Get Task & Purpose in your inbox
Every so often when you’re sitting in the chow hall overseas, you’ll gaze up from your plate of Noodles Jefferson and take note of your surroundings. Depending on theater and tempo, the crowd ranges from monotone to “Star Wars” bar scene. Uniforms from different branches and different countries worn in different ways; government employees and contractors abound.
Despite what your mom told you, you can make some pretty good guesses about a person by what they wear and how they carry themselves, at least in these parts. Your uniform or civilian attire is how you outwardly project your place in the pecking order, and this is a culture where status and tribal affiliation is particularly prized.
Defense contractors perform a wide variety of functions for our military overseas. It’s a common myth that they all make $300,000 doing the same thing they did as an E-5, but that’s usually not the case. The money can be had in certain specialties, but the majority of contractors maker much less, though it’s usually not taxed.
You might not know everyone on the list below, but you’ve definitely met more than a few of them.
The Action Figure
13 Hours, Paramount Pictures.
Stats: Male, 24–40 years of age, muscular.
Attire: Oakley shades, G-Shock watch, and a killer tan.
Action Figures are perhaps the most glamorous contractors you’ll encounter in theater — they are the shooters, the operators, the guys that kill shit and protect important people. Back in the day, Blackwater was the most (in)famous employer of these guys. Most are veterans of the special operations community. They make great money and they do love that tactical look. These guys rocked beards way before it became a pencil-neck-hipster thing. Often spotted manning exotic weapons and riding in armored SUVs, these are the guys that take care of dignitaries, visiting leaders and other persons of note.
War Dogs, Warner Bros. Pictures.
Stats: Typically male, 20s–50s, out of shape, rocking a dad bod, or maybe just a beer gut.
Attire: Olive drab 5.11 shirt and pants (tacticool and elastic waistband — yay!), Oakley tan boots. Optional: multicam baseball cap featuring the Punisher skull.
Posers are contractors who — because they are vets, and witnessed Action Figures when they were deployed on active duty — dress a certain way to imply an inaccurately high level of adventure. They typically sport beards, have badges tucked into shirts, but show a suspicious lack of sun exposure. They dwell primarily under fluorescents and probably works in some sort of technician role, “running them router cables” and fixing the general’s airmobile super-secret iPad.
The Professor On Safari
Jurassic Park, Universal Pictures.
Stats: Typically male, 50+, mostly white, bearded, pipe smoker.
Salary: Hard to estimate, but probably astronomical to lure them out of retirement
Attire: LL Bean, The North Face, Patagonia. Matching nylon pants with versatile, zip-off legs. Nylon shirts with shirt roll keeper thingies on the sleeve. Optional: money belt.
This group may or may not have served in the military. It’s more than likely that they came from another government agency (FBI, state police, etc). These guys know how to wear a sidearm but they dress like models from an AARP ad. This is their first experience in a country not in the Caribbean or Western Europe and it’s obvious from their daily attire. They are not as numerous as the days when we were elbow-deep in “nation building,” but they can most likely be found near locations featuring a law enforcement training or mentoring program. The khaki vest with a shitload of pockets is a dead giveaway.
The Perpetual Expat
Zero Dark Thirty, Columbia Pictures.
Stats: Both male and female, aged 35–70, typically with some prior service. Never married because they haven’t stayed in one place long enough to meet someone.
Attire: $10,000 watches, gelled/slicked hair, cigarettes, a lot of black, and a smirk.
These men and women do whatever it takes to keep earning outside the United States. Usually prior NCOs and capable as hell — when they want to be. They’re as American as you or me but there’s something that keeps them living and working overseas for most of their adult life. Some maintain homes and families in the states, others own property in Costa Rica or Thailand or wherever. They have a self-satisfied look because they’re earning well and maintaining households in countries where they rank at the top one percent for wealth. These guys are the pros that provide continuity — many come and go when their tour is done, but these folks cultivate and maintain a professional network with the host nation and know how to make shit happen. They do every job imaginable, and often you don’t know what exactly they do at all. They might work in a port, for the embassy, or as a liaison for a foreign company that does frequent business with the military.
The Fast and the Furious, Universal Pictures.
Stats: Both male and female, 30–45. Tattoos. Highly proficient at swearing. Single/recently divorced.
Attire: Fond of polyester work pants and shirts, or white t-shirts. Eye pro. Caterpillar boots.
This crew earned technical military occupational specialties while serving, and now they’re putting their skills to work on the outside. They can be found working in the hangars and back shops pretty much anywhere in the deployed universe. They’re reps from the companies that make our expensive and maintenance-intensive hardware like helicopters, tanks, communications platforms, drones, etc. They perform maintenance and fix what we break on a regular basis — the money is good enough to get them back overseas again and at least they don’t have to abide by the grooming standard or live in 50-person tents this time.
Rock the Kasbah, Open Roads Films.
Stats: 35–60 years old, often Southern, cranky.
Attire: Jumpsuit, overalls, stained t-shirt, redneck ball cap.
