July 28, 2014

It’s Time to Talk About the Role of U.S. Civilians in Modern War

There is a new bill currently languishing in Congressional committee, the “Combat Zone Tax Parity Act,” which would grant federal civilian employees deployed to combat zones the same tax benefits as the military servicemen who fight alongside them. It comes long overdue.

Measures like this recognize the complex realities of the twenty-first century battlefield, in which the pursuit of national security objectives rarely turns on the efforts of uniformed military alone. This bill represents a first, small step in what must become a broader conversation about the role of civilian workers in modern war.

For many observers, the line between deployed civilian and soldier remains clear as day. Amid the political rancor surrounding Sergeant Bowe Bergdahl’s May 31 negotiated release from Taliban captivity, there remained one point of general consensus:  Bergdahl’s status as a uniformed serviceman distinguished him from three other Americans still languishing in captivity in Afghanistan and Pakistan.

As State Department spokesperson Jen Psaki explained at the time, “Sergeant Berdahl…is a member of the military who was detained during an armed conflict. That obviously is a unique circumstance.”

Read the full op-ed at Council on Foreign Relations' "Defense in Depth."