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Empire's LaborThe Global Army That Supports U.S. Wars$

Adam Moore

Print publication date: 2019

Print ISBN-13: 9781501742170

Published to Cornell Scholarship Online: May 2020

DOI: 10.7591/cornell/9781501742170.001.0001

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From Camp Followers to a Global Army of Labor

From Camp Followers to a Global Army of Labor

(p.17) 2 From Camp Followers to a Global Army of Labor
Empire's Labor

Adam Moore

Cornell University Press

Abstract and Keywords

This chapter provides an overview of colonial and client state relations between the United States and the Philippines in the twentieth century. It reviews the related history of reliance on Filipino labor by the U.S. military that continues to shape the recruitment of Filipinos for military work. The chapter also discusses the history of logistics contracting by the U.S. military, which focuses on the scale and scope of its contracting in the present day, how it compares with earlier periods in U.S. history, and how it has happened. It starts with an overview of the logistics contracting by the U.S. military from the Revolutionary War to Vietnam, followed by a discussion of shifts in contracting priorities and practices in the 1990s. It concludes with an outline of the scale and scope of contracting in Iraq and beyond.

Keywords:   United States, Philippines, Filipino labor, U.S. military, logistics contracting, Revolutionary War, Vietnam, Iraq

Although there is historic precedent for contracted support to our military forces, I am concerned about the risks introduced by our current level of dependency.

—Robert Gates, former U.S. Secretary of Defense

In 2014 the world watched in horror as an outbreak of the deadly Ebola virus spread through West Africa. By the beginning of August the World Health Organization had recorded over 1,700 cases, resulting in more than 900 deaths in Guinea, Liberia, and Sierra Leone. In response it declared the outbreak a “public health emergency of international concern.”1 As the death toll rose, Ebola was increasingly framed as not just a public health crisis, but also a global security threat, culminating in a September 18 United Nations (UN) Security Council resolution declaring the epidemic “a threat to international peace and security.”2 Two days before this resolution President Barak Obama held a press conference announcing that he was deploying the U.S. military to Liberia as part of a multinational effort to stem the outbreak.3

The military, in turn, looked to contractors to provide critical logistics support for what became known as Operation United Assistance (OUA). The first company they reached out to was Fluor, which had just won a LOGCAP contract the previous month to provide support services in Africa.4 Within days of Obama’s announcement an advance team of Fluor employees was in Liberia conducting initial assessments.5 Three weeks later recruiters for Fluor arrived in Tuzla, in northeast Bosnia. They quickly set up shop in the city’s main hotel and began interviewing applicants. Those that passed the interviews received background checks and health exams at a local clinic and then were flown to Dubai. There they waited for necessary paperwork and watched training presentations that covered safety procedures, dangers inherent to working in warzones, life on military bases, and discussions of potential environmental and health risks. Less than two (p.18) months after Obama’s announcement the initial batch of recruits from Bosnia arrived in Liberia and in Dakar, Senegal, which served as the main West African logistics hub for operations. For the next five months they worked hand in hand with the military, building Ebola Treatment Units and providing an array of support services. At the peak of operations in late 2014 over 1,000 Fluor employees were supporting the OUA mission.6

Fluor was not the only company contracted by the military, though it was the largest. By the end of OUA over 400 contracts totaling more than $120 million had been signed.7 Many of these were with local companies, such as a Liberian transportation firm that provided 300 trucks to move supplies across the country. All of this was by design as the “plan from the outset,” according to one retrospective assessment of the logistics component of the mission, “was to attempt to contract as much of the effort as possible to minimize the military footprint” in Liberia.8

The case of OUA illustrates four central elements of present-day military logistics contracting. The first is that the use of contracted support has been institutionalized by the military and is built into operational plans from the beginning. The best example of this is LOGCAP, the primary mechanism through which the U.S. Army procures logistics support. From humble beginnings in 1985, LOGCAP has expanded into a multibillion-dollar program, with LOGCAP contractors providing support for the military across the world, from giant bases in the Middle East to drone facilities in Africa to remote counternarcotics outposts in South America.

Second, and relatedly, contractors support a wide variety of overseas operations, not just wars. The first significant use of LOGCAP, for example, was the UN-sanctioned humanitarian intervention in Somalia in 1992–93. In the late 1990s thousands of local and U.S. contractors were employed to support peacekeeping operations in the Balkans. In recent years contractors have played a critical role in supporting clandestine operations by SOF in Africa, ranging from counterterrorism missions across the Sahel and Maghreb to the campaign against Joseph Kony’s Lord’s Resistance Army in Central Africa.9 Like Mary’s lamb in the nursery rhyme, wherever the military goes, logistics contractors are sure to follow.

Third, there is little that the military does not outsource to contractors. Consider the list of goods and services provided by contractors for OUA: construction, hazardous material disposal, provision of laundry machines, canvas and tent repair, material handling equipment, maintenance of showers, latrines and sewage, bulk fuel operations, dining facilities, fire prevention, bottled water, power generation, vector (pest) control, water production, and logistics transportation.10 At the largest bases in the Middle East and Afghanistan troops have access to a (p.19) wide range of amenities such as gyms, movie theaters, twenty-four-hour food courts and cafeterias, internet and merchandise stores, all provided by thousands of workers recruited from around the world.

It is this last detail—the global composition of the workforce—that is the fourth, and arguably most important, aspect of logistics contracting today. From Kenyans washing clothes in Afghanistan to Bosnians providing vector control in Djibouti to Filipinos building detainment facilities in Guantanamo, U.S. military operations overseas are sustained by a diverse labor pool and global recruiting networks.

