Murphy's Law: Camp Followers In Iraq

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August 17,2008:  In the last year, as the number of U.S. troops serving in Iraq has gone down, the number of civilian contractors working for the army there has not. A year ago, there were about 90 contractors for every hundred troops. Now it's about over civilian for every military. 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. There is some danger in Iraq, but for civilian workers, the chances of getting killed or wounded are a third of the rate for the troops, And the troops are suffering a casualty rate less than half of what it was for previous wars (like Vietnam).

 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.

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, the troops are used. But working in a combat zone is still dangerous, no matter what your work clothes look like.

 

 


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