AGR Techs on the Front Lines of Iraq War
by Sarah Batcheler
With sand in their eyes, fighting temperatures up to 120 degrees in the desert and thousands of miles from the comforts of home, the employees of Kellogg Brown & Root (KBR) know that windshields need to be replaced in all parts of the world, even Iraq. But what they’ve learned is how difficult the task of replacing glass can be when you are working in an unstable environment.
KBR, known as “the engineering and construction group,” is a subsidiary of the firm Halliburton. Halliburton was led by now-Vice President Dick Cheney before his resignation in 2000. It is now a lightening rod for controversy concerning its work in Iraq, which includes providing support services such as engineering, construction, energy and maintenance to the U.S. armed forces oversees. KBR literature says it is a civilian contractor working with the U.S. Army under a program to “provide the military with additional capabilities to rapidly support and augment the logistic requirements of it’s deployed forces.”
One such group is a team of auto glass installers contracted by KBR is serving the needs of the U.S. military in Iraq by replacing windshields of damaged military vehicles.
A World Apart
Auto glass installers from KBR work under vastly different conditions than they would find in the United States. First, they work in daily temperatures averaging 120 degrees and endure an intense penetration from the sunrays, which can lead to dehydration and heat stroke. They also have to contend with the crawly creatures of Iraq, including scorpions, ticks, fleas, mice and camel spiders, which can grow up to 6 inches across and are the center of many urban legends. Through it all, they must fight the dust factor constantly. They work eight to 12 hours a day and return to a cot in an eight-man tent, which may or may not have plumbing. The KBR employees work and live alongside U.S. troops.
BTB Tools of Victoria, Australia, has donated blades to KBR. The company’s North American sales manager, Tom Patterson recently spoke with Randolph Taylor, the maintenance supervisor for the auto glass replacement team in Iraq. Patterson said Taylor’s only form of communication is a military field phone, and the occasional opportunity to check e-mail while at the home base. Since the maintenance team is constantly traveling to areas where assistance is needed, those opportunities are rare, Patterson indicated.
Very Mobile Service
The duties for the auto glass techs in Iraq is different from those in the United States because they often travel to extremely remote areas in which their services are needed. Every day brings new challenges. There is no standard auto glass shop; rather they are doing the work when, and where they can. They don’t deal with vehicle owners or civilian clients and have no steady schedule.
Working in a War Zone
For the team of auto glass installers, their main duty of replacing windshields is coupled with their instinctive need to stay safe. Their safety is crucial because they travel the roads of Iraq to fulfill their job. The team has lost coworkers and has witnessed firsthand the experiences of the combat. The men of KBR are faced with the challenges and dangers of being in a war zone on a daily basis.
The security situation in Iraq is the first thing KBR discusses with potential employees. KBR says there is no sugarcoating the reality of the situation; Americans are losing their lives in Iraq. It has suffered several employee deaths and kidnappings.
For good reason, the employees of KBR wear much more protective gear than the typical auto glass installer. Since they are working in war zones, they are protected in standard soldier garb, minus the weapons. Along with their standard gloves and glasses, they are suited up with body armor, Kevlar helmets, as well as nuclear, biological and chemical suits.
The job this KBR team is doing in Iraq is significant because the military vehicles have to be in working condition to be of value. Whenever a military vehicle goes beyond the borders of its base, it immediately becomes a target to the enemy, so there is always a need for replacement windshields. The most frequent vehicle used for transportation is the HMMWV, also known as the Humvee. There are humvees without armor, humvees with add-on-armor, and up-armored humvees. It is common for windshields to be hit by shrapnel from rockets or roadside bombs, which can measure up to several inches in size. Ballistic windshields, which are approximately 3 to 4 inches thick, are now being installed on some of the vehicles, to provide more protection.
“The extra armor and the windshields save soldiers’ lives,” said Captain Jeff Carpenter of the United States Army Reserves, who is currently stationed in Iraq. According to him, the tricky part is getting the damaged vehicle to a depot center where the contractors can replace the windshield on a one-on-one basis.
While members of the KBR team aims to be everywhere they are needed to replace windshields, the vastness of Iraq, the peril of the area and the demand for their services make it impossible for them to replace every damaged windshield. In turn, many members of the U.S. military replace their own windshields within their units. Specialist Amy Gregg of the United States Army counts vehicle operator as one of her duties. Gregg has replaced her windshield at least three times since she was deployed to Iraq.
“The hardest part is getting the right windshield in a timely fashion,” Gregg said, “Supply channels are usually the biggest obstacles.”
The KBR team does have Iraqi co-workers. BTB’s Patterson knows of at least one team contracted by KBR that is comprised of several Iraqis who have been hired to do this work. According to KBR, Iraqi workers are secured through a local labor broker, which is a standard process they are required to follow.
But what is it that brings men such as Randolph Taylor to the dangerous country of war-torn Iraq? Some might say the money. The compensation for an auto glass tech in the United States today is very small compared to the paychecks that these men are bringing home from Iraq. According to KBR, the salaries themselves are comparable to the same job in the U.S., but the difference is they receive hazard pay for working in a hostile environment, and they are often working 84-hour work weeks: 7 days a week, 12 hours a day. After all of this, they bring home a salary that may be two or more times higher than what they could be making in a 40-hour work week in the United States.
With dreams of paying off debt and securing themselves financially during an unstable economic period, the decision to work in Iraq comes easy for some. Halliburton has reported having more than 100,000 resumes currently on file. Each employee signs a one-year contract, with the agreement that if at any time they want to return to the United States, they would be free to do so.
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