None of these four elements are wholly without precedent. But taken together they represent a significant departure from past practices. To substantiate this claim, the rest of this chapter provides an overview and history of logistics contracting by the U.S. military. It asks and answers three questions: What is the scale and scope of contracting in the present day? How does this compare with earlier periods in U.S. history? And how did we get here? I begin with an overview of logistics contracting by the U.S. military from the Revolutionary War to Vietnam. This is followed by a discussion of shifts in contracting priorities and practices in the 1990s, as well as the drivers of these changes. I conclude by outlining the scale and scope of contracting in Iraq and beyond.

Camp Followers, Sutlers, and the Beginnings of Corporate Logistics Contracting

As Christopher Kinsey argues, in contrast to armed mercenaries, “which the state has tried to marginalise … since ​the end of the eighteenth century,” logistics suppliers and contractors “have continued to be an important part of the military system.”11 In the Revolutionary War soldiers’ needs on both sides were served by a train of accompanying civilians that washed and repaired clothes, cooked food, and sold a variety of goods including liquor, clothing, shoes, tobacco, and soap. These “camp followers” included servants and slaves, wives and children of soldiers, unregulated peddlers, and commissioned sutlers whose trade and prices were prescribed.12 The British Army also relied on contractors to source and ship food, medical supplies, forage, and coal from England, Canada, and Caribbean colonies to troops in America.13

In 1821 sutlers were formally incorporated into the U.S. Army’s supply system for frontier posts in the West. This involved appointments that granted exclusive trading rights at an assigned post or with a specific regiment in exchange for submitting to rules and regulations that governed prices and the quantity and (p.20) types of goods to be supplied. This frontier post supply system, which lasted until the end of the century, could be quite profitable for sutlers, especially when paired with army contracts for other necessities such as lumber, fodder, and freight operations.14 Transportation contracts were a particularly lucrative source of income, especially following the Mexican-American War (1846–48) that led to the acquisition of vast new tracts of Western territories. By the mid-1850s the military’s primary overland transportation contractor in the West, Russell, Majors and Waddell, was making hundreds of thousands of dollars in profits—a vast sum at the time.15 The sutler system eventually became a source of corruption and scandal as contracts and appointments were often acquired through political patronage and bribes. In 1876, for example, President Ulysses Grant’s brother, along with Secretary of War William Belknap, were implicated in a pay-for-posts scheme involving tens of thousands of dollars in bribes.

During the Civil War thousands of sutlers and assorted camp followers played a critical role in providing goods for both Union and Confederate soldiers. They were even used by the Union to supply food and sundries to Confederate prisoners of war.16 At the same time, sutlers developed a negative reputation among soldiers for price gouging, leading to calls in Congress and state legislatures to abolish the position. The letter of one Kentucky volunteer gives a sense of the disgust that merchants who profited from the war inspired: “Is the word ‘scoundrel’ exaggerated when applied to such cads? Is it enough to merely give them the name? Should they not become strung up at the closest tree, which is strong enough, to bear them and their heavy sins?” He concluded with the bitter statement that “we soldiers can think only with anger about the money making class.”17

The money-making class in the Civil War did not just consist of unscrupulous sutlers and camp followers that roused the indignation of ordinary soldiers. Far greater fortunes were realized by contractors that supplied the Union with clothing, blankets, tents, wagons, fodder, weapons, and transportation. Indeed, the war was an economic enterprise on a scale never before seen in the nation’s history, with spending by the federal government between 1861 and 1865 exceeding the combined total of all previous U.S. government expenditures.18 It is important to note that this was a mixed military economy, with significant production and transportation labor performed by public enterprises. The Army’s Quartermaster’s Department, for instance, “employed over 100,000 civilians, far more than any private American business enterprise of the era.”19 Nonetheless, the majority of goods and services for military operations were procured through contracting.

Following the Civil War, the Army quickly shrank back to prewar levels. When the Spanish-American War began in 1898, it consisted of less than 30,000 troops.20 The invasions of Cuba and the Philippines, as well as the subsequent counterinsurgency (p.21) campaign in the latter, and participation in the multinational suppression of the Boxer Rebellion in China in 1900–1, marked a turning point in U.S. military and political history as the country became an overseas colonial power. In the twelve decades since it has maintained a continuous global military presence. However, in 1898 the military—and especially the Army—was ill prepared for overseas operations and heavily dependent on civilian support. It was forced to charter, for instance, eighteen of the twenty ships required to ship the initial expeditionary force and its supplies to the Philippines.21 It also relied on thousands of Filipino and Chinese laborers for construction projects, and transportation services.22

Vastly greater logistics requirements for overseas operations impressed upon civilian and military leaders alike the need for the development of greater support capabilities within the military itself. As secretary of war from 1904 to 1908, former Philippines governor and future president William Howard Taft “recommended the formation of a general service corps to replace civilian employees and soldiers released from line units for duty as wagon masters, teamsters, engineers, firemen, carpenters, blacksmiths, overseers, clerks, and laborers.” Reforms in this direction were implemented during his administration and “by the time of World War I it had become generally accepted that enlisted service troops of various kinds should perform most of those duties. Men who had never seen a ship were organized into stevedore battalions, men unfamiliar with motor vehicles were assigned to truck companies, men who had never been near an Army depot were assigned to run them.”23 The view that logistics and service labor was a core military function would persist into the 1990s.

