Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer

Everyone knows Rudolph; he’s the guy at the front of the sleigh lighting up whichever pathCOVER 300 Santa wants to travel. The rest of the team, Dasher and Dancer and Prancer and Vixen, Comet and Cupid and Donner and Blitzen, are providing the reindeer power the outfit needs to get to wherever the man in the red says is the destination.  That’s it, today’s military policy lesson in less than 100 words.

On this Christmas Eve, American soldiers are deployed to 150[1] of the 192[2] or so countries around the world.  They are lighting the way for the Commander in Chief. Right behind the troops are an equal or greater number of government defense contractor employees hunkering down to pull the sleigh of state.  All of those people, uniformed and civilian, are volunteers.  They are all doing what they want to do and they are where they are, because that is where the job is.  Steve Traywick shared a soldier’s perspective of Christmas in his post, Reflections of a Cold War Warrior-Christmas, but there is another tale to tell.

Christmas at the mess hall

Christmas at the mess hall

Government defense contractor employees experience the same range of emotions as soldiers at Christmas. Patti, Dave, and Steve in Afghanistan support the military supply chain, and worry about their children being alone on Christmas.  Paco, Vicente, and Tom, in Yemen, will be up at 0300 hours to prepare a Christmas meal in the chow hall, and they will long to be at home when the presents are opened.

Keeping the military machine running is not an easy life, but it is a good job that pays regularly and needs doing.  Contract personnel are used for all manner of work in support of the military machine. Three times a day in 150 far-flung countries, uniformed and contractor personnel are fed come hell or high water; the military insists on it.  Convoys transport material forward and, in many cases, civilians drive the trucks, the wheels and aircraft of the military need routine maintenance and breakdown repair, the supply chain of goods and services needs staffing, training of civilian and contractor personnel must be completed, installations and infrastructure like roads and pipelines need

Logistics keeps the military in business.

Logistics keeps the military in business.

management and maintenance, and construction needs doing.  Defense contractors stand in line for these support contracts.  Contract personnel, many of whom are former military personnel, perform the work.  It is how the business is done.

There are many benefits to the government for using contract support.  First, the charges for the services may be handled in many ways not directly attributable to the Department of Defense.  For example, in the past, the Department of Energy was used as such a contracting agency.  The DOE contractor could then be used to support the military through various intergovernmental agreements justified by references to even more government agreements such as treaties.  Following the money trail becomes difficult at best and obtaining the true cost of business at any site, say Vietnam, approaches the impossible.

Second, third and so on benefits to the government include some very harsh realities.  Contractors go to the front lines to do work and build things. Although contractor personnel do not carry weapons, they are shot at, injured, and killed, but do not get reported as casualties. (Note: mercenaries are a special class of contractors and are not being discussed in this post)  Non-performing contractor personnel leave on the next available aircraft so disciplinary issues are easier to address.  Contractors are taught from their date of hire that they do not ‘get in front of’ the military.  Regardless of the situation the military gets the credit and contractor personnel get the blame.  Yes, the paychecks are regular and pretty good, but most of the workers on defense contractor payrolls are there because the job is important and it feels good to do it well. We contractor pukes love the camaraderie, doing a job that makes a difference, and it can even be fun.

Christmas, or anytime, was a good time to tease personnel new to the Air Force’s Johnston Island and the Army’s JACADS (Johnston Atoll Chemical Agent Disposal Facility) and they didn’t just mess with the civilians either.  Steve Wallace, a contract person who served on Johnston Island tells this tale:

You asked for some memories of Johnston Island, Think I might have one. This is part one of two:  Butch was the head cook at the dining hall.  Butch had been doing government contracts

Joint Operations Center (JOC)

Joint Operations Center (JOC)

for a while, and was noted for spinning wild yarns and laying it on thick with the newbies.  One of his stories involved the three floor concrete block house known as the JOC (Joint Operations Center).  It had a positive air flow in case of a chemical emergency, so the filtered air flowed out of the building and anyone entering couldn’t bring contamination into the building.  In case of a “Chemical Spill”, all hands on the island were to go there, get decontaminated at the decon station, and live in the JOC until it was safe to leave.  The place had cots, food and water stashed.  When newbies asked what happened in case of a hurricane (Johnston Island was seven feet above sea level), Butch told them to go to the JOC, and if the water level got too high, the JOC would float, then turn upside down and become a sail boat.  All hands that survived could sail back to Hawaii in (717 miles away). Butch would lay it on real thick, much better than this recounting, and it’s incredible how many newbies believed it.

Part II. My son, Jason, told me the story, and I told it to George Grandy.  “I had been on the island for a few years, and knew where some stuff was stashed.  We had a junk yard (we called it K-Mart), where old desks, chairs and other stuff was stashed; including old toilets.  Our idea was to get one of the toilets, mount it on the wall, upside down, near the ceiling.  Butch could then bring newbies to the JOC and show them the only toilet that would work when the JOC was “at sea”.  We got as far as appropriating the toilet, but got stuck on how to mount it to the wall without destroying the wall.  It would have been a classic practical joke and I always regretted that we didn’t follow through.”

Most of the military and contractor employees around the globe will have a great Christmas.  Spare each of these people a kind thought as you enjoy this time with family and friends.  Putting their desire to be home in a box in their hearts, they will self-assemble bands, play music, dance, party, put on skits in make-shift talent shows, open presents and enjoy the day whether they work or not.  I know this to be true because I lived that life for many years.

10196668_s_zpsf419c133Some military personnel will be at great risk this Christmas but most of the military stationed in those 150 countries will be sitting in isolated locations, confined to a compound or close-by.  Some military support contractor personnel will be at great risk this Christmas but most of the employees stationed in those 150 countries will be sitting in isolated locations, confined to a compound or close-by.  If, during your worldly wanderings, you come close to such an installation around Christmas you will know it by the music, laughter, and voices you hear wafting on the breeze.  I may disagree with the guy driving the sleigh, but the reindeer and Rudolph are still doing important jobs in far away places.

[1] Defense Manpower Data Center; July 31, 2013; Total DoD – July 31, 2013 (DMDC data);

[2] World Atlas; How Many Countries?;

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