The Joint Forces Command says it cannot disclose what Zinni and others were paid as mentors because the information is held by a government-paid contractor, Northrop Grumman, which hires the mentors as subcontractors. The rate for three-star generals — Zinni is a four-star — is around $1,600 a day plus expenses, the command said in a statement.
The Marines say its mentors are paid $187 an hour for labor alone, while the Navy released figures showing mentors were paid an average of $330 an hour including expenses. Air Force mentors are paid $160 to $486 an hour, not including expenses, the Air Force says.
Retired Army Gen. Gary Luck, 72, helps coordinate the mentor program for Joint Forces Command. Luck says he considers the pay "way below the industry average. ... I'm almost embarrassed about this."
He says he tells mentors, "Look, part of your pay is being kept up to date, being included, so you're getting paid in two ways — monetarily and informationally."
Luck, the former top commander in Korea, serves on the advisory board of TASER International, a defense contractor. He says it poses no conflict with his full-time mentoring work.
Information learned by mentors has great value, says Richard Aboulafia, chief aerospace analyst at the Teal Group, which consults for the government and industry on aerospace issues. Teal doesn't employ retired generals.
"It's the most valuable form of market intelligence for a lot of companies," Aboulafia says of senior mentors in war games. "The companies get an insight into what kind of technologies and products are needed to meet emerging strategic visions and requirements."
After Lt. Gen. McKissock retired and started mentoring the Marines on managing supplies, his specialty, he joined the board of Sapient Corp., a Marines contractor. He worked closely while on active duty. As a Sapient director, he was paid a total of $663,000 from 2003 to 2009, securities records show. He left the board this year.
While McKissock was the Marines' senior mentor, Sapient continued to win supply management contracts from the Marines. In 2006, the company was named a prime vendor by the Marines for business services.
McKissock says he "never talked to a soul in the Marine Corps" about Sapient while he was on the company's board.
"I lose money when I do it," McKissock says of serving as a mentor. He was paid $166,500 plus expenses as a mentor in 2009, Marine records show.
Some retired officers say they would not work as mentors if they couldn't also work for defense firms.
"My wife wouldn't let me," says Adm. Gregory Johnson, 63, the former commander of U.S. naval forces in Europe.
Johnson says he works as a mentor for about five weeks a year and consults for undisclosed defense firms. Additionally, he was paid about $133,000 last year to serve on the board of defense contractor CACI International, securities records show. With mentoring alone, "you can't make enough money," he says.
"I don't buy that. That's baloney," counters Maj. Gen. Waldo Freeman, an analyst at the non-profit Institute for Defense Analyses who mentors part time. "I think it's absolutely wrong for somebody to have one foot in both camps.
"I don't see how somebody can be on some (corporate) board, and then be a senior mentor — whereby he is learning information that could advantage his company — and say that's ethical."
'Not your business'