I have seen a lot hype in the press and on social media networks about the modern-day mercenary. The mainstream media uses the term ‘mercenary’ to describe anyone other than the military or press in conflict zones.

I find this to be slightly irritating, because there have been many changes to the ways in which wars are fought today. In this day and age, we see private military contractors (PMCs), risk-management consultants, and the new trade of volunteer soldiers on the battlefield. Now, in some shape or form, all of these have a place in the modern conflict zone. PMCs are brought in to provide security, work as armed guards, provide close protection, and to train host-nation forces. The same applies to risk-management firms now, from what I can see, and this hardly means they should be branded with the title ‘mercenary.’

They are there providing security services to a client. It is no different from a security company here in the UK or U.S. providing security services to a client based in their home country. If not, then the security guard standing in my local shopping store is a mercenary, but from look of him I highly doubt that.

So why do we brand them with this “merc” tag like we did during the gold rush days of Iraq in 2003-2009? Back then, PMCs were brought in to fill a vacuum for the U.S. government, but even then, we’re not talking about direct operations. They were brought in to conduct security services for the government by providing things like close protection, static security guards, and convoy protection. All of these same services can be hired in the U.S. or the UK from a security provider.

So what’s the difference other than that they were armed? So, some guys were dressed for full combat operations while standing at a gate inside of the green zone. Some guys might have gotten into some firefights while defending the building they were assigned to protect. That’s good; they were doing the job that they were hired to do. This does not make them a mercenary; they are professionals providing services to a client. It is not like they were taking part in direct-action raids and hunting down high-value targets on their own. So why don’t we drop the dogma around PMCs? They aren’t mercenaries, let’s call them what they really are: security guards with guns.

The future of PMCs

The future for PMCs will be very different than what we have seen in the past. Just take a look right now at the state of the world: The Middle East is a wreck, Europe is destabilizing with conflict on its doorstep via Ukraine, and Africa is Africa—still with all sorts of problems, from drugs to terrorism to other large-scale conflicts. Meanwhile, the three major world powers (America, Russia, and China) are standing off with each other, and North Korea still poses a threat. The question is, what about the little guys that still need our government’s support to help stabilize their countries? There is no way that our governments can continue to support all the countries out there with military assistance, so they will have no choice but to turn to PMCs for help.

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We need to stop looking at this as a bad thing and realize that PMCs can contribute a lot more to our global efforts and can offer a helping hand when we need it the most. There are guys out there and companies that would be willing to utilize their knowledge and deploy their personnel to places like Syria, Iraq, Somalia, Afghanistan, and Nigeria to conduct direct operations against terrorist organizations.

PMCs

Private military contractors have the resources, knowledge, and skills—learned while conducting and implementing counter-insurgency campaigns in places like Afghanistan and Iraq—to get the job done well. They could assist the host nation in a number of ways, especially in training police and military units, and perhaps even by conducting direct-action operations until the host nation is able to stand on its own two feet. As the word “contractor” implies, they will do the job, then do what contractors do and move on to the next job.

This is useful to our governments. Right now, many of our troops need a break from the war on terror and some breathing space to get our shit together. Let’s focus on rebuilding the economy, rebuilding our military forces, and get the numbers back up. Our military is the most important thing right now given the state the world is in at this moment. It’s certainly not the best time to be cutting our armed forces. We need to re-assert ourselves as a world player and get back in the game.

We have bigger concerns right now. Not that the war on terror is not important, but with the likes of Russia and China, we can’t keep dumping all of our efforts and money into fighting terrorism. We need to find a long-term solution to dealing with terrorism once and for all. This is where PMCs can take some of the burden off the military and our governments. Why would we not use these guys? They are some of the best lads we had in our military. We trusted them back then, so why don’t we trust them now?

We need to drop the title “mercenary” because it doesn’t describe what these contractors are doing. Let’s call them for what they are: private military contractors that can do a professional job and make a positive impact on our efforts at home and abroad.

