The majority of governments across the world now use mercenary services to accomplish missions or roles that in the past were primarily filled by the respective army or security forces of the country. The more politically correct term for the modern mercenary has evolved to be a private military contractor or private security contractor (PMC or PSC). Companies who specialize in providing security and/or military services will typically employ prior soldiers and policemen who desire to continue their individual careers in a paramilitary environment for better pay and benefits than realized while performing public service. As a result, a common question that arises amongst those with combat arms experience is how to become a mercenary.
What is a Mercenary?
A mercenary is the legacy term used to refer to overseas security consultants or contractors who perform military-like work for pay in the private sector. These individuals are typically trained soldiers (or trained in support of security personnel) that work for a private company or non-governmental agency. A mercenary will perform roles that range from training, advising, technical, maintenance, or direct security support for pay that is higher than typically realized by those serving in the armed forces of their home country due to the increased risk and austere locations of assignment.
Geneva Convention Definition of a Mercenary
The Geneva Convention explicitly defines what a mercenary is in Article 47. One of the primary differences that can be a surprise to former soldiers who are new to contract work as a merc is that they no longer have any POW rights if captured taking part in security activities which meat the definition of acting as a mercenary overseas.
Geneva Convention Article 47. Mercenaries
1. A mercenary shall not have the right to be a combatant or a prisoner of war.
2. A mercenary is any person who:
(a) is especially recruited locally or abroad in order to fight in an armed conflict;
(b) does, in fact, take a direct part in the hostilities;
(c) is motivated to take part in the hostilities essentially by the desire for private gain and, in fact, is promised, by or on behalf of a Party to the conflict, material compensation substantially in excess of that promised or paid to combatants of similar ranks and functions in the armed forces of that Party;
(d) is neither a national of a Party to the conflict nor a resident of territory controlled by a Party to the conflict;
(e) is not a member of the armed forces of a Party to the conflict; and
(f) has not been sent by a State which is not a Party to the conflict on official duty as a member of its armed forces.
Why Do People Want to Be a Mercenary?
Mercenaries are typically thought of as soldiers for hire. Most choose to pursue employment as a mercenary due to the higher pay than seen in the military and police forces in addition to a greater opportunity to travel across the world. Although the pay can be significantly higher than seen during an enlistment in the army or navy, mercenary work does not prove suitable for everyone. Many of the higher paying contract support work available will require the individual to be away from home for up to six months at a time before being able to take time off to visit family and friends. As a result, a number of ex-soldiers will turn to mercenary work for the short-term in order to pay off bills or save money for working a more “normal” day job after the mercenary contract is complete.
A Short History of Mercenary Work
Mercenary work is typically regarded as the second oldest profession in the world following prostitution. At one time or another, the majority of
armed forces in the modern world have found it necessary to use foreign mercenaries or volunteers to join or support the national army. Sometimes these individuals would be used to create a unit of similar nationality or ethnic background, while other times the foreign soldiers would be directly integrated into units of the nation’s armed forces. The practice of hiring and using mercenaries has a long history including Hannibal, Genghis Khan, Alexander the Great, and the Roman Empire where the conquering armies would typically retain the services of soldiers from foreign lands during both offensive and occupation duties.
Mercenary Employment during the American Revolution
During the American Revolutionary War (1775-1783), Great Britain faced a challenge of obtaining enough soldiers to combat the more than 50,000 Colonialists opposing them in North America. Due to ongoing garrison duty in Ireland, the British had approximately 15,000 Red Coats available for the war. As a result, King George found it a necessity to hire a mercenary army to augment his forces in the Colonies. Initially, he attempted to contract 20,000 men from Russia; however, Catherine the Great did not provide the promised forces. After failing to hire the Dutch ‘Scots Brigade,’ the King would ultimately retain the services of Hessian soldiers from Germany. The Hessians would arrive in North America in 1776 but would be defeated during the battles of Saratoga Springs and Trenton.
Americans Serving as Mercenaries in World War 2
Prior to the United States entering World War 2, a number of U.S. aviators would go to China and take part in the war as part of the Flying Tigers. The Tigers were a sanctioned volunteer group, referred to as the 1st American Volunteer Group (AVG) of the Chinese Air Force from 1941-1942 and were sanctioned by the U.S. president. All of the personnel were recruited from the US Navy, Marine Corps, and Army and included some civilians. The took part in combat operations against Japanese forces and received approximately three times more pay than while on active duty and were commonly referred to as mercenaries. The Flying Tigers would see service through July 1942 when they were replaced by the U.S. Army 23rd Fighter Group.
