How to Become a Private Military Operator
Private military operators are trained soldiers who conduct military operations in foreign countries. Companies like Academi (formerly Blackwater) and Aegis Defense Services hire private military operators to perform specialist tasks in security, counter-insurgency and covert operations, sometimes for foreign governments and corporations, at other times under contract with the Department of Defense, Homeland Security or another U.S. government agency.
Private military companies operate independently of U.S. military forces, although they sometimes cooperate with them. Nevertheless, all of the private military operators (often called “contractors”) working for these companies are experienced soldiers, almost exclusively veterans of elite U.S. military units like Delta Force and Navy SEAL.
When you sign up for employment with one of these companies, expect hazardous working conditions in foreign countries. You may be assigned to a unit working for an oil company, protecting assets in a combat zone, to a combat operations unit working for a foreign government or to a training unit preparing foreign troops for combat and overseeing their combat performance. Whatever the assignment, it is by definition dangerous: during the Obama administration, more private military contractors working for the U.S. government died in Iraq and Afghanistan than all other U.S. military combined.
It isn’t so much how many years of experience you’ve had that counts as the kind of experience you’ve had. More than 80 percent of Academi’s employees are former military; the highest-paid contractors come from elite, special-force U.S. military units. While there’s also a need for ex-military members who are proficient in keeping combat machinery and equipment running, the top dogs of these military contractor units are relatively young (ages 24 to 40), muscular and athletic combat veterans, who are “the shooters, the operators…the guys that kill…and protect important people.”
There are no specific degree requirements, either, although speaking one or more foreign languages common to the areas of deployment is helpful. Specific combat operations skills, such as bomb disposal, (parachute) jump status, underwater and combat swimming skills are also in demand.
Thirty private military companies comprise most industry employers. Many, like Academi, KBR and Triple Beam are American, with headquarters based in the U.S.; others are run by Americans and employ mostly American contractors but are headquartered and/or registered in foreign countries, such as Northbridge Services Group, that has offices in several countries but is headquartered in the Dominican Republic. Other military companies are European, like Spain’s Prosegur and the British private military company, Aegis Defence Services.
None of the top 30 military companies are shoestring operations. GrS, which advertises as “the world’s leading global security and outsourcing group,” has over 620,000 employees, many with military combat experience.
So far as salaries go, the most reliable source, the U.S. Department of Labor Statistics, doesn’t list the occupation. Military companies do not publish salaries or salary ranges. However, anecdotal evidence suggests that monthly pay can top out at $20,000. The average military contractor undoubtedly earns far less. Employees and former employees of Academi reported military contractor salaries to Glassdoor, which ranged from just under $50,000 to over $90,000.
Job Growth Trend
There are no reliable, published industry-growth statistics, but there’s little doubt that it’s a growing industry, with private military contractors in 2017 operating in 50 countries. In 2017, the Trump administration considered converting all military forces in Afghanistan to private military contractors. Even though that didn’t happen, in Afghanistan, private military contractors hired by the U.S. outnumber U.S. military personnel by three to one.
Private Military Careers
A private military career is one of the world’s oldest professions. Whether called mercenaries, soldiers of fortune, or dogs of war, private soldiers fought in the armies of ancient China, Greece and Rome. The British state used them during the American War of Independence. Budget cuts in national armies since the end of the Cold War in 1991 has led to governments worldwide to outsource military duties to private military companies. Job opportunities include combat, security and support roles.
Combat experience as a soldier in a national army is the best qualification for a private military career. Documented experience with elite groups such as U.S. Special Forces or Britain’s SAS is a bonus, and the candidate should not have a criminal record. Private military companies often prefer to employ personnel from NATO countries or the country where they will render their services. Foreign language expertise in the operational country is desirable. All candidates should have security clearances. This comes at different levels and qualifies the candidate for a range of tasks. Former law enforcement officials and civilians with specialist skills in subjects such as surveillance technology, accounting, and political and intelligence analysis may find positions in larger military companies. CNN quoted private soldiers in Iraq saying they were paid between $700 and $750 per day in 2011.
The withdrawal of U.S. allied troops from Iraq in 2011 has been compensated for by private military companies providing security for local and visiting politicians, business executives and other VIPs, expatriate communities living and working there, and valuable goods in convoys. SETs, or security escort teams, consist of vehicle drivers, observers, medical specialists, and mission planners. All must have a high level of physical fitness and weapons preparedness. Private companies provide similar close protection services in other conflicted countries in Asia, Africa and Latin America.
Oil and Gas
Oil and gas production facilities are prime targets for sabotage by clandestine armed groups in conflicted countries. This has been a major security issue in South America, Africa, the Middle East and Asia since the 1980s, as well as in Iraq since 2003. Private military companies have worked alongside national armed forces to provide logistical assistance in setting up fencing and surveillance. This job requires specialists who understand the logistics of guarding isolated installations and pipelines, and managing rapid response teams to counter any attack. This expertise is also adopted in North America and Europe to guard against criminally and politically motivated attacks against oil and energy installations.
