But the industry is far more diverse than that, though you would not know it to read the average commentary on the subject. This is apparent from the Web site of the International Peace Operations Association, one of the major trade groups for the industry, which shows that of its 53 member companies, only 12 provide security services.
Indeed, though such statements are often derided as sophistry, the private military and security industry really is part of a larger global stability industry. Let's consider a few examples.
Tangiers International provides medical support services to both global businesses and insurance providers. Of course, insurance firms provide mandatory Defense Base Act, or DBA, insurance coverage to contractors, so one can see how they would want someone to provide medical support. In Iraq Tangiers has a dedicated facility in the International Zone in Baghdad.
A similar group is Global Operational Resources Group, specializing in medical, survival and rescue operations. It Iraq it provides remote contractor and third country national medical care.
Or one might be a company like Clements International, one of the many firms providing DBA insurance to contractors.
Whitney, Brady & Brown specializes in helping U.S. Defense Department clients deploy and sustain troops by getting supplies to the actual foxhole as opposed to just storing them in warehouses.
And given the perennial refrain that the industry must be held to the highest standards of accountability, the firm also offers laws and rules of war training for contractors supporting U.S. armed forces or diplomatic or consular missions.
Reed Inc. provides support for peace operations, including logistical support of peacekeeping missions and transportation, including air lift capabilities. It also provides support for cease-fire monitoring and mobilization and demobilization of troops.
Nareq Air Services specializes in airlift jobs for remote, hard-to-reach areas that require the ability to land on unimproved, soft airstrips; the need to offload cargo directly onto a truck or the ground without special equipment; the ability to handle unusually heavy or oversized cargo; and situations requiring rapid response with the ability to mobilize within hours.
If you are in another country, you need a way to communicate with the local citizens. As Americans are famously monolingual and you can't always find an interpreter, what do you do? Enter Kwikpoint, which specializes in visual language translators, enabling travelers to communicate with anyone, regardless of language, by simply pointing to pictures.
For Iraq they have produced such products as the Iraq Visual Language Translator to assist with weapon, person, and vehicle identification and scenarios; the First Army Warrior Smart Card that was developed both as a pre-deployment training aid and as in-theater support for troops in harm's way; Military Medical Visual Language Translator, which facilitates communication between medical personnel and patients and contains essential content for dealing with and treating medical needs and emergencies; a translator for IED Detection; and the Iraq Culture Smart Card that is a guide to Iraqi history, culture and customs.
If pictures aren't enough, Mission Essential Personnel offers language instruction or high-level interpretation services. The capability of its linguists includes engineering, medical and information technology.
And even the firms that do provide security services do not limit themselves to that. Triple Canopy, which has been one of the better-known private security firms in Iraq, also provides logistics planning, operations and management, as well as procurement operations and property/asset tracking.
Of course, no matter what you are doing, you need a safe way to go about your business. Streit manufacturing makes custom-manufactured vehicles for many different applications ranging from the typical up-armored Chevrolet Surburban or Toyota Land Cruiser to something more upscale, like an armored Cadillac Escalade or Mercedes or BMW.
Can't afford to buy a vehicle from Streit? Overseas Lease Group Inc. is a vehicle and equipment leasing business that specializes in providing lease solutions to government agencies and NGOs operating in developing countries.
It is, however, better to prevent a problem rather than protect against it. For example, rather than armoring a vehicle against a possible land mine explosion, it would be better to remove the land mine. Mine Wolf Systems out of Switzerland helps to do just that as a provider of state-of-the-art mechanical demining technologies and services.
Finally, when it comes to security, one needs more then security guards. True security depends on having viable communities to live in. For that one can turn to a firm like Dubai-based RAN International, which specializes in re-establishing infrastructure in shattered communities. It supplies waste management, power generation, and engineering and construction services in countries around the world.
More importantly, it helps get the local economy going again by recruiting staff locally and offering them paid, vocational, on-the-job training. It then employs them or helps them set up businesses on their own and enters into partnerships with them.
(U.S. Navy veteran David Isenberg is a military affairs analyst. He is an adjunct scholar with the Cato Institute, a correspondent for Asia Times and the author of a forthcoming book, "Shadow Force: Private Security Contractors in Iraq." His "Dogs of War" column, analyzing developments in the private security and military sector, appears every Friday.)