Modern Day Private Military Companies (PMCs)
Today, the mercenary trade has evolved to primarily being headed by private military companies (PMCs). These companies specialize in providing soldiers, military training, logistics, and other services to governments, civil organizations, and international communities. They are legally established companies or enterprises that make money through providing services that rely on legal use of armed force, intelligence gathering, logistics support, or equipment procurement. The legal argument that the modern PMCs use to allow their contractors to operate in foreign countries is that since the employees are not “proactively” employed as front-line combatants, they are not mercenaries and thus legally permitted to work in austere locations. If a PMC’s employees are used in pro-active combat, they are quickly labeled as “mercs” or mercenaries, and can be open to additional lawsuits and sanctions depending on the nature of the work accomplished by their employees.
Although PMCs fill a critical security void throughout the world in a time of austere national budgets, the United Nations continues to officially disapprove of their use (ignoring the fact the UN has previously hired the company, Executive Outcomes for logistics work in Africa). The primary reason for this disapproval is the question of accountability for both the PMC and their employees/soldiers for actions in the war zone. The primary argument for using PMCs is that they help stabilize areas across the world where the UN or other coalitions are unable or not yet willing to intervene to save civilian lives. In 2007, the UN actually stated that they found the use of PMCs on the part of the U.S. and U.K. was in violation of the 1989 United Nations Mercenary Convention which banned the use of mercenaries world-wide. (Both countries have not signed the accord).
How to Prepare for Mercenary Employment
Step 1 – Obtain military or law enforcement related experience.
The majority of classic mercenary-like jobs on the market today typically require past military or law enforcement experience. Even better, is previous experience working in the special forces of the army, USMC, navy, or air force if seeking the higher paying security-related jobs available on the market. If you just can’t see yourself becoming a Navy Seal; however, there are still plenty of military specialties that can provide a significant experience base to leverage for a lucrative merc career. Most private security companies will be looking for a minimum of three to five years of relevant experience on one’s resume. For example, if you want to be a security consultant, then service as a MP in the U.S. Army would provide the proper experience where signing up to be chemical warfare specialist may not be applicable to many of the available jobs in the mercenary market.
Step 2 – Obtain proficiency in a foreign language.
If you only speak English, taking the time to develop a skill set in another commonly spoken language such as French, German, Arabic, Russian, or Spanish will help make you more attractive to future employers in merc or contract security related work. Better yet, if you know what area of the world that you want to obtain employment, start learning at least basic language skills for that region. A popular learning resource for mercenaries looking to pick up basic to intermediate language skills is the Rosetta Stone. Another popular option is Praxis Language which focuses on Italian, French, Spanish and Chinese. Of course, if you have the time and financial backing, attending language classes in person may also prove to be a worthwhile investment.
Step 3 – Get into great physical shape.
Mercenaries work in austere environments across the planet. Even if you are going to apply to be a support technician, many of the private security firms will require a physical fitness test be passed before making a new employee permanent. Depending on how long you have to get ready, taking a “Boot Camp” approach to getting into shape may be required depending on how long it has been since you were last active duty or working for the police forces.
Step 4 – Build your resume.
Focus on job skills, qualifications, and experience that directly relate to the mercenary job(s) that you are interested in filling. For those new to the job market, seeking professional human resources assistance with the resume can provide significant benefits. Long gone are the days where mercs can simply show up at the right bar or tavern and sign-on for overseas gigs. Today’s private security corporations are big business with similar hiring prerequisites and expectations found in corporate America. Before claiming you were a member of Seal Team 6 who took down Osama Bin Laden on your resume, be advised that the majority of reputable PSC’s will require you provide proof of documented combat experience.
Step 5 – Gather required documentation.
Just because one has the required skill set(s) for a mercenary job doesn’t mean that he or she will meet the minimum requirements for employment. Most American private security firms will require individuals to hold a valid U.S. driver’s license, tourist passport (typically good for at least a year or more from the time of application), the DD-214 provided on separation from the military service, and additional documentation for all security-related training and deployment service while serving in the armed forces. If you intend on submitting your initial application online, you will also want to take the time to scan the documentation to PDF or equivalent format to upload to the prospective employer’s website.
Where to Find Mercenary Jobs
The majority of the major mercenary related private security companies now have online applications. This doesn’t mean that you can obtain employment without an interview; however, it does help lessen the burden on both the company and the hopeful employee by providing a means to verify minimum requirements. Some of the major American security providers at the time of this writing include Academi (formerly Xe, formerly Blackwater), Global Dynamics, and Triple Canopy. Similar to seeking employment in other fields, one should conduct prudent research into industry standards for pay, benefits, and industry trends before starting to submit applications to private security companies for employment in mercenary-like fields.