Britain’s Hidden Heroes

They don’t come home in flag-draped coffins. Crowds do not line the street in silent tribute to their sacrifice. They are the fallen heroes the government keeps in the shadows; private security contractors who’ve lost their lives servicing British interests in hostile environments. It’s high time they were honored.

Those familiar with my writings will know that this is a topic very close to my heart. For years, I’ve been shouting from the rafters for government to externally regulate private security (PSC) firms with operations abroad. Rather than demand greater transparency and accountability from an industry which has earned billions from military contracts, the government is content to let PSCs self-regulate. As a result, there is still no law requiring PSCs to report the deaths of employees overseas or divulge how many contractors are wounded or suffer mental trauma as a result of their work. It’s all swept under the rug.

The current ‘self-regulating’ model clearly benefits both government and PSC shareholders. The politicians can conceal the true cost of policies in Iraq, Afghanistan and other conflict areas while PSCs can maintain the illusion that the tremendous profits they earn from military and other government contracts are blood-free. It’s disgraceful. Moreover, it’s a recipe for further loss of life. Many PSCs conceal incidents not only from the public but from their own employees still operating on the ground. You get one chance in a hostile location. If the men and women working at the coal face can’t learn from past situations, the same fatal errors are destined to be repeated again and again.

To honor the fallen and save lives in future, I would like to see the government implement the following measures:

1.Require PSCs to report all British employee deaths abroad to the FCO.

2. Require PSCs to maintain a public data base listing the names, locations and incident details of all employees killed or wounded on overseas operations since 1 January 2002 including British nationals, local nationals and third country nationals.

3.Require PSCs to provide continuing care and financial support to employees who have been wounded or suffered mental trauma as a result of their service in hostile environments.

4. Formally acknowledge the sacrifice of all private security contractors who’ve died servicing British military contracts and other commercial contracts that support our national interests by honouring them on Remembrance Day.

None of this will come about unless the greater public demands it. Ordinary citizens are usually shocked when I tell them that there are Brits still dying on the roads of Iraq even though the military ended combat operations in the country last year. I explain to them that these heroes weren’t soldiers but security contractors working in support of British and US government policy.

It would help tremendously if the media would give a more balanced and fair view of security contractors. Journalists love to report on heartless ‘mercenaries’ shooting civilians willy-nilly. Just like the military, The Circuit does have a tiny minority of cowboys. But the overwhelming majority of private security contractors are, like soldiers, honest people trying to do an honest job securing the interest of Britain and its allies abroad. In fact, many security contractors used to serve in the military.

There are MPs, former cabinet ministers and retired military brass sitting on the boards of PSCs. That’s one powerful gang with a vested interest in maintaining the status quo. Maybe I’m an old dreamer, but I’m convinced that if the British public shouts loud enough, the government and industry will be forced to change their ways. Like most movements, this one needs to start at the grassroots. I’d like to see the families and friends of the fallen come together and demand the government acknowledge the sacrifices of their loved one. I’d like to see contractors currently serving in hostile environments demand greater support and transparency from their employers.

Otherwise nothing will change, more contractors will die and the dead will remain in the shadows.

Bob Shepherd is an ex-SAS soldier and bestselling author of The Circuit. His debut novel The Infidel will be published August 5th by Simon & Schuster UK. To read more posts by him, please visit www.bobshepherdauthor.com