The U.S. military refers to logistics and service tasks performed by uniformed personnel as “organic” support. The development of organic capabilities in the twentieth century produced a remarkable shift in the military’s force structure. According to one analysis, in World War I, the European theater in World War II, and the wars in Korea and Vietnam, the percentage of U.S. Army personnel engaged in logistics and life support tasks ranged from 35 percent to 45 percent.24 A consequence of this growth in uniformed personnel that supported these wars was an, at times, tense relationship between combat forces and logistics and administrative staff, which more often than not operated far from the battlefield. The famed World War II military cartoonist Bill Mauldin captured this dynamic in his book Up Front: “It was not enough, the doggies [frontline infantry] felt, to live in unspeakable misery and danger while these ‘gumshoe so and sos’ worked in the comfort and safety of the city. Hell no. When they came back to try to forget the war for a few days, these ‘rear echelon goldbrickers’ had to pester them to death. When a man is feeling like this you can’t tell him that his tormentors are people like himself, and that they are in the rear because they have been ordered to work there, just as he was ordered to the front.”25 Mauldin was (p.22) not unsympathetic to those in the rear who, as he notes, were just working where they were ordered to by the military. Others were not so charitable. The phrase “desk jockey” was a popular epithet hurled at those working in the rear in World War II, while in Vietnam “rear echelon motherfuckers” or REMFs were a common target of complaints from combat “grunts.”26

Even with the dedication of a substantial portion of military personnel to support activities contracting still played an important role in facilitating overseas military operations during the two world wars and various Cold War conflicts. American Expeditionary Forces in World War I negotiated with French authorities to obtain civilian labor and materials necessary for the construction of facilities such as barracks and hospital wards.27 In the Korean War the military drew heavily on Japanese and Korean labor, employing approximately 100,000 civilians in Korea and 145,000 in Japan.28 The Army’s Japan Logistical Command “estimated that if all the supply and service functions of that command had been carried out without the use of Japanese workers, an additional 200,000 to 250,000 service troops would have been required” to support operations in Korea.29 One reason for the extensive reliance on civilian labor in this conflict was that the U.S. was also largely responsible for the logistics needs of the South Korean Army and allied UN forces.30

By the time of the Vietnam War, the size of organic logistics and life support forces began to come under criticism both within the military and among the U.S. public. In 1967 news reports suggested that only 70,000 of 464,000 uniformed personnel in Vietnam were combat troops. While the Pentagon denied that this estimate was accurate, Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara acknowledged that there was room for improvement in “reducing the ratio of support to combat forces.”31 It was also in Vietnam that U.S. corporations started to play an increasingly visible role supporting troops on the battlefield, with one business publication declaring it a “war by contract.”32

Contracting was particularly pronounced in the field of military construction, especially during the rapid buildup in 1965–66. At its peak, Pacific Architects and Engineers (PAE), an Army construction and engineering contractor, had more than 21,000 workers in the country.33 The primary construction contractor was a consortium of four firms—Raymond International, Morrison-Knudsen, Brown & Root, and J.A. Jones Construction—called RMK-BRJ.34 According to a RMK-BRJ document called “Diary of a Contract,” 1966 was

as wild a period as any human being can imagine. Thousands of people were arriving from the United States, South Korea, the Philippines and 27 other nations; tens of thousands of South Vietnamese were hired and taught construction trade. … ​Not the least of the problems being faced (p.23) was building the base for the contractor’s own operations—camps, maintenance shops, warehouses, etc. These competed for the labor, materials and time which the soldiers, sailors, airmen marines understandably felt were there to fulfill their own urgent needs. In short it was a period of 20-hour days, 7-day weeks, frayed nerves, deadlines, shortages, and magnificent achievement.35

The consortium even published a newspaper in both English and Vietnamese called Vietnam Builders, which carried stories on completed construction projects and “human interest” features such as softball games between Filipino workers and U.S. soldiers.36

The use of contractors in Vietnam was not without its critics. Brown & Root’s contracts were a particular object of contention due to its close ties with President Lyndon Johnson. The company had bankrolled several of his political campaigns, including his successful election to the Senate in 1948. In exchange Johnson helped Brown & Root secure hundreds of millions in federal contracts when he was Senate majority leader and president.37 In a rather ironic twist, in 1966 Donald Rumsfeld—at the time a U.S. House representative from Illinois—criticized the Johnson administration for poor contracting oversight and reliance on a single contract with RMK-BRJ to provide the bulk of construction support: “Under only one contract, between the U.S. government and this combine [RMK-BRJ] it is officially estimated that obligations will reach at least $900 million by November 1967. … ​Why this huge contract has not been and is not now being adequately audited is beyond me. The potential for waste and profiteering under such a contract is substantial.”38 Four decades later Brown & Root would be called a war profiteer by many within and outside the armed forces, while the administration Rumsfeld worked for would be accused of political cronyism for steering billions of dollars in contracts the company’s way.39

If one steps back and examines contractor-to-troop ratios—which should be considered rough estimates—from the American Revolution to the First Gulf War in 1990–91, the picture we see is one of fairly consistent but not overwhelming reliance on civilian support, with contractor personnel constituting between 5 and 20 percent of troop levels.40 There are two exceptions to this trend. The first is the Korean War, which had a 1:2.5 ratio of contractors to troops. As noted above, however, in Korea the military was also responsible for providing the bulk of logistics support for its South Korean and UN allies. Their total numbers were roughly equal to U.S. military forces in the war. When one takes this into account, the ratio of contractors to military personnel in the Korean War is analogous to other wars.

