Quick, think of an action movie. It doesn’t matter which one, just pick the first one that comes to mind. Got it? Okay, besides the gunfights and all the stuff blowing up, what other junk is jammed in there to make a weak storyline last two hours? Usually, there’s at least a couple of bar scenes with hot chicks and some pretty serious drinking going on. But here’s the problem: If that’s the mental image that a new applicant has before starting his first security contract, it’s no wonder that people are so disappointed when they find out the reality of the work. In actuality, the living conditions of contract security jobs more closely resemble a monastery than a movie!
Oh sure, all the good stuff that a recruiter tells you is probably going to happen, to include luxurious tent living, cruising around a war zone with heavy weaponry, and getting paid with thick stacks of virtually tax-free unmarked bills! (That last one was a joke, by the way.) But what Recruiter Bob might tend to gloss over is that fact that taking on a security contract is one of the best ways to stay sober and abstinent, at least for several months at a time. Even if your company doesn’t have a specific prohibition against alcohol consumption written into your employment contract, alcohol is still generally forbidden for all US troops and contractors while working in theater.
Let’s be realistic for a second: Just because something is illegal, that doesn’t mean you can’t get it. If you really needed a beer that badly, all you really need to do is start hanging around with the Brits or the Aussies. Those guys are great at sniffing out booze, and the rules are a lot looser for non-US citizens. When I was assigned to the International Zone in Baghdad, one South African dude actually took me to an actual liquor store that was open to the public. Sure it was just a single-wide trailer, but the Iraqi running the place still managed to have a good selection of liquor and beer, all at pretty reasonable prices. And even if you’re stationed in the middle of nowhere, you can still get your hands on alcohol simply by having someone ship it to you. The military’s mail inspection teams use their dogs to sniff for explosives, not Crown Royal. Not that I know this from experience or anything, but during your vacations you can just pre-arrange “care packages” and have a buddy ship them to your APO address. People tell me that it works best when you pour brown liquor into an apple juice bottle, then use tape to seal it up tight. If you go that route, it’s important to use a plastic bottle and plenty of crush-resistant packaging, since most people get caught when their boxes are handled roughly. If a glass bottle of liquor breaks inside the box, it’ll stink up the mailroom pretty quickly!
Now that you know how you COULD theoretically get alcohol into a military outpost, it’s important to consider whether you SHOULD. Depending on who catches you, the punishment can be pretty severe. If you didn’t do the smart thing and hide your bottle in a half-full sandbag and your company’s supervisor happens to find your secret stash during a room inspection, you’re at least looking at a reprimand and loss of a couple days’ pay. The company personnel are more likely to give you a slap on the wrist if they catch you, since they lose money every time they have to fire you and ship you home. Don’t count on any leniency, but be grateful if you get it! Since personnel records are generally considered proprietary information, managers can sometimes even get away with not reporting the incident to the military’s contracting officer.
It’s a completely different story if the military catches you, though. Get drunk and show your behind in front of the MPs, and you can pretty much count on being on the next flight home. Keep in mind that you can get caught by hearsay, too! If you’re stupid enough to be running “drug deals” and providing booze for an enlisted military kid, the first question any investigator is going to ask is where the soldier got the contraband from. After that, all a commander has to do is tell your company that they want you removed from the country, and the company really has no choice but to do as they’re told. Losing a fat paycheck and getting red-flagged for future security clearance opportunities might be tough enough to swallow, but can you imagine having to explain your employment situation to the folks back home? I mean, getting kicked out of a nightclub for being drunk is one thing, but getting kicked out of a third-world nation? Dude, you might as well draw a big “L” on your forehead, and good luck ever finding your way onto another security contract!
And as long as I’m being a complete downer on a Monday morning, I might as well go ahead and tell you about the prohibitions on sexual activity as well. If you haven’t seen it already, make sure to check out this link that talks about disciplinary actions taken for female soldiers who become pregnant in a war zone. I think that everybody acknowledges that sex is one of those things that you can’t ever stop completely, but take a couple minutes to imagine the consequences if you’re the one getting fingered by a female enlisted soldier when someone asks her “Who’s the Daddy?” Yeah, the only thing worse than getting fired from Afghanistan would be getting fired from Afghanistan and knowing that you’ll be looking at some pretty steep child support payments!
Don’t think that you can play it safe by relying solely on pornography, either. In a show of sensitivity to the Muslim host nations, possession of pornography is usually prohibited as well. A couple years ago this buddy of mine left his thumb drive in pants pocket when he turned in his laundry to the KBR folks. Any time this happens the disk gets turned over to the Military Police, since there’s a chance that sensitive material could be stored on there. In this dude’s case, there was only a couple dozen Playboy-style pictures on his drive. They were R-rated at best, but the military’s FOB commander still started the process to have this contractor removed from the country! Our company’s head folks had to get involved and they somehow managed to save the guy’s job, but he was still transferred off of our cushy base and over to one of the least desirable mudholes in Baghdad.
Just one more piece of advice to think about: No matter how much you might like booze and loose women, one easy way to stay sober and chaste is by remembering that one reason the government likes to use contractors is because they’re so easy to fire! With that in mind, maybe it’s better to just pop another O’Douls the next time you’re sitting around the camp smoke pit and count down the days until your next vacation!