Tactical and Covert Operations
U.S. and other governments involved in ongoing military campaigns – such as Afghanistan – have employed private military companies in a number of roles. Non-combatant or non-military jobs include maintenance of advanced weapons systems, catering, and personal security. Private companies also participate in tactical and covert operations. According to Anna Leander of Copenhagen University, this makes a politically contentious war less visible to its critics back home, and costs less than deploying regular troops. In these cases, the private soldiers do a similar job to the one they trained for in their national army.
Private Military Contractor Job Description
Private Military and Security Companies (PMSCs) have been around for decades. Their role is to employ trained soldiers and other military contractors for national, inter-governmental and private security jobs. Some operate in conflict zones, while others work in a corporate environment. These professionals carry various responsibilities, from fighting in armed conflicts to gathering intelligence.
Governments worldwide employ thousands of defense contractors every year. In 2017, the U.S. Department of Defense (DoD) deployed 23,525 contractors in Afghanistan and 4,485 contractors in Iraq. In addition to security services, these professionals were hired in IT, logistics, medical and administrative roles. Some were U.S. citizens; others were third-country nationals and host country nationals.
Private military contractors (PMCs), also known as defense contractors, provide armed combat or security services to the government and private organizations. Contrary to popular belief, they are not mercenaries. A mercenary is defined as an individual who works only for monetary gain. He or she takes part in armed conflicts or serves in another country’s armed forces for money.
Although PMCs are considered modern-day mercenaries, they have a different legal status and job responsibilities. In general, those who choose this career path are veterans of elite U.S. military units or former soldiers. They’re not necessarily motivated by personal gain — some simply enjoy the thrill and excitement that come with this job or want to serve the greater good and defend their country. These professionals are employed on a contract basis by private military and security companies.
Private Defense Contractors vs. Mercenaries
The U.S. government relies heavily on private defense contractors for security. These civilians typically have a military background and are willing to travel all around the world, including in war zones. Even though both mercenaries and PMCs work for money, the latter are recruited and employed by reputable organizations. A mercenary, by contrast, will work for whoever pays the most and doesn’t have any ties to a specific state or company.
Private military contractors are not employed in front-line combat and therefore, they cannot be considered mercenaries. Additionally, they enjoy a good reputation due to their wide range of skills. These professions are often employed as security guards or fight in armed conflicts to stop civilian slaughter and genocides. They may engage in battles with local rebel rebels, provide security for oil exploration and production companies or offer operational support in military missions.
There’s a thin line between mercenaries and private defense contractors, which creates confusion among the general public. The primary difference between the two is that mercenary work is illegal, while the activities of private military companies are heavily regulated and comply with the law. Some countries, though, forbid citizens to participate in armed conflicts unless they are authorized by the government. In this case, both PMCs and mercenary work are illegal.
Job Responsibilities and Duties
Aspiring military contractors should know what to expect before embracing this career. Nowadays, PMSCs employ skilled professionals for various jobs other than combat operations and security services. Advisory roles, intelligence gathering, logistics and maintenance, technical services, escort services and security planning are just a few examples.
As a private defense contractor, you’ll wear multiple hats and carry a lot of responsibilities on your shoulders. This profession is heavily regulated, so any action you take will have consequences. Depending on your skills and experience and preferences, you may work for the United Nations, governments, humanitarian agencies, international organizations or multinational corporations. The job duties of military contractors may include:
- Conduct counter-drug operations.
- Fight terrorism.
- Protect oil rigs.
- Guard political dignitaries.
- Train security personnel and police forces.
- Develop security plans for private organizations.
- Provide operational and intelligence support.
- Conduct intelligence analysis.
- Assist in drone missions.
- Organize foreign armies.
- Defeat rebel forces.
Depending on the job, you may be required to handle administrative tasks, perform static security missions, provide combat support and more. Private defense contractors also take part in armed conflicts and risk their lives in dangerous operations. These professionals often play a critical role in civil wars and intrastate conflicts. For many governments, it’s less politically risky to hire PMCs than send in their own troops.
The Private Military Services Industry
In 2016, the total value of the PMSC market was $200 billion. DynCorp and Constellis Group were the leading industry players in the U.S., with a combined revenue of $4 billion. G4S dominated the UK market, with $6.8 billion in revenue. Other notable PMSCs are ACADEMI — the former Blackwater USA, Triple Canopy, Aegis Defence Services, ICTS Europe, Andrews International and Securitas AB.
Each company specializes in different areas of security and defense. Almost half of PMSCs provide maritime security services and 37 percent specialize in land-based security. 16 percent of companies offer both types of services. This industry is growing at a fast pace, so job opportunities abound.
