Private Military Contracting (PMC) is a weird and beautiful animal. Should a mad scientist find a way to mate “War” with pure, unadulterated “Capitalism”, the resulting birth would no doubt be a bearded, tattooed privateer from Blackwater. It is, in my humble opinion, the mixture of two things in which America most prides Herself: combat and an affinity for turning a profit.
In the PMC world, you find the cool gear and guns of the military without the restrictions of conformity and the choking dress code. While PMCs are governed by strict rules of engagement (despite media claims), much of the legalism of regular military life is conspicuously absent. The result is a small group of tactically sound and extremely eclectic individuals.
Picture the Lost Boys from J.M. Barrie’s saga of Peter Pan. A rag-tag group of boys, wearing whatever the hell they could scrounge together, outwardly appearing undisciplined, yet they were children possessing an ability to go after and kill pirates. Regular life held no appeal to them back in jolly old London, so they abandoned it in favor of a lifetime of battles and song.
Such is the contractor. No two PMCs are the same, and the motivations to enter such a job market are as many as they are varied. Despite this, at its core is typically a continued desire for adventure rather than the humdrum responsibilities of corporate America, with its cubicles and spreadsheets, its company outings and OSHA safety meetings.
There is an aura of abandonment in such men. Their homes are far, far away lands. They fly beyond the second star to the right, and reach their Neverland of guns and chest rigs, Copenhagen and Arcteryx. Their wives and girlfriends (often at the same time), children, their collection of “normal” friends, and average responsibilities reside in the subconscious, sometimes brought to the forefront in moments of solitude and conversation. The rest of the time is the greatest boys club that has ever existed, where a man advanced in age can partake in the carefree habits of the boyish soldier, and a young combat veteran can hang out with the old legend who once fought in Somalia.
The Lost Boys had their war with Captain Hook which was little more than an eternal deadly game. As such, PMCs cannot abide peace. It’s bad for business to have a war end, and where would the fun be in a world without strife and danger?
In his natural habitat, he appears closer to a savage than a soldier, with his long hair, wild beard, all-encompassing tattoos, and random patches slapped everywhere there is Velcro. His gear does not have an ounce of uniformity, but simply of what works. He might wear boots or Chuck Taylors, jeans and board shorts or multi-cam trousers, a black polo shirt or a tee from Rogue American Apparel. He probably partakes in all the things about which servicemen only joke: recreational drugs, hookers, and steroids. By the time he is forty, he has been divorced and remarried more than Hugh Hefner.
Despite the outward appearance of a hobo with a gun (a “hobomerc”?), he typically possesses the discipline necessary to grow old in such a profession.
The hodge-podge appearance of PMCs goes deeper than mere clothing and gear however. The backgrounds are drastically diverse. One movement team might have two Marine Corps Machine Gunners, an Army Cav Scout, a Ranger for a Medic, two Scout Snipers on the roof, a retired ATF agent, three guys with green beanies, a Naval Academy grad, an Air Force CCT, and finally a Recon Marine for a shift leader.* It’s the contractor equivalent of ordering a Dairy Queen Blizzard with all the different candies, with some cookie dough, raw meat, and goldfish crackers mixed into the ice cream.
Like Lost Boys, who came as small children from all corners of the globe, PMCs are diverse enough to make the staff of the Huffington Post drool. Yet Lost Boys grow beyond their backgrounds. If you seek this tribe, know that military schools and MOS’s are only the currency with which you buy your way into the job interview. Once you’re in the tribe, the exchange rate throws all of that out the window.
There is only today in Neverland. Yesterday is forgotten, and tomorrow is an abstract concept on paper. If you cannot perform in the here-and-now, the greatness you may have achieved in the military is worth less than a vote for Michael Dukakis in 2020. I have seen a man who considered himself the Grand Old Man of SOF wax eloquent about his cool-guy gear and missions, and I’ve seen an old lieutenant from military police knuckle down and Rufio the shit out of his job. I’ve seen retired Marine Corps Master Sergeants bitch and moan about their living conditions while the twenty-four-year-old Scout Sniper is #GettingAfterIt in the gym. The past disappears like a fart in a tornado.
For those who find their own addictions satisfied by the moonshine of the mercenary, the future disappears too.
Maybe that’s why we are branded Lost Boys. There is no tomorrow. Today’s battle is the only reality.
*I’ll be honest, I have no idea where SEALs go as contractors. I think they have their own PMC club somewhere in Tahiti.