Thursday, April 30, 2009

Then and Now: Contractors and Training

One of the big differences between the end-of-Viet Nam Army and today is Contractors. In the early 70s, soldiers scooped creamed chip beef on toast in the the Chow Hall serving line. That same soldier got up every day at 2 am to start cooking our high-calorie breakfast. Soldiers drove buses, dug field latrines, hauled ammo and did most other tasks, important and menial, in our every day lives.

Now contractors do many of these jobs. The intent, I suppose, is to allow the soldiers to concentrate on training, and to have more soldiers be warriors and fewer be cooks, clerks and drivers.

Which sounds good, but as someone who has been both a consultant and a corporate manager, I can tell you the world is a different place when you are paid by the hour (contractor)and when you are on salary (soldier). Soldier time is a fixed cost. If we wait three hours, the budget does not change. Contractors get paid overtime if things run late. Everyone in every part of government is worried about costs, so soldiers now know that training begins and ends when depending on the bus schedule.

In the 70s Army if we went to a training area and screwed up something, the soldiers who drove the buses waited till we were done re-running the course for a couple of hours. On our recent convoy training the big former infantryman who conducted our training said if we did not complete the exercise to his satisfaction we would do it again till we got it right. We (and he) all knew he was full of crap. No matter how badly we did, the buses were scheduled to arrive at 2pm on the last day of training. (Actually, we did very well so he got to leave early.) And his shift ended at noon that day. So the contractor was not paid past noon and the civilian drivers would have to be paid extra if they waited for us (NOT vice versa). So he could bluster, but at noon on the last day, he was gone. The buses arrived at 4pm, which was OK because a few hundred soldiers waiting out in the desert is OK--no additional cost when soldiers wait for the bus.