombers.
The gunners were wrong in their assessment. There was no bomb in the little white car, only a medical student and his mother hurrying to a hospital. Tragic. And if the gunners had allowed the car to pass close to their convoy and it had been a vehicle borne bomb? Raven 23 would have been destroyed. Thankfully, the judge understood more than just the facts handed to him by the Justice Department and the press.
The Department of State officials in Bagdad understood the situation from the first day. Their support for Blackwater never wavered, but they were forced to cancel the contract. As happens so often in this business after bad press, the contracting company has changed, but most of the personnel and all of the procedures are still in place.
Like any large group, PMC’s have their share of bad apples and a few outright criminals. But for the most part, I have worked with men and women of high moral character who were just trying to do their jobs. They will never come out and defend themselves in the press. It is against their nature. The press has always been the enemy; the one who, for a scoop, will put their life in danger. I just wanted to give you our side of the story.
D. Alan Johnson