THE BLOG
03/18/2010 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

Money isn't everything; it's the only thing

When I was overseas earlier this year I had the pleasure of meeting Jake Allen. He is a former Marine Corps infantry officer and has worked as a private security contractor in Iraq and other regions.

Jake is a decent, intelligent, disciplined, organized, honorable professional. He is exactly the sort of man you would want to have around to ensure you live to see another day. He is also representative of the vast majority of security contractors who are misrepresented and unfairly labeled as mercenaries.

Jake also runs the excellent Private Military Herald blog . As its mission statement says, "The site has an editorial bias towards the existence of PMCs and the contribution they can make towards addressing complex international security challenges."

In no way can Jake be considered anti-contractor. That is why it is very much worth reading the Security Contracting e-book he published earlier this year.

I have never thought that it was a bad thing for either private security or logistic contractors to earn high salaries. It seems elementary to me that if you are going to voluntarily risk injury or death it is entirely reasonable to be well paid for it. While one can argue over issues like cost-effectiveness I would never argue that they deserve to be paid less.

At the same time some private contractor advocates argue that for many, if not most contractors, the money is relatively unimportant, that contractors just want to serve their country, just as many of them did when they served on active duty. Of course, only those who have never actually served in the military think that issues like pay and benefits are unimportant to those who serve on active duty, but that is another story.

One can argue about many different aspects of private contracting but you can't have an honest discussion unless you are willing to acknowledge the profit motive. To paraphrase the old sports quote, money isn't everything; it's the only thing. Trying to wrap private contractors in the Stars and Stripes as a way of describing their motivation is simply not credible. Those wanting detail on this should read this law journal article "Wrapping Themselves in the American Flag: The Alien Tort Statute, Private Military Contractors, and U.S. Foreign Relations.

That is why it is important to ponder what Jake writes. Here is what he says:

The first thing you need to understand is that the private security industry is made up of a group of for-profit corporations, businesses and individuals. Despite the fact that the term Private Military Company (PMC) contains the word 'military' there is almost nothing about the modern PMC which resembles the military. Certainly not in the areas of discipline, accountability, oversight, capability, capacity, troop welfare, tactical prowess or quality of leadership.

Private security contracting is the ultimate game of market capitalism. It makes Wall Street competition look like a child's game. Private security contracting is a lion's den of ferocious and vicious cut-throat competition where the law of jungle is all that exists. Only the strongest survive and they will do by consuming the weak.

I don't say this in a gratuitousness derogatory manner. I am just stating the facts as they are. Money, profit, the-bottom-line, what ever you choose to call them are the sole and driving force behind these businesses. While PMCs will often cloak themselves in patriotic terms and talk about their contribution to the country's foreign policy this is all window dressing. Were they really and truly motivated by patriotism or service to country they would provide their services at a deep and significant discount in an effort to 'contribute' to the cause. But this is not the case and again I do not begrudge the companies for doing what companies do...making money. But have no illusions about their motivation as it will drive all their decision making and this may or may not be aligned with your own personal best interests.

However, once you realize this and come to terms with the fact that in this industry money is always the primary and most cases the sole motivation for existence they are able to see other facts more clearly and learn to operate in a world which really has many unwritten codes but very few enforceable laws.

The primary facts, the common laws of contracting if you like, are:

  • No one person or even small group of contractors, no matter their tactical skills, will ever stand in the way of company profit.
  • The clients needs and wishes will almost always trump contractor/employee requests or requirements because it is the client who pays the invoices which create the profit.
  • Corners will be cut at every possible opportunity in an effort to reduce costs and thus increase profits. This will manifest itself in nearly every aspect of the operation from the equipment chosen, the maintenance cycles, the quality of the staff, staff training, the site, the facilities, the salaries, per diem, travel expenses, work rotations/shifts, etc, etc... Some companies are more egregious than others but all do this to some extent.

Just remember, no matter what, the profit train is not one you want to jump out in front of as it will run over you every time. If you ever find yourself standing between your convictions on one hand and the impact to company profits on the other you better have your go-bag to hand because you're about to be placed on the next thing smoking and headed outta town.

There may come a day when a company is formed which puts the well being of the employee and the client ahead of the all-mighty profit margin but to my knowledge that company does not currently exist.
pp. 8-9.