The second apparent anomaly is the First Gulf War, where the contractor to troop ratio is estimated to have been 1:60. This does not mean that civilian labor (p.24) played a minor role in the conflict. According to one military analysis, outside support “was an essential part of the overall operation. All of the POL [petroleum, oils, and lubricants] and water, most of the construction engineering, most of the port operations, and about 50 percent of the long-haul transportation was provided by External Support.”41 The bulk of these outside support services were sourced and funded by Saudi Arabia and other Gulf countries. Saudi Arabia, for example, “agreed to provide, at no cost to the United States, all fuel, food, water, local transportation, and facilities for all US forces in the Kingdom.”42 Such Host Nation Support (HNS)—and the labor required to provide it—does not appear in contracting calculations because the military did not pay for it. For this reason we will likely never have a good accounting of the military’s reliance on civilian workers in the war. However, some of the same Gulf firms that provided support for the military in 1990–91, such as the Saudi Catering & Contracting Company (SCCC), would reemerge as subcontractors in Iraq in the 2000s.43

The Transformation of Logistics Contracting

One can trace the emergence of military logistics contracting on the scale that we see today to the years immediately following the end of the Cold War. However, the seeds of change, as Laura Dickinson notes, were planted in Vietnam, with military reports after the war making the case for “continued and increased use of contractors to provide logistical support on the battlefield.”44 It did not hurt that such prescriptions resonated with the “privatization revolution” ushered in by Ronald Reagan’s presidency in the 1980s.45 A key administrative change setting the stage for the dramatic upshift in outsourcing occurred in 1985, when the Army published new regulations establishing LOGCAP to “preplan for the use of civilian contractors to perform selected services in wartime.”46 These regulations were introduced in response to a directive from Congress the previous year to develop contingency contracting capabilities for overseas operations.47

LOGCAP contracting remained small-scale for several years, primarily because it was originally designed to be a decentralized program in which various components of an Army command would be responsible for identifying needs and establishing contracts. This led to critiques from officers that LOGCAP was too narrow and limited to functional area support such as transportation of oil supplies.48 Experience gained in Desert Storm demonstrated the need for more comprehensive support such as the construction and operation of full-service dining facilities. Military planners also increasingly advocated a “turn-key” approach to (p.25) contracting such as designating a single contractor responsible for the construction of an entire base camp and provision of all support services therein.49

In 1992 Secretary of Defense Dick Cheney gave Brown & Root a $3.9 million contract to study how LOGCAP could be reformed to better support soldiers on the battlefield. Brown & Root’s report suggested the program be transformed into a single umbrella contract that would provide support services around the world.50 Another key innovation was the call to fully integrate LOGCAP into planning for possible overseas operations. LOGCAP’s prime contractor, the report argued, should be required to develop a worldwide management plan describing “the equipment, personnel and supporting services required to support a force of up to 20,000 troops in 5 base camps for up to 180 days and up to 50,000 troops beyond 180 days.”51 In addition to this, the report recommended that the program’s contractor be asked to produce more than a dozen regional plans outlining detailed logistics and engineering support for region-specific planning scenarios used by military commanders. Such plans were necessary because it was envisioned that the contractor would be able to deploy assets within seventy-two hours of initial notice.52

Cheney took up Brown & Root’s recommendations and put the first LOGCAP contract under this new scheme (LOGCAP I) up for bid. The winning bidder was Brown & Root, a rather curious decision since it was also the firm that wrote the requirements, and the government generally prohibits such arrangements. Four months after the contract was announced the company was tasked with providing logistical support for U.S. forces in Somalia. This was followed by contracts to support humanitarian deployments to Rwanda and Haiti in 1994. LOGCAP was also utilized during military operations in Saudi Arabia and Kuwait that year following a buildup of Iraqi forces along those countries’ borders. The following year Brown & Root provided construction and logistics services at Aviano Air Base in Italy in support of the NATO bombing campaign against Bosnian Serb forces. Each of these was a fairly small-scale operation. In total their estimated cost added up to $212 million.53

The first time that LOGCAP, and logistics contracting more generally, was utilized on a large scale was the peacekeeping mission in Bosnia starting in December 1995. In the initial year of operations Brown & Root built nineteen base camps for U.S. troops and provided maintenance and logistics support for thirty-two camps in Bosnia, Hungary, and Croatia. In total it earned over $460 million through the LOGCAP contract in that first year alone, more than twice as much as all previous operations combined.54 In 1997 Brown & Root lost its bid for the new LOGCAP contract (LOGCAP II) to DynCorp. Over the course of this contract DynCorp supported counternarcotics operations in several Central (p.26) and South American countries, as well as operations in East Timor and the Philippines.

Army officers in Bosnia, however, were generally satisfied with Brown & Root’s performance and did not want to switch contractors midstream.55 The firm was therefore awarded a separate “Balkans sustainment contract.” This contract was subsequently extended to Kosovo when the UN mission was established there in 1999. In a short time roughly 5,000 Kosovars and Macedonians were working for Brown & Root, making it the largest employer in the region.56 Such a large workforce was needed because there was little that the company was not asked to do. As one Army officer observed at the time, “When soldiers first step off airplanes in Kosovo, they are met not by their commander, but by a Brown and Root civilian worker who tells them where they can pick up their gear and assigns them to their barracks.”57 In the end the company made over $2 billion from the Balkans sustainment contract.58

