The Department of Defense has been drawn into a bidding war with its own contractors to keep special operations troops in uniform -- a competition that has cost taxpayers at least $100 million since it began in 2004.
The Pentagon’s Special Operations Command is paying reenlistment bonuses of up to $150,000 to Army Green Berets and Navy SEALs to keep them from fleeing the military to take high-paying jobs with private security contractors such as Blackwater USA.
“Ideologues in government have pushed outsourcing with fateful results,” author, columnist, and former Army officer Ralph Peters tells Newsmax. “We ended up outsourcing our honor.”
According to The Associated Press, about 1,200 Army and Navy commandos have accepted bonuses in exchange for agreeing to remain in uniform. Only those service members with at least 19 years of service are eligible for the bonuses, which start at $8,000 for those signing up for one extra year. Two additional years in uniform bring $18,000, three years $30,000, five years $75,000 and six years the top bonus of $150,000.
Armed security professionals working in Iraq and Afghanistan for firms such as Blackwater can earn as much as $500 a day -- $130,000 a year, Doug Brooks, president of the industry group International Peace Operations Association, tells the AP. The typical 19-year uniformed veteran receives about $63,000 a year.
Special operations soldiers, sailors, airmen, and Marines bring a range of specialized skills to the table -- from guerrilla fighting to language and cultural knowledge -- that are particularly prized in so-called “low-intensity, unconventional” conflicts such as those in Iraq and Afghanistan. The Pentagon tells the AP that the bonus program is working and that the drain of veteran commandos has been reversed.
“Back in 2005, we saw quite a few exits,” Rear Adm. Michael LeFever of the Navy’s personnel division says. “What we’re seeing lately is just the opposite. We’ve become very aggressive.”
Contractor Carter Andress, CEO of American-Iraqi Solutions Group, discounts the impact of soldiers for hire as nothing more than “distortions and demagoguery.”
The author of "Contractor Combatants: Tales of an Imbedded Capitalist," tells Newsmax: “When it gets down to the people we’re talking about, there are less than 5,000 combatant contractors, people carrying guns for a living.”
Democratic congressman Henry Waxman of California, chairman of the House Governmental Affairs and Oversight Committee, has questioned the movement to military privatization that has helped lead to the bonuses. In a committee hearing earlier this month, he quoted Defense Secretary Robert Gates as saying private security contractors are luring “highly trained soldiers out of our forces to work for them.” Waxman said the Pentagon is considering asking special forces soldiers to sign “non-compete” contracts to slow the drain.
“Privatizing is working exceptionally well for Blackwater,” Waxman said. “The question . . . is whether outsourcing to Blackwater is a good deal for American taxpayers, the military, and our national interest in Iraq.”
Author Peters, whose most recent book is Wars of Blood and Faith: The Conflicts That Will Shape the 21st Century, believes Congress should ban private contractors from the battlefield. “The military chain-of-command has to retain control of the guns and those who wield them,” he tells Newsmax. “Ban the contractors and the contractors don’t hire away your people.”
In congressional hearings earlier this month, Erik Prince, CEO of Blackwater, defended his hiring of former special forces members.
“At some point they’re going to get out after four, six, eight, whatever that period of time is, whatever they decide, because we don’t have a draft. We have a voluntary service,” he told Congress. “Yes, a lot of them come to work for companies like us, but not at any higher rate than they ever did before.”
For Peters, the bottom line is not necessarily just the cost to taxpayers. It goes beyond that.
“Making war and the supporting disciplines must be kept exclusively within the government sphere,” he says. “Outsourcing our military’s monopoly on violence in wartime does not save us money, it certainly doesn’t save us headaches, it defies conventions on warfare and international law and, when all is said and done, it’s a hell of a lot more trouble than it’s worth.”
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