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US: National Guard Chief Says Private Military Contractors Stymie Recruitment

Guard recruiters find themselves in a "bidding war" for highly skilled service veterans, who are being offered lucrative contracts to work as private security contractors in places like Iraq and Afghanistan.

by Nathan HodgeDefense Daily
July 13th, 2005

The extensive use of contractors on the battlefield is having an adverse effect on recruitment in the National Guard, according to the chief of the National Guard Bureau.

In a meeting with the Defense Writers Group yesterday, Army Lt. Gen. Steven Blum said the governmentıs outsourcing of certain security tasks to private firms had had "unintended consequences," making it more difficult for the Guard to recruit sought-after military personnel such as special operators and military police.

In some cases, Blum said, Guard recruiters find themselves in a "bidding war" for highly skilled service veterans, who are being offered lucrative contracts to work as private security contractors in places like Iraq and Afghanistan.

"We are offering them bonuses to stay with us, yet the other elements of the United States government are offering them more significant bonuses to go and do this and basically in a paramilitary civilian contractor capacity," Blum said.

The Army National Guard, made up of just over 330,000 part-time soldiers, has been having trouble meeting its recruiting numbers for several months in a row. Blum acknowledged the Army National Guard is about 20,000 below its authorized strength, but said Guard members were re-enlisting at a higher rate than expected.

"Itıs not a case where we are in serious crisis mode," he said.

Recruiters for the Guard often look to enlist prior-service military, and can offer substantial bonuses for some of the most experienced personnel. The Army National Guard has also raised the maximum recruitment age to fill in the manpower gap, but Blum said those efforts compete with recruiting drives by the active-duty Army and the Marine Corps.

The Pentagon has enlisted private firms to take on a wide range of military tasks in places like Iraq and Afghanistan. Those companies--which provide services from logistics support and equipment maintenance to convoy security and personal bodyguards--can offer a substantial premium over military pay and bonuses.

"We hadnıt thought our way completely through when we started doing that, and weıre probably going to need to make some adjustments along the line," Blum said.

Blumıs remarks come amid serious discussion within the military and the Defense Department about the proper role of contractors on the battlefield. DoD recently clarified the rules governing contractor personnel who deploy with or provide support to the U.S. military overseas, but there are still ambiguities about the legal and regulatory status of contractors (Defense Daily, May 10).

Recent incidents in Iraq have further added to the controversy. Last month Marines detained a group of private contractors in Iraq for allegedly going on a shooting spree in downtown Fallujah; the contractors, who worked for North Carolina- based Zapata Engineering, were sent out of the country after their release.

Blum said the proper role of contractors needs to be worked out, but it is also an issue beyond his pay grade.

"We do have a particularly strange arrangement with certain people like special operations forces that are being offered big bonuses to sign with civilian contractors to do essentially the same work, and yet the Army is offering them less of a bonus to stay right in the Army," he said. "So again itıs an unintended consequence of trying to optimize your human capital. Weıve got to get that in alignment."

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