Though LOGCAP was developed by the Army, the Navy and Air Force were allowed to utilize the program if needed, as they did for the 1995 operations at Aviano. Both services also developed their own contingency contracting schemes modeled on the program, beginning with the Navy’s Construction Capabilities (CONCAP) program in 1995, which was followed by the Air Force Contract Augmentation Program (AFCAP) in 1997. Perini won the first CONCAP contract, but lost the rebid in 2001 to Brown & Root. The following year the program was utilized for the construction of expanded detainment facilities in Guantanamo with—as discussed in chapter 3—a Brown & Root subcontractor flying in hundreds of Filipino construction workers for the project.59 The winning bidder for the first AFCAP contract, Readiness Management Support LC, was called upon to perform a variety of tasks worth $170 million in the first five years of the program, including constructing refugee camps in Kosovo, refurbishing airfields in Ecuador used for counternarcotics operations, reconstructing damaged infrastructure in Guam following Typhoon Paka in 1997, and design work at Ali Al Salem Air Base in Kuwait.60

In short, by the early 2000s logistics contracting for overseas operations was well established. Thus even before the U.S. invaded Afghanistan and Iraq there was little question that contractors would play a central role in supporting future U.S. military operations. Before moving on to this part of our story, though, it is necessary to consider why contracting expanded so rapidly in the 1990s.

There are several reasons for this transformation. One of the most important, as noted above, was the rise of privatization, which was nourished by free market proponents in the Reagan administration. In 1982 the president commissioned an investigation into federal government inefficiency constituted by a committee of private sector executives. The resulting report, presented two years later, (p.27) advocated greater outsourcing of government provided services. The commission’s chair, chemical and materials industrialist J. Peter Grace, also published an accompanying book extolling privatization.61 By the early 1990s the supposed benefits of privatization had become a bipartisan mantra, as exemplified by the Clinton administration’s “reinventing government” commission, which also advocated outsourcing a wide range of government activities.62 Not to be outdone, the Department of Defense (DoD) followed with a 1996 report on “outsourcing and privatization” by the influential Defense Science Board Task Force that that concluded that “all DoD support functions should be contracted out to private vendors except those functions which are inherently governmental, are directly involved in war fighting, or for which no adequate private sector capability exists or can be expected to be established.”63

Privatization fever in the military spread well beyond logistics support functions. By the end of the 1990s large swaths of military intelligence gathering and analysis were also being performed by contractors, a trend that has only accelerated since 9/11. This despite the traditional view of such intelligence tasks as core national security competencies.64 Since the 1990s the military has also moved to privatize a range of social welfare provisions that it provides to uniformed personnel, from housing and health care to family support services and recreational programs.65 Like the military, DoS has also been radically transformed by outsourcing. Its development branch, USAID, experienced a 45 percent cut in employees between 1980 and 2001, turning the agency into, in the words of one analysis, a “check writer to contractors.”66 Moreover, DoS has become one of the largest consumers of private security industry services, employing thousands of armed contractors to protect diplomats and embassies around the world.67

As Maya Eichler demonstrates, another factor driving the privatization of military labor in the U.S. was the termination of male conscription (the draft) in 1973. The central element of her argument is that the “introduction of the all-volunteer force redefined military service as a market relation, even as the citizen-soldier is still invoked and symbolically significant.” Severing the linking between citizenship and military service is consequential because if “citizens are no longer required to participate in the public provision of security, the outsourcing of military work becomes justifiable to a much larger extent.”68 Not coincidentally, some of the most prominent opponents of the draft were “Chicago School” economists like Milton Friedman.

Another catalyst driving outsourcing was the dramatic downsizing of the military following the end of the Cold War. In 1987 there were 2.2 million active-duty and full-time guard and reserve troops. By the end of the Clinton administration this number had fallen below 1.5 million, a more than 30 percent reduction in forces.69 These cuts fell disproportionately on service and support components of (p.28) the military. The U.S. Army Materiel Command (AMC), for instance, experienced a 60 percent reduction in personnel.70 At the same time the demand for military operations rose dramatically in the post-Cold War period.71 In response the military became intensely concerned with improving the “tooth to tail” ratio—that is, outsourcing noncombat support functions so that a greater percentage of remaining troops are engaged in combat activities.72 As Secretary of Defense William Cohen put it in 1997, “We can sustain the shooters and reduce the supporters—we can keep the tooth, but cut the tail.”73 Cohen’s successor, Donald Rumsfeld, echoed this sentiment in 2003 when he stated that “something in the neighborhood of 300,000 men and women in uniform are doing jobs that aren’t for men and women in uniform.”74 Two years later he would proudly tell Congress that “mostly administrative and facilities related” duties performed by contractors were “freeing up additional tens of thousands of military personnel for military responsibilities.”75

A smaller, more focused military also has operational and political advantages. For example, when force caps are imposed for a particular mission, civilian contractors do not count toward troop limits. In 1995 the military estimated that it needed a force of 38,000 troops to fulfill peacekeeping duties in the Balkans. Congress set a ceiling of 25,000 (20,000 in Bosnia and 5,000 in Croatia), with no more than 4,300 of this number permitted to be reservists. The Army was able to manage these restrictions because it could turn to Brown & Root to provide needed logistics support without using military personnel. Indeed, the chief operations planner for the Bosnian peacekeeping mission bluntly concluded that “the truth of the matter is that we are in a force cap environment, be it Army end strength, or operational deployment. Therefore, I think it is reasonable to believe that LOGCAP or some form of contractor support will always be with us and that it is therefore something that always should be built into the plan.”76 Five years later the Clinton administration asked Congress for money for a counternarcotics initiative in South America called “Plan Colombia.” Congress approved the funding, but with a stipulation that no more than 500 troops could be deployed to support the operation. To make up capacity gaps, 300 military contractors were permitted to be hired.77

Even when overseas operations do not have mandated force caps, such as the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, the extensive use of contractors for logistical support lowers the number of military personnel that need to be deployed. This is especially important when it comes to the politically sensitive activation and deployment of reservists, which have constituted a disproportionately large percentage of organic support and service units since reforms introduced at the end of the Vietnam War.78 Hundreds of thousands of reservists were called up in the first three years of the Iraq War, stretching reserve forces to the breaking point and (p.29) disrupting families and communities across the country.79 Without the extensive use of contractors the reserve system would likely have been overwhelmed.

