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
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.