From Ordinary Mercenaries to the Private Military Contractors

The profession of a mercenary or gun for hire is not changed so much through history. The mercenaries have one of the oldest jobs in

Eric Sof

Former special forces soldiers are mostly engaged in private military companies doing jobs as PMCs (Private Military Contractors)
Former special forces soldiers are mostly engaged in private military companies doing jobs as PMCs (Photo: Facebook)

The profession of a mercenary or gun for hire is not changed so much through history. The mercenaries have one of the oldest jobs in the world. They have played a key part in wars around the globe – from Biblical times to modern conflicts such as Bosnia, Iraq, Syria and now Ukraine.

George W. Bush used private military contractors in Afghanistan and then did it again in Iraq (Blackwater). Vladimir Putin has done it in Syria (Wagner). Even actor and activist Mia Farrow explored the possibility of hiring private military to intervene in the Darfur crisis in 2008. But, what is a private army and how is it changing modern warfare?

Mercenaries are often described as ‘dogs of war’ and ‘guns for hire’ through media – psychopathic inadequacies in search of thrills and cash. True enough, there are a good few Walter Mittys around calling themselves mercenaries. The Bosnian conflict and conflicts which followed (Iraq, Afghanistan, Syria, Ukraine) attracted a large number of social rejects with plenty to prove. But regular military units such as the French Foreign Legion and the British Gurkhas are, strictly speaking, mercenaries – and they are among world’s most effective and respected regular army units.

Private Military Contractors (PMCs)

Outside conventional armed forces, there are international companies which attract former special forces operators and soldiers to their ranks in order to sell military skills. Its described the same way as a corporation might sell its services in the field of oil exploration, civil engineering, etc. Today, these services and companies are not unknown or secretive anymore. Today, these companies are often referred to as Private Military Companies (PMCs). Examples include Executive Outcomes (active in Africa during the 1990s, but now closed down), the UK-based Sandline International (Papua New Guinea, Sierra Leone), and the US Military Professionals Resource Incorporated (MPRI). The most recognized company in PMC business was the Blackwater, a now infamous US-based company. Their successor is Academi which serving a $5 Billion contract in Saudi Arabia.

Such companies consist largely of ex-military forces staff, providing military advice, training, support, and material to customers who include oil and mineral companies, and states who lack the military capabilities themselves to deal with rebel forces. After the US invaded Afghanistan and Iraq, the Private Military Contractors become partners to US military. These type of organizations dislike being labeled ‘mercenaries’, with all the negative connotations the word carries, but their operations fall squarely into the area that most civilians would think of as the realm of the mercenary.

Allegedly members of secretive Russian private military contractors company Wagner during their deployment to Syria (Photo: Wiki)

The private military contractors are, on the whole, keen to point out that they have strict rules about who they will and will not work for, and always operate under the control of a client country’s legitimate government.


For the professional mercenaries, the post-Cold War world provides plenty of potential customers, from deposed rulers and governments to businesses needing protection from organized crime, to the organized criminals themselves looking to recruit military support to protect drug factories and the like against security forces and rival gangs alike. The individual has to make up his own mind about what kind of work he is prepared to do, and for whom.

Mercenaries also, on the opportunity, provide Western governments with a conveniently ‘deniable’ way of conducting foreign policy. A mercenary outfit can be hired anonymously to conduct various operations which would be politically unacceptable for a government to carry out with its own armed forces. If things turn nasty, the whole thing can be denied and mercenaries left on their own. This type of operation has already happened in the past, and it would be naive to think it could not happen again.

Blackwater PMCs traveling in Iraq

One of the mercenary’s problems can, on occasions, be knowing exactly who he is really working for. The real employer may hide behind a chain of middlemen.


Back in the 1960s and 70s, mercenary companies and various organizations advertised openly to recruit former Special Forces personnel for ‘interesting work abroad’ – such as the bloody wars in Biafra, Angola and the Congo. Today recruiting is quite different, no more mass advertising, not it is a word-of-mouth affair, with recruiters approaching former comrades. This has the advantage that the mercenary units now consists of soldiers who have already worked together which makes it much quicker and easier to form an effective combat unit.

Finding works in a profession

There are many more ‘wannabe’ mercenaries than real mercenary jobs. Most of the wannabes are totally unsuited to life – even those who have some military training. Mercenary soldiering is not something you should go into because you can’t think of any other way of earning a living after leaving the army. Some do it for the money, some because they believe in the cause they are fighting for; almost all enjoy the sense of adventure, and the chance to use skills which have little or no application in civilian life.

Military skills are a vital part of being a mercenary, but not the only one. The successful mercenary needs other skills that the average squaddie never picks up during his military career. A special forces background is helpful, providing a greater level of self-reliance and independence of mind – plus a healthy skepticism which can prove a lifesaver. When a mercenary group’s backer pulls out unexpectedly, the individuals who saw the danger coming and made their own arrangements stand the best chance of getting out alive from every situation.

As we state in the ‘small print’ on our home page, is not a mercenary recruiting agency – we will not put wannabe mercenaries in touch with mercenary organizations or companies doing Private Military Contracts business. If you’re suitable, they’ll more likely come to you anyway. If not, and you’re still determined, follow up your own contacts; put the word about that you’re available for mercenary work, and keep trying. If you’ve got skills and whatever it takes, then sooner or later it’ll pay off and someone will contact you.

Today, there are a lot of small companies with quite different modus operandi. They recruit special forces operators, and to enter such companies you need to have someone already inside who will grant for you. They have tights and connections to the military sector. That means that there are more skillful and more operational private units that ever existed and yes, they are available for hire.

Eric Sof

Eric Sof holds a master's degree in Political Science, specializing in International Peacekeeping Studies. He has over a decade of experience as a former member of an elite counterterrorism unit. Additionally, he is a firearms instructor and currently serves as a member of the SWAT unit.


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