A final factor to consider is that contractor deaths are far less politically salient—even when they are U.S. citizens—than uniformed personnel. This “disposable army” does not come home in flag-covered coffins, and is rarely mentioned when discussing casualties and the human costs of war.80 As Deborah Avant and Lee Sigelman observed in 2010, “Military casualty figures are routinely collected and released. The names and faces of military casualties in Iraq and Afghanistan are shown nightly on The PBS News Hour. Coverage of military deployments is virtually automatic. There is no such coordinated or automatic diffusion of information about contractors, nor are there triggers to alert the media. Casualty figures routinely collected and released by the military exclude contract personnel, thus reducing information about the human costs of war.”81 Contractors tend to be treated, in other words, as another category of uncounted civilian bodies in the various U.S. wars.82

Logistics Contracting in Iraq and Beyond

The scale of U.S. military logistics contracting since the early 2000s is remarkable. In 2001 Brown & Root, by then called KBR after a merger with the British engineering and construction firm M.W. Kellogg in the late 1990s, won the bidding for the third iteration of the LOGCAP contract (LOGCAP III). In total the company would be paid more than $40 billion during the life of this contract (2001–8), primarily for logistics support in the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.83 While LOGCAP was the largest contracting program—and KBR the largest contractor—during this period, it was just one of many mechanisms for contracting logistics services. Sourcing food supplies and delivering them to bases in the region, for instance, was the responsibility of the Defense Logistics Agency (DLA). In 2003 DLA contracted out the job of supplying food to troops in Iraq and Kuwait to a politically connected Kuwaiti firm called Public Warehousing Corporation (PWC).84 In the first four years of operations it earned more than $6 billion.85 In 2009 PWC (now called Agility), was charged with fraud and received a three-year suspension from receiving further federal contracts.86 KBR and its various subcontractors were also the subjects of numerous claims of cost overruns and fraud.87

At this point it is useful to briefly introduce the types of contracts used for contracting during overseas operations, which can be divided into two broad categories: “fixed price” and “cost reimbursement” contracts. With the former the government and contractor agree on a price for clearly specified services or goods. (p.30) The contractor assumes the risk for cost overruns, and its profit is determined by the difference between the price and the cost of delivering the goods or services. In circumstances where it is difficult to precisely specify services or determine costs beforehand—such as operations in warzones—cost reimbursement contracts are more common. With cost reimbursement contracts a price estimate is settled on, but the government assumes the risk of “reasonable” cost overruns due to contingencies. Cost reimbursement contracts usually include fees that determine a contractor’s profits based on a percentage of estimated costs, a fixed amount, and/or performance incentives.88

PWC’s food delivery contract with DLA included reimbursement for the purchase price of food from suppliers and a fixed price “distribution fee” for transportation of the supplies from the U.S. to bases in Iraq and Kuwait. PWC was accused of negotiating price discounts with favored suppliers, but not passing these savings on to the government as required, thus increasing its profits.89 LOG-CAP III was a cost reimbursement contract, with a base fee of 1 percent of estimated costs and an award fee of up to 2 percent based on performance incentives.90 Former LOGCAP III manager Charles Smith notes that this type of contract is frequently misunderstood, with most of KBR’s critics claiming that the company would increase costs of services to increase its fees. However, if the actual costs of work exceeded the estimate this would not produce extra fees for KBR, and it could even lower performance incentives. Instead, Smith observes, “the problem was the period between starting work and negotiating the fee cost base.”91 He is referring to the fact that the way LOGCAP typically worked in Iraq is that KBR would be issued an unpriced task order—or a modification to an existing order—begin work, and then negotiate the estimated cost with the government. This gave it a strong incentive to increase costs at the beginning of the contract, with the hope that they would be accepted into the final estimated cost base, thus increasing its fees. According to Smith, KBR pervasively submitted inflated cost estimates that it could not substantiate, but military superiors undercut his attempts to hold the company accountable, eventually leading to his dismissal. These charges are corroborated by Defense Contract Audit Agency audits that found that “DoD contracting officials rarely challenged” KBR’s cost estimates even though these estimates were “later found to be greatly inflated.”92

In addition to fraud and profiteering, logistics contractors in Iraq and Afghanistan have also been accused of mistreating workers, beginning with a series of news articles in 2004 that highlighted problems of trafficking and other labor abuses, including wage theft and substandard living conditions.93 One of the more astonishing details to come out of these articles was that the military had no idea just how many people were working for it. In the rush to build bases and implement various reconstruction projects following the invasion, it entered into an (p.31) untold number of contracts with international and Iraqi firms. The largest contractors like KBR in turn outsourced their tasks to a panoply of subcontractors. Responding to criticism that its contracting oversight in Iraq was lacking, CENT-COM conducted an initial contractor census in December 2006. According to its calculations there were roughly 100,000 contractors in the country, not including subcontractors, which it was unable to estimate.94 Over the next two years it refined and expanded its census efforts, culminating in the publication of the first command-wide census in August 2008. As discussed in the introduction, these quarterly censuses offer a useful aggregate picture of military contracting in the region over the past decade. But it is possible to gain a more granular understanding by examining raw data from censuses conducted in Iraq between 3rd quarter 2007 and 2nd quarter 2008 that the military released following FOIA requests by journalists.95 To date these data have not been subject to analysis, despite the fascinating window into contracting that they offer.

