Winning: The Mercenary Bodyguard Index

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December 2, 2008: Another sign of victory in Iraq is that the contractors providing VIP security (bodyguards for high ranking foreign and Iraqi officials) are now hiring former East European commandos, instead of the more (more than twice as more) expensive former U.S. and European chaps. This is all because, in the last year, casualties among U.S. troops in Iraq have gone way down, with injuries to civilian contractors going down even more. This has had a bad effect on contractor morale. That's because as contractor casualties have dropped over 80 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.

More importantly, attacks on VIPs are way down. And so even the brass are cutting security costs. The top-of-the-line security personnel cost over $100,000 a year, and at least half a dozen will be used for every trip outside the wire. The VIPs have noticed that these trips attract a lot less gunfire, and more traffic jams. That's because a lot more Iraqis are out and about. So why pay for these expensive foreigners when you can get nearly-as-good ones from Eastern Europe or South Asia.

So the new annual contracts are offering much less money. In addition to the VIP security jobs, the security personnel (who man checkpoints and guard the major bases) are the next most highly paid. But now these gate and perimeter guards 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.

 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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