For years, Defense Department contractors have been used in the fight against today’s asymmetric threats posed by our nation’s enemies. In stride, they have augmented America’s military might, serving in numerous capacities ranging from logistical support, intelligence, protective service details, training, advising, etc.

Americans are properly embracing military service members like never before, yet rarely is their news about those who fight right alongside them. Today, that group may soon intermix with the grave percentage of Americans unemployed.

The majority of U.S. forces fighting in places like Iraq and Afghanistan are not uniformed service members -- they are defense contractors and they comprise more than 52% of the entire force serving abroad.

The majority of American defense contractors I have met abroad had a minimum of a bachelor’s degree, while many had a master’s or Ph.D. They average a minimum of 15 years military background, often dominating in some form of U.S. Special Operations or Intelligence capacity. Most have a minimum of a Secret clearance and many maintain Top Secret.

Due to service and academic accomplishments, they should be sought after by hiring managers. With a struggling economy, like most Americans, finding a new career is not optimal. While it only makes sense to remain in current jobs, riding out this economic crisis, some Americans are being pushed out by the federal government -- U.S. defense contractors are some of those people.

With a Defense budget in jeopardy and a drawdown of U.S. forces serving abroad, thousands of defense contractors are placed in limbo.

Many of these heroic American patriots face the same demons as our own uniformed service members. They have witnessed first-hand accounts of the wars, causing mental anguish upon their return to the United States. Some have been injured, yet will not obtain VA assistance and, more disheartening, very few will receive any medical relief due to poorly managed Department of Defense contractor oversight. More than 1,688 have been killed.

These brave warriors have done exceptional work serving alongside their uniformed brethren. Love them or despise them, there is no question that if any true successes were accomplished fighting in Afghanistan or Iraq, they were not achieved by our military alone. Defense contractors are the epitome of “silent professionals” -- and they are rarely, if ever, spoken of.

Former President Bill Clinton dramatically reduced the size of our military force and many proud service members were literally kicked out of the career they loved for no reason other than forced reduction initiatives. I know because I am one of the many. Today, during one of America’s most trying economic times, the federal government would love nothing more than to reduce the size of our fighting force. This force does not consist of just uniformed service members, but our defense contractors, as well.

Today, defense contractors are our forgotten warriors. Many have risked everything to include their future. These are the men and women who would rather fight a war and risk their lives than stand at a welfare line. Soon, like many Americans, they may be faced to do the latter.

Kerry Patton is the co-founder of the National Security Leadership Foundation, a non-profit organization pending 501c (3) status. He has worked in South America, Africa, the Middle East, Asia, and Europe, focusing on intelligence and security interviewing current and former terrorists, including members of the Taliban. He is the author of “Sociocultural Intelligence: The New Discipline of Intelligence Studies” and the children's book "American Patriotism." You can follow him on Facebook.