FOR A VERY LONG TIME I’VE WANTED TO WRITE about my experience as a defense contractor. It’s been a few years since I started this journey, which means I am holding on to many memories, experiences, and nagging questions. However, when I attempt to write about my time in this industry, I’ve found it extremely taxing because it’s met with a cavalcade of emotions.
By discussing my experience as a defense contractor, I risk revealing too much, not enough, being overly critical, or not being critical enough. No matter how I tackle this topic, there will always be biases because this is my experience and the reality I occupy. Ultimately the reason for avoiding this is based on a fear of my inability to mold an area that I deem too technical into an artful human experience. Then there is the element of the “tortured artist” living inside me, cringing at the thought of churning out cliché prose about the military-industrial complex and capitalism.
During the most challenging moments of being a defense contractor, I’ve found comfort in film and music. Both have helped me cope with alienation, fear, and hopelessness. However, ultimately the superficiality of these mediums sits between the gap that separates my conscious self and subconscious mind. Ushering me through various stages of struggle, a changing self-identity, and a yearning to transcend. No matter how much we pretend that these things don’t influence us, sooner or later, something seeps in, opening our eyes to notions of the life we have or want.
As a child, I remember watching Bugsy Malone, a 1976 comedy musical about children pretending to be gangsters during the prohibition era. I haven’t seen this movie in years, but I still remember verse-for-verse a song called “So You Wanna Be a Boxer.” While decades have elapsed since I last saw this movie, I felt compelled to juxtapose my experience as a contractor alongside this moment in the film Bugsy Malone. While I know that doing this is a bit preposterous, there is a mildly satisfying and entertaining factor about attempting this that spurred me on.
A Brief Look
THE BACKSTORY ON MY JOB as a defense contractor is a long one, and one that I must admit is quite interesting, but I will not dive into my origin story in this blog. Instead, I will say that I am not a scientist; I do not reverse engineer alien craft, nor torture or conduct experiments on people. Occasionally my work has crossed over into the area of weaponry or equipment of mass destruction. But mostly, my role has always been in the realm of support. I tend to work on defense contract projects with companies considered bottom-of-the-barrel by many of my friends in the sectors of defense research, aerospace, or intelligence. I can do very little but agree with them when they jokingly say I work for-and-on bottom-of-the-barrel defense contracts but still continuously complain about what is wrong with these companies.
I and an unlucky or lucky few have slaved for many bottom-of-the-barrel companies such as; Triple Canopy, GardaWorld, AC FIRST, Dav Force, URS, KBR, AMENTUM, VECTRUS, DynCorp, GSS, and FLUOR. This is a shortlist of defense contractors who secure contracts supporting the U.S military and government. These companies do anything from staffing dining facilities, construction, base security to facility maintenance. They support the military and government in ways that have become highly convenient to service members and veterans.
Compared to the military, a moderate amount of personnel who work for these companies are paid exceptionally well. I am talking about salaries that range from the low $100,000.00 to $250,000.00 and beyond. Let me preface this by saying that many defense contractors are former service members or are still a part of the military. Veterans and individuals still serving can and have benefited immensely from being part of the military-industrial complex and capitalism. Thanks to defense contracting, many minority groups has eased themselves into a life that’s almost comparable to the lifestyles that middle-class white Americans adapted after World War II. They’re able to purchase their own homes, travel, invest in real estate, become entrepreneurs, and exist in spaces outside the realm of what many thought was possible. Ultimately there are pros and cons to this field of work, but money is the ultimate benefit. In considering the argument for defense contracts, salaries are what makes a person choose this lifestyle. While money can’t always make us profoundly happy, at least when misery rare its ugly head, you can wallow in its security and comfort.
Those who don’t have ties to the military or government tend to think that all contractors are greedy bastards lining their pockets with blood and war. When I hear this, I tend to refocus this endearing sentiment by pushing the blame upwards to the owners, CEOs, and the Project Managers of the defense companies and the government agency who issue these contacts. But, unfortunately, a significant percentage of contractors who find themselves working for these companies seldom enjoy fruits similar to what a project manager, owner, or CEO is given.
While the money is enough to change a person’s circumstances, it’s still not comparable to the millions or even billions that the presidents, CEOs, and owners of these companies earn yearly. It’s hard to say where many of us stand on this issue because it’s not black and white or even grey. Its complexity resides in the idea of capitalization and the notion that every man has to survive.
When faced with hardship, we may turn to the unthinkable. The unthinkable might take the shape of working a dead-end job, slaving to the machine, or existing in a realm where your happiness is measure by how well you can stay on the tight rope before falling into darkness.
Another area that the U.S. public is unaware of is that many of these bottom-of-the-barrel companies practice an extreme form of out-sourcing. So, greedy U.S war mongers such as myself aren’t the only group benefiting from these contracts. Many may seem comfortable with the idea that U.S citizens, veterans, and service members are being compensated well for working these jobs. Companies that fit the profile of being bottom-of-the-barrel; tend to have a decent employee size, but in locations outside of the States, U.S citizens make up less than 50% of employees. In one case, I remember one company having over 5,234 employees in one region, with only 2,045 being from the U.S. The majority of the employees are other country nations also known as OCNs. People from countries such as the Philippines, India, Kenya, Uganda, Kosovo, Hungary, United Kingdom, Greece, Bulgaria, and other countries made up the majority of workers. Depending on where these jobs are located, the host country might demand that they hire a certain number of locals. In most cases, these locals and people from places unfairly deemed third-world receive most of the supporting jobs, where they are paid based on the cost of living in their country. For example, if the cost of living is low and the average salary equates to $300USD per month, these companies might entice these groups as they could afford to pay the average salary plus a little bit more. If a company decided to pay them $500USD or even $2,000USD per month, most foreigners might be content with that, while U.S citizens depending on which state they are from, may require more. This makes Americans expensive to hire and keep on contracts. I am sure if the department of defense, military, and U.S. government didn’t implement security clearances and other criteria for specific jobs, many defense contracting companies might only hire foreigners from poorer countries to keep the cost low. While many might say this is unpatriotic, I can see why they would choose these workers over U.S citizens because it’s all about the bottom line. When many of the jobs are out sourced in this way, a variety of problems arise.
If you read more into this, then there is a feeling that slavery is still alive and well; but instead of forcing groups to submit without incentive, they use pennies as the proverbial carrot. The longer you sit and analyze this, the smaller the gap between Bugsy Malone and defense contracting appears.
Here ends part 1!