Some HTS updates
A couple of news items about the Human Terrain System have crossed my desk in the past week and I’m finally getting around to writing about them. First, there’s an extended article in the Boston Globe about Paula Loyd, the HTS anthropologist who was killed in Afghanistan by a man who set her on fire (she died after 2 months in the hospital). It gives more details than had previously been available about the man who killed her, suggesting that it wasn’t a spontaneous act of rage but something a bit more premeditated:
As part of a new military program that uses social scientists to improve the troops’ understanding of the local population, Loyd began interviewing a gregarious stranger who approached her with a jug of cooking fuel in his hands. He talked for 15 minutes, thanking her profusely in English. But just as her guards motioned it was time to leave, he lit his jug on fire and engulfed the 36-year-old Loyd in flames.
The other news item from this week’s Wired.com and Pravda is that HTS employees are about to become government employees instead of private contractors, with a substantial decrease in pay. From Wired.com’s Danger Room:
Imagine you’re on a mission for the military in Iraq and Afghanistan. The job is dangerous. The hours are long. And suddenly, you find out that your pay is about to be cut by sixty percent or more.
That’s the situation facing interpreters, researchers and managers, deployed overseas as part of the Army’s social science program, the Human Terrain System. Since the inception of the project in 2006, these specialists have been generously-paid contractors, serving as cultural counselors to combat units. Earlier this week, however, program manager Steve Fondacaro told workers that they’re all becoming government employees — effective almost immediately. Which means that Human Terrain pay is suddenly not all that generous. One linguist, previously pulling in an annual salary $270,000, will now make about $91,000 — if that person continues his warzone work for the Human Terrain project, that is.
It abruptly changes the incentives calculus for anthropologists working for the military, which is something that has been widely reported on and critiqued — though even a ‘measly’ $91,000 a year is still about double the average starting salary of most anthropologists who teach at U.S. universities.