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Supporting the Services
by J. F. Kelly, Jr. 7/3/08

Blackwater Worldwide, a provider of security and security training for military, law enforcement and other government agencies, recently tried to build a military training facility in rural east San Diego County. Plans included live firing ranges, helicopter landing facilities and an urban combat simulation area. That project drew the ire of local residents, environmental activists, U.S. Representative Bob Filner (D-Calif.) and a gaggle of peace activists.

More recently, the company announced plans to open an indoor training facility in a warehouse in Otay Mesa, near the Mexican border. That project drew the anger of San Diego city officials, local residents and, of course, the usual assortment of anti-military activists. Blackwater obtained a federal court order allowing it to operate the facility which the U.S. Navy says is needed to provide small arms training. The company claimed that the city was in noncompliance with that order by holding up a final permit and not allowing a portion of the project, including a ship simulator, to be built. According to a company attorney, the city’s chief building official placed 64 conditions on the permit including wheelchair access.

J.F. Kelly, Jr.

J.F. Kelly, Jr. is a retired Navy Captain and bank executive who writes on current events and military subjects. He is a resident of Coronado, California. [go to Kelly index]

Reaction from much of the public seemed hostile to such a facility and to the company which would operate it. Some critics maintained that the Navy didn’t need Blackwater to train it and that the services should conduct security and small arms training themselves. The critics are, as is much of the public, it seems, out of touch with what is involved in providing training and logistics support to the armed forces today. The fact is, the armed forces are no longer staffed to provide all of this support and must rely heavily on civilian contractor support.

Today’s armed forces are much different from those that existed when the draft provided an abundance of relatively inexpensive manpower. Since the advent of the all-volunteer force, we have streamlined the services to focus on operational capabilities and professional war fighting skills. To the extent possible, labor-intensive, non-operational duties were eliminated or civilianized. These included not only many of the maintenance, upkeep, logistical and training functions, but also many traditional functions that don’t involve war-fighting and operating combat systems.

Take, for example, the Navy. Its deployable fleet now consists of only 279 ships, well below recent fleet size targets. One of the reasons, besides insufficient new ship procurement, is the fact that logistics ships such as oilers, stores ships, ammunition ships and other underway replenishment and cargo ships that used to be crewed by active duty personnel are now crewed by civilians. The Navy’s Military Sealift Command now operates over 100 ships, all crewed by civilians. Even the tugs which assist in berthing warships in U.S. ports, are civilian owned and operated.

Many traditional functions, such as seamanship, shiphandling and navigation training, have been contracted out to civilian companies. The reason is simple. The smaller, leaner Navy does not have sufficient experienced officers who can be spared from operational duties to conduct such training. By way of disclosure, I teach ship handling and seamanship to Navy bridge watch standers as a part-time instructor employed by L-3 Communications, a company under contract to the Navy to provide such training at ship simulators and classrooms at various naval installations. The company hires retired naval officers with multiple ship command experience to design and deliver the training.

Blackwater provides self-defense, survival and firearms training for law enforcement agencies and the military. Founded by former Navy Seals, it trains over 40,000 people a year for the U.S. and foreign military and police departments. It is currently the U.S. State Department’s largest private security contractor. It provides security for the U.S. Embassey in Iraq and for civilian diplomats. Like the Halliburton Company, it also provides a variety of support services for the U.S. military that are essential to its mission and which the services are not structured to provide themselves.

It makes perfect sense to use civilian contractors who largely employ experienced ex-service members whose specialized skills, prior military training and familiarity with the military culture and organization would otherwise be lost to the armed forces. Their use can free up combat-trained personnel for more critical operational roles.

Media and anti-war critics sometimes demonize defense contractors like Blackwater and Halliburton but the fact remains that contractor services are essential in an all-volunteer military posture. The constraints on the allowed numbers of expensive, operationally trained personnel and the demands upon them to operate the sophisticated weapons systems, sensors and platforms under the current and foreseeable high operational tempo preclude their use in support roles that can readily be civilianized. Supporting the troops means, among other things, allowing them to receive the training support they need to do their jobs. CRO

copyright 2008 J. F. Kelly, Jr.



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