Saturday, September 22, 2007

In Iraq, Private Contractors Outnumber US Troops

A tour of duty in Korea (1966-7) gave me a taste of how civilians make Army life more agreeable. That was a long time ago, but I have no reason to think it's worse now. This article from Seattle Times gives a snapshot of Iraq, where civilians on the US payroll actually outnumber the troops. (H/T truthout)

More than 180,000 Americans, Iraqis and nationals from other countries work under federal contracts to provide security, gather intelligence, build roads, improve infrastructure, forge a financial system and transport needed supplies in a country the size of California.

That figure contrasts with the 163,100 U.S. military personnel, according to U.S. Central Command, responsible for military operations in the Middle East. The Pentagon puts the military figure at 169,000. An additional 12,400 coalition forces are stationed in Iraq.

It's hard to know how much of the mission is out-sourced, but my guess is that today's non-conscription military does everything possible to make life agreeable for those in uniform...aside from keeping them safe in military conflict. Some duties cannot be delegated, but from what I gather, Blackwater may have military duties as part of their job description. Nothing surprises me any more.

I was blessed during the Vietnam conflict. Half my training class was sent to Vietnam, but the rest of us went to Korea. After a few weeks of processing I was assigned to a small medical detachment on a missile base near Taejon. The grounds were cleanly landscaped and housing was in permanent concrete block barracks, comfortable year-round. Civilian employees did everything...laundry, cutting grass, cooking and serving in the snack-bar, haircuts, whatever. Each morning I slipped into a freshly ironed uniform, starched, ready to wear, hanging neatly by my bed. My boots were freshly shined and someone made the bed when I left for the day. The dispensary has a civilian janitor to keep the floors and restrooms tidy. Korean civilian cooks worked in the mess hall kitchen.

I have no idea how many civilians were employed at that base, but it was covered by a modest payroll deduction that took care of the administrative details. We didn't have to worry about anything but personal hygiene and staying sober. There was even a licensed steam bath and massage operation on base, available year-round. There you could enjoy a sauna, shower and full body massage administered by trained young women whose job in life was keeping the troops happy. (These girls were not prostitutes, by the way. There were plenty of them available outside the base but that was not part of the officially contracted civilian services, except that when they tested positive for STD's they were brought to the dispensary for antibiotic shots. I assume the shots were furnished gratis with a view of keeping the troops healthy. I never knew of charges for medicine or services to civilians.)

I'm sure my memories are quite different from those who were sent to Vietnam. And life in Iraq has to be unimaginable. But I have no reason to think that with civilians literally outnumbering those in uniform, their lifestyle is wholesale pain and suffering without relief for the duration of a tour. I've spent a career in the food business and know first hand that there is a big gap between the everyday reality and the perceptions of those not in the business. It's covered by the word mystique. A similar mystique also shrouds the military lifestyle. I've also been there and done that. Beyond that, I think patriotic Americans really don't want to know the details.

1 comment:

Scott Kohlhaas said...

We are glad it's a non-conscript army.

Would you be willing to spread the word about It's a site dedicated to shattering the myths surrounding the selective slavery system and building mass civil disobedience to stop the draft before it starts!

Our banner on a website, printing and posting the anti-draft flyer or just telling friends would help.


Scott Kohlhaas

PS. When it comes to conscription, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure!