Friday, March 30, 2007

They ably serve but are treated like 'road kill'

Private contractors have served to help our armed forces since the American Revolution, but they have never received the recognition that uniformed soldiers receive - even when they are just as selfless and heroic.

Oliver North explains in his column: "Civilian contractors have served beside -- and been treated differently than -- the U.S. military since the American Revolution. From 1775 when he arrived in Boston to assume command of the Continental Army, Washington depended on civilian contractors to provide food, weapons, ammunition, transport, armories, engineering, construction, clothing and medical assistance for his troops. Though many of these civilians shared the same hardships and privations as the troops they supported, they were more often criticized than honored by our government.

"Modern warfare has made civilian contractors even more essential to our military -- and placed them at higher risk. Three weeks after Pearl Harbor, nearly 100 American civilian construction contractors were killed and wounded standing shoulder-to-shoulder with U.S. Marines and sailors defending Wake Island. When the tiny garrison was overwhelmed on Dec. 23, 1941, more than 1,000 contractors became prisoners of the Rising Sun and scores were subsequently worked to death and massacred by their captors. None of those who died received so much as a Purple Heart.

"By the time I arrived in Vietnam in 1968, tens of thousands of American civilians were backing our efforts on the battlefield. My tiny platoon outpost overlooking Khe Sanh had a half-dozen American civilians manning sophisticated communications and detection equipment. At Con Thien, our infantry battalion was supported by U.S. civilian "tech reps" who maintained and operated fire control radars, ran generators and repaired everything from sensors to heavy equipment. One of the most famous photographs of the Vietnam War's ignominious end was an American civilian contractor's UH-1 "Huey" helicopter evacuating desperate Vietnamese refugees from the top of 22 Gia Long Street, a half mile from the U.S. Embassy."

Click here for the full text.