This is an article targeting those new to deployments and the private military contracting game. Even if you have been around the block and deployed several times, there may be some insights and wisdom here for you as well to take on board or share with your newer team mates.
I have found that even active duty military personnel who have done several deployments over the years and are new to contracting have some adjustments to make. Contracting is not a new uniform with the same old support system. Contracting is done side by side with local and military partners, but your resources and access to said resources will be quite different. It is too easy to get used to all the systems of support that ‘big army’ or even the Marine Corps provides. Think well in advance of your contractual deployment date about your intended destination and what you might need and how you will get the necessities.
The Golden Conex Assumption. There will be no ‘golden conex of love’ filled with support gear and mission helpful items; as a Private Military/Security Contractor (PMSC) you will quickly learn to make due, use it, find an alternative and most definitely plan on spending some cash to support your vocation. This is not just a matter of taste either. Your company will most likely provide you with the bare minimum in essentials to get the job done, and the rest will be left up to you.
The Bottom Line. You need to plan and manage your own systems of support and what you choose to acquire will depend on your deployment environment, your contract duties, and your savvy to get what you need carried or shipped in to your job site or operations center.
Post and Base Exchanges. There is quite a bit you can buy in-country at the PX or BX on base when you have the proper credentials, access, finance and opportunity. Post and base exchanges are where you find the familiar items from home most often. It is worth noting that if you find a decent sized stash of items you like at the PX/BX and you have the cash, get a few more of the items in question than you might normally. The reason being – shortages are common and you will thank yourself later for having a small stock of those things that provide you familiar ease and comfort. Even if the items seem expensive at the time, you will thank yourself later. Shipments of goods to post and base exchanges.
Care Packages From Home. It is like Christmas in a foreign country every time a package from home arrives for you. I cannot stress enough how important it is to get personal care packages and mail from home, but there are restrictions to what you can have sent in a box from home to your red zone villa (RZV) or base accommodations. Big brother is always in your business and that includes your mail when living and operating overseas.
BIG HINT: Mom, dad and family can not send you a weapons package or contraband and the U.S. Department of State has their policies and a directorate of defense trade controls known as ITAR – International Traffic In Arms, that you or your family can run afoul of sending things from one country to the next. What is sent has to be in compliance not only with ITAR, but also post exchange guidelines as well at your Army Post Office (APO). My suggestion is to keep and stay informed on what right looks like when it comes to items being sent. Do your research, reach out to your employer to see where you receive packages and get not only an address, but their thoughts and guidelines on parcels as well.
The Local Economy. Ready for an adventure? There will always be a local marketplace where the goods you need, want or desire can be found, but this will take some doing. You will have to make ‘friends’ and build a set of trust based relationships with some locals to make this successful. It is a fact laid bare that PMSC’s all rely on local market goods to a large extent even including sources for vehicles, weapons and ammunition. Your greatest ally in-country often becomes your local national ‘fixer’ who will always be busy accessing a network of both general commercial goods and sometimes even black market items. On a personal level, you have to have one or more local nationals who can access the goods and materials you need not only to get the job done, but also access the comfort items that make your down time sufferable.
“Hassan! I need ten Ak-47s and a case of hand grenades by tomorrow! … look for some RPGs as well!”
“Yes Sir,” a thin wiry little man replies as he adjusts his thin-rimmed spectacles and tugs at the belt surrounding his fat little belly.
‘Hassan’ may be a fictional character, but do not kid yourself. The request is not. Invariably, if it is to be had, ‘Hassan’ will find it.
One is None and Two Is One. Here’s a small list of useful items list that you should consider as a basis for what you might want to have along with you or sent to you shortly after you arrive in country:
End of Mission. I have saved the best advice for last because no one ever thinks at the front end of a contract about going home at the ‘end’. Yep it happens. You have spent eighteen months on mission, amazingly did not get fired, avoided police entanglements, and accrued your very own conex worth of personal items and gear in size and volume …. and now, you are leaving. Suggestion – sell it. Do not send it all home. I have done both and thanked myself more often for selling most of it or giving it away at the end of mission, if I was so inclined. Keep the possessions that are meaningful and send them home, but do not pack ten gorilla boxes worth of shit to stack at your house back in the States.
Always Remember. Be practical about your needs and always remember stuff is just stuff. Keep on hand what you need and be sparing about what you ‘want’ and you will be served well.