Paramilitary: No Pain, No Gain

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September 2,2008:  In the last year, casualties among U.S. troops in Iraq has gone way down, and among the similar number of civilian contractors, such losses plummeted even more. This has had a bad effect on contractor morale. That's because as contractor casualties have dropped over 60 percent, so has pay. That's because the U.S. hires these workers via brokers in their home countries. Just as the United States paid higher and higher re-enlistment and other bonuses to keep enough troops in uniform, they will raise and lower the pay for contractors depending on how many qualified people will offer to sign up. 

In Iraq, most of the civilian contractors work in the well defended bases, and most of the contractor casualties are among those (about a quarter of the total) who do security or transportation jobs that take them outside the wire. But even those have a lower casualty rate than the combat troops. For the really dangerous work, soldiers and marines are used. But working in a combat zone is still dangerous, no matter what your work clothes look like. There is always some danger in Iraq, but for civilian workers, the chances of getting killed or wounded are a third of what they are for the troops, And the troops are suffering a casualty rate less than half of what it was for previous wars (like Vietnam). Now that contractor casualty rate is even lower, many more people back home are applying for the jobs.

So the new annual contracts are offering much less money. The security personnel (who man checkpoints and guard the major bases) are the most highly paid, but now they are being offered $500-700 a month instead of $1200-1500. These guys come from African, Asian and South American countries, where even the lower pay is much more than they can make back home. But the cuts, largely the result of supply and demand, hurt morale. The cuts also remind everyone that a lot of these jobs are soon to go away. The rates aren't just dropping, they are on their way to fading to nothing.

The big layoffs will happen when the U.S. starts leaving major bases, which will be turned over to the Iraqis. A year ago, there were about 90 contractors for every hundred troops. Now it's about over civilian for every military because the U.S. has withdrawn the additional "surge" troops. But as more American troops leave, bases will be empty of U.S. personnel, and no longer in need of security.

 Overall, the civilians are cheaper than soldiers, mainly because most of them are unskilled labor from countries with very low pay scales. These civilians still make several times what they could back home, if they could find a job back home. Armies have always had civilians along, to perform support functions. The historical term is "camp followers." In times past, the ratio of civilians to soldiers was often much higher, like eight civilians for every one soldier. Only the most disciplined armies (like the ancient Romans at their peak), kept the ratio closer to one to one.

When conscript armies became common in the 19th century, it was suddenly cheaper to replace many of those civilians with conscripts (who were paid a nominal wage.) Now that armies are going all-volunteer, it's reverting to the old days, where it was cheaper to have civilians perform a lot of support jobs.

 


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