Local vet gives inside view of Iraq war

StoryImage( ‘/Images/Story//Auto-img-111159622814928.jpg’, ‘Photo courtesy of www.sachsreport.com’, ‘A local veteran, who returned recently after a year in the Iraq war, criticizes Army leaders for the lack of vehicle armor for his fuel supply company during the same time an estimated 1,000 armored vehicles sat unused in Kuwait (like this Stryker combat assault vehicle shown). The veteran also questioned the role of the giant military contractor Kellogg, Brown and Root (KBR).’);

n Vet has mixed opinions about war, fears retribution, criticizes KBR, lack of vehicle armor, commander’s training decision

Speaking on the condition of anonymity for fear of retribution from superiors, a local Iraq War vet had harsh criticism for military leaders who allegedly put their unit at needless risk because of a lack of vehicle armor for his fuel supply company, while an estimated 1,000 armored vehicles sat unused in Kuwait. The veteran also questioned the role of giant military contractor Kellogg, Brown and Root (KBR) by saying KBR workers performed little to no work during the time his unit was in Iraq from February 2004 to February 2005.

The vet agreed to be interviewed despite military officials strongly discouraging his unit from speaking to the press. “They basically said: ‘Don’t say anything to the press that would make the Army look bad,’” the soldier said.

The fuel specialist in the U.S. Army Reserve said his 4562 Quartermaster Company based in Winthrop, Minn., built eight fuel systems about two miles north of Baghdad in Taji, Iraq. The “fuel farm” acted as a critical depot to supply other units with power to operate vehicles and machinery. So crucial was the fuel farm to meet the objectives of the U.S. occupation of Iraq, the vet said the base was put on “fast track” construction.

“We needed the fuel farm built as quickly as possible,” the vet said.

However, before the fuel depot could be constructed, the unit underwent about three weeks of “battle drills” in Kuwait, which the unit learned earlier in basic training and advanced individual training. The vet alleged the time spent “rehashing” battle drills was wasted because they should have been preparing and repairing vehicles for the four-day trip from Kuwait to their base in Iraq.

“We were the only unit, while we were there, that was doing any type of training like that. So, if it was such a necessary training, You’d think that the base commander would have been making all the other units do it at the same time. It was just something our commander chose to do,” the vet said.

As a likely result, the soldier alleged at least one vehicle broke down during the trip that had to be towed to its destination.

The soldier said: “We had the vehicles that broke down on the way up there that had to end up being towed by our other vehicles, by our wrecker, because we didn’t fix them in Kuwait when we should have been.”

But malfunctioning vehicles wasn’t the riskiest part of the transit to Iraq. According to the soldier, the greatest danger was the lack of armor to protect troops in vehicles from explosive devices.

“They [the vehicles] obviously weren’t road ready to travel up to Iraq. You know, they weren’t ready in the sense, because they mechanically had problems. But they also didn’t have up-armor on them, either,” the soldier said.

When their unit arrived, the vet said there was no policy that required vehicles traveling from Kuwait to Iraq be equipped with up-armor on vehicles. Paradoxically, the soldier said that policy changed “as it got safer and safer” to travel.

“We drove up with very little armor at all, if any,” the vet said.

Later during their deployment, the fuel specialist said members of the unit discovered “tons of armored vehicles just sitting there” in Kuwait not being used.

“From the whole time we were deployed, pretty much, they sat there and nobody used them. I mean every time we’d go down to Kuwait to this base, the vehicles always were there [in a fenced area]. And we’d always wonder, you know, ‘Why can’t we use these vehicles?’” the vet said.

Considering the recent pressure on Iran about its nuclear policy, that’s an interesting question, according to some sources.

The specialist estimated there were about 1,000 armored vehicles not being used in the Kuwaiti compound.

The soldier’s unit was fortunate because they didn’t suffer any major attacks during their trips or stay in Iraq. The same couldn’t be said about a KBR vehicle the vet said was hit by a rocket during one of their convoys to and from Kuwait.

KBR is a subsidiary of the Halliburton Co., which the Washington Post said in 2003 received more than $1.7 billion in contracts from the federal government to perform work in Iraq. Vice President Dick Cheney was chairman of Halliburton before he took office in early 2001.

According to the soldier, the rocket attack was about the greatest risk or work undertaken by KBR staff during the 12 months of their unit’s deployment in Iraq.

Conversely, the specialist alleged the Army unit worked 12- to 13-hour days, seven days a week building and maintaining the fuel depot, while about 10 KBR staff “were just doing nothing.”

“The KBR people, we found out, were supposed to be running the bag [fuel] farm. And we were supposed to just be supervising it being done. I mean, because there was tons of KBR people over there who, you know, were just doing nothing. They told us they were there pretty much to help us, but they never would help. And there was no one there to make them help,” the soldier said.

After nearly all the work was completed building the fuel depot, the vet alleged KBR staff sub-contracted duties to male and female workers from the Philippines, who were destitute for money.

“Once the KBR people actually had to do some work, instead of actually doing the work themselves, they sub-contracted the work out to Filipinos. …[KBR also] ran the chow [food service] hall. …They sub-contracted all the work out. …They had Filipino women working there. …We were told by our leadership that, you know, they [unknown persons] started a prostitution ring somehow. …One day we got there, and there were no Filipino female workers there. …I don’t know who made the order, but all the female Filipinos had to leave,” the soldier said.

The soldier also claimed there was resentment between troops and KBR staff because of the large difference in pay and lack of work performed by KBR. Active duty troops are typically paid a yearly salary between $20,000 to $30,000 per year, while KBR workers received an estimated salary of more than $100,000 per year.

Jennifer W. Dellinger, spokesman for Houston-based Halliburton and KBR, responded to questions in a March 9 e-mail by writing: “KBR personnel began working at the fuel farm in Taji in April 2004 and have been operating the farm since July of 2004. At the direction of the Army, KBR provides all the quality control and quality assurance on the fuel, upload, and download trucks; performs maintenance as needed; provides automation support to our KBR personnel at the site in order to submit reports to the customer as required; and provides shelter and generation support to ensure all the demands by the customer are met….

“KBR employees have worked extremely hard, against great odds, and we have delivered much-needed supplies and support to the troops in Iraq and Kuwait. Working in a demanding environment, we provide life support for troops at more than 70 sites in the region. KBR employees volunteer to face the same difficulties and dangers as they work side by side with the military, and by all accounts our work there greatly improves the troops’ quality of life.

“We strongly reject any claim that KBR has not performed admirably in our mission to support the troops. In fact, in support of the troops in Iraq and Kuwait,” Dellinger wrote.

Dellinger also wrote that determining a typical salary for a KBR worker in Taji last year was “impractical.”

As to why the soldier joined the Army Reserve, the specialist enlisted because of “financial hardship.” The vet estimated 90 percent of the troops the soldier knew signed with the military to earn money for school or to meet financial obligations.

The vet does not want to return to Iraq, but will probably return if required. The soldier also has mixed feelings about the reason the U.S. invaded the country in 2003. For the specialist, the determining factor of whether invading and occupying Iraq was worth the lives, money and time will be the ultimate out


As the soldier stated: “There are times when I think it’s appropriate to go to war when you can accomplish something good.”

When pressed for an assessment up to this point, the soldier said: “I don’t think we’ve accomplished much at all. Where are we at? …There’s also a need to concede at some time. You can only keep doing this for so long.”

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