Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Congress Suggests Standard Training for All Security Contractors

I had two intentions for tonight’s agenda. The first was to mention a bit of news that I had recently come across. The second goal was to relate some of my experiences in Ar Ramadi, Iraq. However, I have decided to delay the Iraq story until tomorrow. In its absence, I suggest you check out Michael Totten’s newest report from Baghdad HERE . His latest dispatch was my motivation to write the Iraq tale that will appear tomorrow. Until then, I hope you find the following useful…

The News

The House Appropriations Committee today authorized its latest Defense Budget legislation. This, in and of itself, is known news to all interested. Most media reports that I have seen have focused on what the bill lacks: a clearly defined mandatory withdrawal date for American forces in Iraq. This has been noted as especially surprising as the bill was largely drafted by Representative John Murtha. Nearly everyone knows where Representative Murtha stands on the issue of immediate troop redeployment.

However, while reading the summary of the bill, I came across a piece of information that was particularly interesting to me. Those who have followed Educated Soldier since its inception can attest that one of the earliest posts concerned the use of contracted security operators in places like Iraq and Afghanistan. That article can be accessed here.

The concerns of these operators are especially important to me. Many of my friends that left the service chose to follow the lucrative contracts and continue to serve in-theatre in this capacity. Because of these close relationships, I have followed the activities of the security contractors pretty closely. It seems that the United States Congress has also been watching keenly.

The bill includes the following provision:

Requires the Secretary of Defense to develop minimum standards for all contractors performing security functions and to establish a clear set of rules of engagement for those operating in Iraq and Afghanistan, within 90 days of the bill’s enactment.”

There is a lot of information contained in that short passage. The mention of “rules of engagement” is a touchy one for those critical of the security contractors. To my knowledge, the contractors have not been restricted by the Rules of Engagement posed on authorized United States military nor have they been subject to the Uniform Code of Military Justice. However, because of the sensitivity of these issues, I am going to abstain from presenting any sort of opinion on these matters.

Instead, I want to discuss the proposed development of minimum standards for the security contractors. The highly funded entities that solicit these contracts have been the source of much conversation at many of the military discussion boards that I frequent. When I completed time in the military, the security companies that I was personally familiar with (Blackwater, Triple Canopy, DynaCorp, etc) were operating, on the ground level, with the services of some of the best-trained military Special Operations-types money could buy; literally.

Apparently, from my understanding, this level of competence has been lowered. The trend downward was encouraged by the hefty number of contracts offered to these companies, notably to Blackwater. There came a point in time when an unfortunate dynamic became apparent: more contracts were available then were highly trained individuals to accept them.

While I was in the service, it was assumed that one needed some Special Operations experience to be considered for employment by Blackwater. Special Operations experience that would qualify would be the completion of any of the following training, for examples: The Navy’s BUD/S Program, The Army’s Ranger course or the Special Forces qualification course. If one had experience in the Marines’ Force Recon units or the Air Forces Para-Rescue programs, again, one would have been deemed prepared to attempt gaining employment with Blackwater.

I witnessed the beginning of the quality recession myself. It began about the time I completed my service requirement. In 2005, my fellow brothers-in-arms were signing contracts with Blackwater having never completed any of the mentioned Special Operations courses. However, these soldiers were trained in the combat-arms fields of their respective branches and each of them had seen very real combat. While not having the credentials of the original Blackwater operators, they were capable performers regardless. The level of skill was declining, however it was not yet low enough to warrant concern.

Now my understanding is that, in a need to fill the high number of contracts, individuals are being hired with drastically less experience. It is the running joke among military-types that the current prerequisite for such employment is no more then past mall-security duties. While the joke is funny because of its assumed outlandishness, it is scary in its truthful depiction of the current situation. The security companies are offering employment to nearly anyone with a clean record and desire to do the work.

And this is why such provisions had to be included in the new budget.

Blackwater is an enormous company. Their original founder, Erik Prince, was the benefactor of a 1.3 billion dollar inheritance. Their training facility in North Carolina spans over 7,000 acres and is considered one of the nation’s premier facilities for such use. It has been reported that a large segment of America’s servicemen utilize its facilities. Blackwater has been said to have trained individuals from local police departments all the way to the highly specialized members of the United States’ Special Forces Operation Detachment – Delta, also known as “Delta Force” or “Combat Applications Group.”

This is to say that Blackwater has had the means to train its operators. Even a mall security guard could become somewhat proficient at such an equipped compound. The dilemma falls on the less-wealthy companies that lack such grounds for training. These companies also have contracts to fill. The fear is that they are sending operators to hostile areas lacking the proper training and skills.

And the only remedy seems to be government regulation. It will be interesting to see just how such a provision plays out. My assumption is that some of these smaller companies may falter under the demands of industry-standard training. Meanwhile, Blackwater will probably argue that they should be exempt as they have already been providing such education to their contractors. Only time will tell…

The official summary of the Appropriation Committee's Defense Funding Bill can be accessed here (in PDF format).

1 comment:

Lynnette In Minnesota said...


I left you a comment over at Zeyads.