For example, the U.S. government employed over 79,200 private defense contractors in the Afghanistan war and 95,900 in the Iraq war. Back in the ’90s, more than 541,000 contractors took part in the Persian Gulf War. Governments and private organizations rely on these professionals to maintain security, enroll in peacekeeping missions, handle cash transport and conduct investigations.
Industry Key Players
Before committing to this career path, explore your options and determine what kind of services you want to provide. Consider your skills and how you wish to use them. DynCorp International, for instance, is seeking private military and security contracts with experience in firefighting, airfield operations, logistics, intelligence and aviation support. The company serves all branches of state and local governments.
Another key industry player — and potential employer — is CACI International. The organization has been offering information solutions and services since 1962. It specializes in surveillance and reconnaissance, cybersecurity, intelligence systems, business systems, communications and healthcare delivery systems. It has more than 19,000 employees in 120 locations worldwide; about half of them work on a customer site and 14 percent work remotely.
ACADEMI, one of the largest and most controversial PMCSs in the U.S, works with commercial customers, intelligence organizations and governments worldwide. It provides security training to global companies and police forces as well as risk analysis, inventory management, warehousing and transportation services. I_t hires both full-time employees and private contractors,_ including sergeants, information security analysis, security officers, logistics specialists and aircrew training managers.
Education and Training
Education requirements for private military contractors depend on the job. Not all defense contractors have a military background, but military training can give you a competitive advantage. Most times, there are dozens or hundreds of other applicants who are far more qualified than you. If you’re just getting started, consider taking a specialty course or work for a local security agency to gain experience.
The European Security Company, for example, provides a seven-day course for aspiring private military contractors. This training program appeals to active and former military/law enforcement professionals who wish to learn more about risk analysis and threat assessment, firearms, land warfare, security in high-risk areas and other relevant aspects. Students can also enroll in tactical shooting courses, VIP protection courses, security driving courses and more.
In general, reputable defense companies prefer candidates with a military background or proven experience in security and defense. An industrial security officer, for instance, is required to have at least three years of experience in the Department of Defense or the U.S. Government, know how to work with e-QIP, JPAS and other systems and possess excellent communication skills. Job seekers who completed training in personnel or industrial security and JPAS/JCAVS have higher chances of success.
Requirements and Qualifications
Job requirements for private military contractors vary among employers and depend largely on the role you’re interested in. If you’re applying for a job in the United States, you may be required to be a U.S. citizen and have two or more years of service in the military. Furthermore, it’s important that you successfully pass background checks and have security clearance.
Some roles require special skills or extensive experience. A security specialist at DynCorp, for example, must be able to travel domestically and internationally, work long hours in adverse conditions and have in-depth knowledge of DOD Antiterrorism requirements, BATS (Biometric Automated Toolset System) and investigative techniques. The organization prefers candidates with experience in military intelligence, civilian law enforcement or Air Force Security forces.
A UAS Operator at ACADEMI must have prior experience in aviation, possess a Class II FAA Flight physical and pass medical, dental and drug screening. Candidates must have a secret DoD security clearance and be willing to work in high-threat environments. Private pilots and those who served in the military have a competitive edge. The willingness to travel at least six months per year is a must.
How Much Can You Earn?
Defense companies provide little or no information about their payroll. The jobs listed on Indeed, Glassdoor and other online platforms indicate that private military contractors earn $80,000 to $250,000 a year, which is a lot more compared to the average wage of an army soldier. Since this is a dangerous job, it pays better than most professionals.
A contract specialist employed by the U.S. Department of the Army, for instance, can make $96,970 to $126,062 a year depending on his experience and job responsibilities. An intelligence specialist can expect to earn $89,324 to $116,122 per year. Most sources state that private security contractors receive $500 to $1,500 per day based on their location, expertise, skills and danger potential.
How to Find a Job
This industry has strict entry requirements, making it difficult to secure a job, especially if you’re just getting started. Don’t expect to find work by posting comments on social media. Search for jobs online at DynCorp, ACADEMI, CACI, Erinys and other reputable defense companies. Consider reaching out to global organizations that operate in the U.S., such as Corps Security, ICTS Europe, Senaca Group and Prosegur.
Next, check out several jobs that match your skills and read their requirements thoroughly. Only apply if you’re qualified for the role in question. Most companies use recruiting software and applicant tracking systems to filter resumes, so make sure you include keywords and phrases from the job description in your CV. Personalize your cover letter for each role.
Another option is to search for private military contractor jobs on LinkedIn, Glassdoor and other similar websites. Again, check the job description and make sure you meet the basic requirements at the least. Remember to update and polish your resume before applying. Beware that a criminal record, poor credit and other factors will disqualify you from the start.