Editor’s note: The content of this article has been provided by Jake, an active private military contractor (PMC) whose last name will remain anonymous. The following information is meant to provide an inside look at the current state of the PMC job market and provide tips for those looking to enter the market.
When talking about security contractors, there are a couple of things that should be known. First, PMCs are not mercenaries. Intrinsically, a mercenary is a foreign professional that is hired to fight for another country. There are other important legal nuances between a mercenary and a PMC that lawyers and other experts have hashed out and will continue to hash out as long as there are lawyers and other experts. For our purposes, however, just know that the guy at the bar telling a girl he is a “merc” is likely compensating for something.
To the dismay of most veterans trying to break into the PMC arena, the times of Blackwater running the streets of Baghdad for a thousand dollars a day are no more. The market has matured and the contracts are trimming down. The government is no longer interested in throwing money at their problems in the same way they were a decade ago. Knowing that, don’t be surprised when you hear the heartbreak story of the guy whose contract, after only four months into his first gig, was canceled. There is not much job security in this world and there’s even less empathy when the government decides to close a contract. But don’t lose heart. There is still good money to be made — if you know where to find it.
When Erik Prince, the founder of Blackwater, got his black eye in the Senate the government began to reconsider the political opportunity cost of relying on PMCs for security. Yet, the market appears to have shifted instead of disappearing. Military intelligence, both collectors and analysts, are finding themselves in some lucrative post-military positions.
When comparing gigs, know that not all contracts are created equal. Some contracts pay their people by the day, by the hour, by the job, or with a salary. It is not uncommon to find a contractor who is actually an employee. This was the case on my first contract – benefits and all. The duties can also vary significantly. Some people seem to exist solely to collect a paycheck, grow beards, and complete their online MBA. Other contractors are in a uniform, sweating through the heat of the day while standing at a checkpoint contemplating where they went wrong.
Although the discussion deals with the overseas security aspect, most contractors do not fulfill security requirements on a base. In war zones, some might not even carry a weapon. Most contractors, in fact, are foreign nationals. Anyone who has deployed with the military knows about the Indians and Nepalese cooking at the DFAC or the Ugandan guards at the PX.
The PMC world seems to blend the difference between the corporate world and the military, so it is no wonder that it is often an easy transition for veterans. But buyers beware, the blend is not always a thing of fairy tales. A contract can take all the obnoxiousness from the military, such as issued uniforms, and blend it with the penny pinching of enterprises. My first contract followed AR 670-1 (the Army’s grooming and uniform standards) and had military-style uniforms that were expected to be pressed (I never did). The supervisors had NCO chevrons to denote their rank and we followed AR 670-1’s haircut and shave policy. No-shave chits were not authorized. Another contract I worked on required close-toed shoes. Once that hurdle was overcome, it was about the big boy rules I had expected. It just depends on the company, the client, and the leadership.
A good way to get a glimpse into the culture downrange is by the posted hiring requirements. The posted minimum standard is not always strictly adhered to, especially in areas that are contract critical. That being said, if they will accept two-years of service in the reserves and a GED, don’t expect to be growing a beard with GRS in Tripoli.
Currently, the market is saturated with high-quality combat veterans of Iraq, Afghanistan, and now Africa and Syria. Not to mention many who have impressive backgrounds in police SWAT teams. Many police officers are from the military and even if some law enforcement officers on contract may not have the extensive combat experience that an infantryman might have, they often come within at a refined age, with more maturity and education.
It is important to note that I am not a recruiter – and these are just personal observations. When it comes time to apply, it is important to stylize a proper resume — like in any job. The poor PMC recruiters get hundreds of resumes a week and spend hours sifting through acronyms, military units, and confusing dates. Remember that many recruiters are not military, so tailoring a resume like it is competing for the next slot at Ranger school is a good way to get glossed over. If a recruiter can’t figure out what your resume says, why should he or she hire you? In place of what super-secret units you were with, emphasize your MOS and what you can offer. If applying for an overseas security position, the recruiter must demonstrate to their client that you have fulfilled a certain set of requirements to be contractually eligible. At a minimum, this will start with time spent overseas doing parallel work as well as being eligible for a security clearance. Make these minimum requirements easy to find. Don’t make them add months together to see if you qualify. Leadership and business smarts are always welcome additions. Try to take buzz words from the actual job listing and insert them into your history.
It may not be easy to hear, but sometimes you have to take the messy job first. The really juicy contracts are often not posted publicly and only hire on a referral basis. You need to know someone to get in. Always have an up-to-date resume handy to pass along to a buddy who is moving up in the world. There’s always someone who knows someone important. Have patience, do good work, and you will too.
Finally, a word of caution. Many contractors who eventually “make it” to see the shining light of a good paycheck tend to get lost in the glitter and end up wearing golden handcuffs. Do not do what every 19-year-old lance corporal would do and buy a brand-new Mustang on your first rotation home. Save up for a rainy day, invest in your future, pay off debt. Maybe your contract will be around for the next decade, maybe not. Nobody knows. Make sure that you have an exit strategy that is flexible enough to handle unforeseen friction and disciplined enough to set you up for success when it is all said and done.