U.S. Private Military Contractor Killed in Ukraine

U.S. Private Military Contractor Killed in Ukraine

A former Marine who arrived in Ukraine in March 2022, shortly after the war with Russia began, has apparently died in combat.

The vet was a prison guard in Tennessee for a private company when he shipped out for Poland en route to Ukraine. His body has not been recovered, and the U.S. government is remaining closed-mouthed about the situation. A spokesperson said only that “privacy considerations” were involved and that the government was “closely monitoring the situation.”

“We once again reiterate U.S. citizens should not travel to Ukraine due to the active armed conflict and the singling out of U.S. citizens in Ukraine by Russian government security officials, and that U.S. citizens in Ukraine should depart immediately if it is safe to do so, using any commercial or other privately available ground transportation options,” the official added.

This Marine vet is the second American confirmed dead in Ukraine. The first was a private citizen who was killed in Chernihiv, as his partner received medical treatment. 

Why Contractors Fight

Normally, mercenaries fight for money, and that is their only motivation. Financial gain is only one reason contractors serve overseas. It is not the main reason they serve, either. In an interview, the deceased contractor’s mother broke down the three main reasons he, and people like him, serve overseas.

“He believed in what Ukraine was fighting for”

In a way, private military contractors have the same motivations as regular servicemembers who voluntarily join the U.S. armed forces. The main difference is that contractors have more freedom of choice. 

Regular servicemembers usually do not choose their deployments. For example, an enlistee might believe that China is a dangerous bully and that when it comes to international terrorism, there are two sides to the story. This person could be deployed to Guam or could be deployed in the MENA (Middle East and North Africa) region as part of the ongoing Global War on Terror. Contractors pick and choose their assignments. If contractors do not want to take a certain assignment, they do not take it. If servicemembers refuse assignments, they face serious consequences for their failure to follow orders.

Speaking of following orders, that is something else that servicemembers and contractors have in common. This area is closely related to belief. Soldiers, whether they are contractors or servicemembers, must follow reasonable orders. Of course, your definition of “reasonable” and the JAG officer’s definition of “reasonable” might be two different things.

What exactly is Ukraine fighting for? Cynics would say the Russo-Ukrainian War is fundamentally about money and power, as are all wars. True believers would say Ukraine is standing up to a bully.

“He wanted to be a part of it”

A desire to be part of something bigger is necessary. It is also necessary for contractors to have certain skills that benefit their employers. These skills are usually in one of three areas.

Some contractors, like the one in the above story, are former servicemembers. These individuals often serve in active war zones, like Ukraine.

American law prohibits contractors from participating in offensive operations. That is another major difference between contractors and mercenaries. While contractors hold the fort against enemy onslaughts, government troops, which in this case were Ukrainian army troops, have much more of a free hand. 

Regardless of what Hollywood movies portray, Black soldiers who fought for the Union Army in the Civil War usually served in similar capacities. As a result, they made a significant contribution to the war effort. The Union barely won that war with the assistance of Black soldiers. There is no telling what would have happened if they had remained on the sidelines.

Other contractors are former law enforcement officers. These individuals often serve in inactive war zones, where they deter enemy activity. A few armed contractors in a city square has the same effect as a police car on an American city street. When evildoers see such things, they normally change their plans.

These contractors also staff checkpoints, serve as night watchmen, and verify identifications. Regular servicemembers often see such chores as punishment. For contractors, these duties mean they are doing their part.

Still other contractors have probably never handled firearms before. Instead, they use wrenches or laptops. Today’s military equipment is incredibly sophisticated. Only a specialized breed of contractors has the expertise necessary to keep such systems up and running.

“Our American soldiers wouldn’t have to be involved in it”

Frontline contractors eliminate the need for American servicemembers, at least in most cases. Support contractors who train government forces have the same effect.

Frequently, military recruits know nothing about military matters, except what they have gleaned from John Wayne movies. Contractor trainers help instill basic military discipline. Additionally, these trainers share their anti-insurgency experience with recruits. This kind of training is unavailable elsewhere.

Contractor trainers usually serve in indirect roles as well. Frequently, contractors design the advanced training exercises necessary to prepare new recruits for the challenges they face.

Injury Compensation Available

The Defense Base Act provides no-fault insurance benefits that pay injured contractors’ medical bills and replace their lost wages. However, just because these benefits are no-fault, some legal challenges usually exist. The above story is a good example.

About a month after his reported death, claims emerged, mostly from people who fought alongside the former Marine, that he was an unpaid volunteer as opposed to a paid contractor. If he was indeed a volunteer, the Defense Base Act does not apply.

The volunteer/contractor issue is very common in these cases. Frequently, contractors are “voluntold,” if that’s a word. Technically, the deployment is voluntary, but if you do not accept it, there are consequences. Legally, these individuals are overseas contractors, at least in most cases.

A dispute could also arise about the contracting entity. Typically, Defense Base Act benefits are available to U.S. government contractors. In many cases, contractors who work for sympathetic foreign governments are also eligible for benefits.

Employee leasing usually makes things complicated. If a staffing company assigns Sarah to a bank, Sarah is usually a bank employee, even if the staffing company pays her salary and makes all the rules. The same thing is usually true in overseas military contractor claims.

For more information about DBA benefits, contact Barnett, Lerner, Karsen, Frankel & Castro,