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Volunteer soldiers

Volunteer soldiers often get called mercenaries by mistake. These volunteers are a funny breed of people who pack their lives up at home and head to a conflict somewhere in the world purely for their own reasons. These motivations are wide-ranging. Perhaps they’re ex-military types looking for a fight because they miss the action they experienced on operations. Or perhaps they’re there to fight because they believe in a given cause. Maybe they are lost and trying find something meaningful. All of those motivations are, at least, understandable. But in recent times, we have also seen the new-guy show ponies as well. You know the guys I am taking about; they have GoFundMe campaigns and Facebook profiles saying that they are “taking on the war and saving the world all on their own!”

Lately, we’ve seen volunteers popping up in Iraq, Syria, and Ukraine. They do play a part in these conflicts, some closer to a true mercenary role than PMCs. I can see why people would get confused as they see Western guys in a foreign conflict. They must be mercs, right? Really, they’re just guys wanting to get into the fight.

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What part do these volunteers play in the conflict, then? Well this vary according to conflict zone, but here are few roles: propaganda, holding key terrain, direct-action operations, training, and morale boosting. While this is close to being the role of most mercenaries, we must not forget that in order to get this title, there must be some gain for these guys—usually in the form of money. But I can tell you this, about 90 percent of volunteers don’t get anything. They are there just to fight, because usually, it’s something they believe in.

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So we’ve established that most of the volunteers abroad are there because they believe what they’re doing is the right thing. To call them a merc is, I think, a bit harsh. Most of them are good guys and pretty sensible with families at home. They are just answering the call and doing their bit for all the right reasons. They are not mercenaries in the truest sense; they do not want financial gain, they are there to do their bit and go home knowing that they have done a good thing.

Within the volunteer groups, however, there are indeed other units that you could label mercenaries. These are very small units—close-knit groups who will rarely speak out. They don’t have GoFundMe campaigns, they do not talk to the press, and while they do have Facebook profiles, they are usually under fake names. Most of their friends are guys in the conflict, and they know the importance of keeping their identities safe. These groups do get paid.

I know what you’re thinking. My God! These mercs are probably paid a million dollars a year and are crazy and wild, with nothing to live for! War must course through their bodies. They are probably war dogs, crazy criminals, etc. Well, that couldn’t be any further from the truth.

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Fact is, most of these guys are ex-military. Most of them have families, and while some are a bit crazy, all in all they are pretty nice dudes. Yes they get paid, but not what you think. Payment is usually made in local currency, which comes down to peanuts to us Westerners, and can be as little as $300 dollars a month. It’s just enough for the guys to buy themselves some drinks, a few beers, some smokes, chocolate, whatever they want to spend it on. Believe it or not, they do get R&R.

Most want to see some other parts of the country that they are fighting for, so this little bit of money helps them to get around. In terms of the operations these groups/units are conducting, they predominately conduct direct action missions because of their backgrounds. More often than not, they get sent to do what the host nation is afraid of doing. But on top of this, they do provide training and offer knowledge to the higher command. They aid in decision-making regarding how best to attack or defend an area, for example. In some units I know of, these guys are used to clear land mines and IEDs—something the host nation most likely isn’t very experienced in.

They become a very integral part of the host nation’s units, and in my experience, those nations call on these groups a lot more than they would readily admit. In the strictest sense, you could call these guys mercenaries. But in my opinion, they hardly fit the definition, as there is no real financial gain for them. Financial loss, certainly, but gains? No way. These guys are looking for a war where they can use their skills to make a big impact. They are not the kind of guys you would find working as a security guard working your local shopping centre.

The future of these groups is an interesting one. I think both volunteers and mercenaries will cross paths in time, whether PMC companies approach volunteers, looking to gain some connections in a conflict, or former volunteers use their background in these conflicts to get a job with a PMC company. I think each of the fighting groups listed in this article are edging closer to becoming true mercenaries. With time, they will all almost certainly be conducting direct operations.

Now I am not saying that there is no such thing as mercenaries out there, because in some conflicts, they are active. Of course, true to their nature, we will never know who they are or from where they came. These are the true mercenaries, and of course, they deserve the title. I can only imagine them laughing at the wannabe idiots out there with their GoFundMe accounts and self-styled war-fighting groups. In fact, these guys are further away from the title “mercenary” than any other group out there.

To all the boys out there still doing their thing—PMC companies, volunteers, and of course, the mercenaries—stay safe, brothers.