The first thing one notices is that the censuses were a work in progress. Reporting procedures for data columns such as “mission” evolved over the course of the year, from at times detailed descriptions in the first census—“SST [shit-sucking-truck] services. Fuel is provided for one truck located onsite. The other four trucks are fueled outside by the subcontractor” for a waste removal contract—toward more standardized and anodyne descriptions like “base support” by the last one. It also appears that the military was still having difficulties in accurately tracking subcontracted labor, especially in cases of pyramid subcontracting where a subcontractor in turn subcontracts out responsibilities to another firm. The first census lists 2,109 contracts and a workforce totaling 136,655. By the last census these figures had risen to 2,452 and 149,378, respectively. The jump in contracts and workers was driven in part by the troop surge taking place during this same period, but it also appears that a portion of this increase reflects better reporting.

The final Iraq census in 2nd quarter 2008 is not only the most refined, it also offers a snapshot of contracting near its peak later that year. During this period the military estimated that 20 percent of the contracting workforce were U.S. citizens, 38 percent TCNs, and 42 percent LNs. The relatively large percentage of Iraqi workers reflected both an increase in employment for training and reconstruction projects connected to the surge, and efforts by military commanders to direct more small logistical support contracts toward Iraqi businesses following the introduction of the “Iraqi First” program in 2006.96 The majority of contracting was conducted through either LOGCAP or the ad hoc, theater-based contracting framework, Joint Contracting Command-Iraq/Afghanistan (JCC-I/A), with the former accounting for 37 percent of workers and the latter 35 percent. The JCC-I/A data are the least systematic with regard to categorization and description of contracts. This appears to be due to its decentralized structure, (p.32)

From Camp Followers to a Global Army of Labor

Figure 2.1. Largest LOGCAP firms by number of workers and ranking among all PMCs in Iraq, 2nd quarter 2008

with twelve regional contracting offices operating across the country in 2008. Nonetheless, looking at the data it is possible to discern that JCC-I/A contracts fell under three main areas: 1) private security, 2) reconstruction and training, and 3) logistics support services, with an emphasis on hiring Iraqi companies and laborers.

LOGCAP was not only the most significant contracting program in Iraq, the companies that received contracts under its umbrella were also many of the largest military contractors in the country. Leading the way was the prime contractor, KBR, which had nearly 21,000 employees, including thousands from Southeast Europe, which composed the bulk of its TCN workforce. Following KBR was its largest subcontractor, Prime Projects International (PPI), with more than 10,000 workers. In total nine of the twenty largest PMCs by workforce in (p.33)

From Camp Followers to a Global Army of Labor

Figure 2.2. U.S. military geographic combatant commands and LOGCAP IV contractors

(p.34) Iraq (KBR and eight of its subcontractors) were firms that received all or a significant portion of their contracts through the LOGCAP program (figure 2.1).97 The largest non-LOGCAP contractor, with 8,795 workers, was L-3 Communications, which provided Arabic interpreters for the military.

Combined, these nine LOGCAP firms employed over 53,000 people, with 68 percent of them being TCNs, mostly from South and Southeast Asian countries. The prevalence of workers from this part of the world was due to the provenance of KBR’s subcontracting companies, nearly all of which were based in the Middle East. Following well-established recruiting practices and pathways, firms like PPI (Dubai), Gulf Catering Company, or GCC (Kuwait), and Serka (Turkey) tapped recruiting brokers and agencies in countries like India, the Philippines, Nepal, and Sri Lanka to amass the pool of laborers needed to fulfill their growing contractual obligations in Iraq.98 As I discuss in subsequent chapters, they also often brought with them a host of exploitative labor practices that parallel conditions experienced by labor migrants elsewhere in the region. Ironically, KBR’s 2001 bid for the LOGCAP III contract proposed that the company would self-perform most of the required work, as it did in Bosnia, rather than relying upon subcontractors, with the government considering this a positive aspect of the proposal that would lessen risk.99

In part in response to accusations of profiteering and mistreatment of workers, the military decided to move away from a single prime contractor approach with its next LOGCAP award. In 2008 the new contract (LOGCAP IV) was split among three companies (KBR, Fluor, and DynCorp), who compete for task orders.100 Similar to the Balkans sustainment contract, KBR was chosen to continue supporting military operations in Iraq until the withdrawal of troops in 2011. However, its operations in Afghanistan were turned over to Fluor and DynCorp, with the former charged with providing support to bases in the northern half of the country and the latter the southern. Contracting in Afghanistan peaked in spring 2012 with more than 117,000 contractors supporting military operations.101

In addition to moving away from a single prime contractor, a second innovation coming out of the LOGCAP IV contract is the further integration of outsourcing with the military’s worldwide force posture. Five of its six geographic combatant commands are now assigned to a prime LOGCAP contractor, while KBR, Fluor, and DynCorp continue to split task orders in the sixth, CENTCOM (figure 2.2).102 A global logistics contracting network and workforce for a global military presence. We now turn to the histories that explain the prevalence of Filipino and Bosnian laborers in this workforce.


(2.) UN 2014. For more on the rise of international securitized responses to infectious diseases, see Davies 2008.

(p.201) (3.) Obama 2016.

(19.) Wilson 2006, 3, and chap. 3.

(26.) For an excellent discussion of the tensions between “grunts” and “REMFs” in Vietnam, see Lair 2001, chap. 1.

(27.) Huston 1996, 384. Chung (2019) provides a detailed account of these labor dynamics.