At home, these guys were truck drivers making $42,000 a year, away from home for five weeks at a time. For some, this is great; for others, there’s the ex-wife, alimony, child support, that sweet new Corvette Stingray — whatever. The point is that they need to make some more cash and they need it now. Why not take one of those high-paying overseas jobs Chuck at dispatch was talking about? These guys are less numerous with our smaller footprint overseas, but they are easy to spot when you see one. They’ve driven through hell and back, clutching the Diet-Dew-filled Bubba Keg with white knuckles. The pay is good, but: this… is … bullshit! Weaving BMWs are nothing compared to IEDs and objectively homicidal local drivers. They may or may not complete their contracts. The CB-radio siren song of the truck stop and its accompanying lot lizards is looking really great right about now.
Three U.S. service members received non-life-threatening injuries after being fired on Monday by an Afghan police officer, a U.S. official confirmed.
The troops were part of a convoy in Kandahar province that came under attack by a member of the Afghan Civil Order Police, a spokesperson for Operation Resolute Support said on Monday.
Marine Maj. Jose J. Anzaldua Jr. spent more than three years during the height of the Vietnam War. Now, more than 45 years after his release, Sig Sauer is paying tribute to his service with a special gift.
Sig Sauer on Friday unveiled a unique 1911 pistol engraved with Anzaldua's name, the details of his imprisonment in Vietnam, and the phrase "You Are Not Forgotten" accompanied by the POW-MIA flag on the grip to commemorate POW-MIA Recognition Day.
The gunmaker also released a short documentary entitled "Once A Marine, Always A Marine" — a fitting title given Anzaldua's courageous actions in the line of duty
Born in Texas in 1950, Anzaldua enlisted in the Marine Corps in 1968 and deployed to Vietnam as an intelligence scout assigned to the 2nd Battalion, 5th Marine Regiment, 1st Marine Division.
On Jan. 23, 1970, he was captured during a foot patrol and spent 1,160 days in captivity in various locations across North Vietnam — including he infamous Hỏa Lò Prison known among American POWs as the "Hanoi Hilton" — before he was freed during Operation Homecoming on March 27, 1973.
Anzaldua may have been a prisoner, but he never stopped fighting. After his release, he received two Bronze Stars with combat "V" valor devices and a Prisoner of War Medal for displaying "extraordinary leadership and devotion to his companions" during his time in captivity. From one of his Bronze Star citations:
Using his knowledge of the Vietnamese language, he was diligent, resourceful, and invaluable as a collector of intelligence information for the senior officer interned in the prison camp.
In addition, while performing as interpreter for other United States prisoners making known their needs to their captors, [Anzaldua] regularly, at the grave risk of sever retaliation to himself, delivered and received messages for the senior officer.
On one occasion, when detected, he refused to implicate any of his fellow prisoners, even though severe punitive action was expected.
Anzaldua also received a Navy and Marine Corps Medal for his heroism in December 1969, when he entered the flaming wreckage of a U.S. helicopter that crashed nearr his battalion command post in the country's Quang Nam Province and rescued the crew chief and a Vietnamese civilian "although painfully burned himself," according to his citation.
After a brief stay at Camp Pendleton following his 1973 release, Anzaldua attended Officer Candidate School at MCB Quantico, Virginia, earning his commission in 1974. He retired from the Corps in 1992 after 24 years of service.
- 1911 Pistol: the 1911 pistol was carried by U.S. forces throughout the Vietnam War, and by Major Anzaldua throughout his service. The commemorative 1911 POW pistol features a high-polish DLC finish on both the frame and slide, and is chambered in.45 AUTO with an SAO trigger. All pistol engravings are done in 24k gold;
- Right Slide Engraving: the Prisoner of War ribbon inset, with USMC Eagle Globe and Anchor and "Major Jose Anzaldua" engravings;
- Top Slide Engraving: engraved oak leaf insignia representing the Major's rank at the time of retirement and a pair of dog tags inscribed with the date, latitude and longitude of the location where Major Anzaldua was taken as a prisoner, and the phrase "You Are Not Forgotten" taken from the POW-MIA flag;
- Left Side Engraving: the Vietnam War service ribbon inset, with USMC Eagle Globe and Anchor engraving;
- Pistol Grips: anodized aluminum grips with POW-MIA flag.
The top leaders of a Japan-based Marine Corps F/A-18D Hornet squadron were fired after an investigation into a deadly mid-air collision last December found that poor training and an "unprofessional command climate" contributed to the crash that left six Marines dead, officials announced on Monday.
Five Marines aboard a KC-130J Super Hercules and one Marine onboard an F/A-18D Hornet were killed in the Dec. 6, 2018 collision that took place about 200 miles off the Japanese coast. Another Marine aviator who was in the Hornet survived.
The Department of Veterans Affairs released an alarming report Friday showing that at least 60,000 veterans died by suicide between 2008 and 2017, with little sign that the crisis is abating despite suicide prevention being the VA's top priority.
Although the total population of veterans declined by 18% during that span of years, more than 6,000 veterans died by suicide annually, according to the VA's 2019 National Veteran Suicide Prevention Annual Report.