(28.) Huston 1996, 646. Thousands of Korean workers and several Korean companies subsequently provided logistics support for the U.S. military in the Vietnam War, a fascinating parallel (and precursor) to the case of Bosnians who began working for the military in the postwar peacekeeping mission in Bosnia before moving on to new jobs in Iraq and Afghanistan. For more on this, see Chung 2019.

(30.) For more on this, see Huston 1989, chaps. 15 and 16.

(34.) Raymond International and Morrison-Knudsen (RMK) held the original contract construction contracts. When demands ramped up too fast for the two firms to keep up with they invited Brown & Root and J.A. Jones Construction to join them. See Carter 2008, 158. Carter claims that RMK-BRJ was the “sole contractor” for construction projects in Vietnam, but this is inaccurate. PAE was a key construction contractor for the Army, while the Air Force relied on Walter Kidde Construction to help build its Tuy Hoa Air Base. For more on this, see Dunn 1972, 27; Traas 2010, 109.

(35.) Quoted in Carter 2008, 184.

(37.) For more on ties between Johnson and Brown & Root, see Caro 1990.

(38.) Quoted in Carter 2008, 239.

(39.) For more on this transformation by Rumsfeld, see Beasley 2019.

(p.202) (42.) DoD 1992, 727.

(43.) Among other activities, SCCC operated the dining facilities at Camp Bucca, a detainee prison in southern Iraq. In 1990 it provided food for American soldiers at the main logistics base in Damman. See Fialka 1990.

(44.) Dickinson 2011, 29.

(45.) As Jennifer Mittelstadt (2015) has shown, the privatization revolution left the military relatively unscathed during Reagan’s administration. In fact, during this time there was a marked increase in the provision of social welfare services by the military, which were viewed as essential for the recruitment and retention of service members following the introduction of an all-volunteer force in 1973.

(51.) GAO 1997, 2.

(54.) GAO 1997, 4 and 11.

(59.) In 2006 the Navy split its CONCAP program into two components, a Global Contingency Construction Contract, which focuses on overseas construction projects, and a Global Contingency Services Contract, which is used to provide logistics and base support services.

(62.) By the end of the Clinton administration the federal government had shed nearly 400,000 jobs from its payroll, and was spending 44 percent more on contractors than in 1993. For more on military and intelligence privatization during the Clinton administration, see Shorrock 2008, chap. 3.

(63.) Defense Science Board Task Force 1996. See the August 27 memorandum by Chairman Philip Odeen on pp. 5–6.

(67.) Despite assumptions that outsourcing leads to substantial cost savings, evidence suggests that the cost benefits are mixed at best. See Stanger 2009, 94–98.

(77.) Serafino 2001; Department of State 2001.

(p.203) (78.) Waddell 2009, 172. According to one estimate, by the late 1970s 75 percent of the Army’s combat service support capabilities belonged to reserve components. See Stollenwerk 1998, 12.

(80.) See Schooner and Swan 2012, and Propublica’s investigative series at https://www.propublica.org/series/disposable-army.

(84.) When the 2004 visa ban crisis crippled transportation operations into Iraq, PWC was greatly affected as nearly 60 percent of its 1,500 drivers were from India and the Philippines. See Embassy Kuwait 2004c.

(85.) Chatterjee 2009, 133. According David Vine (2015, 218–20), who conducted an extensive analysis of Pentagon contracts performed outside of the U.S. between 2001 and 2013, the five largest contractors as determined by value of contracts were all logistics contractors: 1) KBR (LOGCAP), 2) Supreme Group (DLA), 3) PWC/Agility (DLA), 4) Dyn-Corp (LOGCAP), and 5) Fluor (LOGCAP). In total he estimates these five companies earned nearly $80 billion.

(87.) For a detailed overview of these claims, see C. Smith 2012, chap. 6.

(93.) See, for example, Cha 2004; Phinney 2005; Simpson 2005a, 2005b; Rohde 2004.

(95.) Copies of these data, which were obtained following a FOIA request by journalists, are accessible at CENTCOM’s FOIA reading room: https://www2.centcom.mil/sites/foia/rr/default.aspx. I have also posted copies of these quarterly censuses on my academia.edu webpage (https://ucla.academia.edu/AdamMoore).

(97.) Unfortunately it is not possible to compare these data on contracting personnel with the size of contracts. While there are government websites and databases (e.g., fbo.gov and usaspending.gov) providing information on military contracting and expenditures, they are incomplete. Moreover, in the case of subcontracting, the legal principle of “privity of contract” means that agreements between prime contractors like KBR and their subcontractors are subject to drastically lower degrees of transparency and oversight. Therefore, these data provide, as far as I am aware, the most detailed information on subcontracting in contingency operations that exists to date. For more on this, see Tyler 2012.

(98.) Several accounts, including an earlier work of mine (Moore 2017), inaccurately identify GCC as a Saudi company. But legal documents from a lawsuit between GCC and KBR identify the former as a Kuwaiti firm. See Duroni 2013. Eventually GCC became a subsidiary of PWC. See C. Smith 2012, 89, and Project on Government Oversight n.d.

(100.) Following the LOGCAP IV award, Fluor and DynCorp took over KBR’s operations in Afghanistan, but for continuity purposes the military decided that KBR should continue to provide logistical services in Iraq under the LOGCAP III contract until the withdrawal of troops in 2011.

(102.) The six geographic combatant commands are also known as unified combatant commands (UCCs). In total there are ten UCCs, six organized according to specified AORs—the geographic combatant commands—and four along a “functional” basis: Transportation Command (TRANSCOM), Strategic Command, Special Operations Command, and Cyber Command.