Five Drivers: Trucking in a War Zone

A truck burns after hitting an IED. i i

In a photo taken by a fellow driver, a truck burns after hitting an improvised explosive device [IED] in Iraq. The KBR driver survived the blast. Mark Overcash hide caption

itoggle caption Mark Overcash
A truck burns after hitting an IED.

In a photo taken by a fellow driver, a truck burns after hitting an improvised explosive device [IED] in Iraq. The KBR driver survived the blast.

Mark Overcash

Every day, hundreds of civilian American truck drivers working for Halliburton subsidiary KBR make their way across Iraq. They haul food, fuel, ammunition and other critical supplies to troops stationed there. For many drivers, the main attraction is the chance to earn a decent paycheck. Yet, like any job in a war zone, this one involves considerable risk — roadside bombs, gunfire and even rocks are a daily danger. For those who have returned from Iraq, there are indelible memories of what they lived through. Five ex-KBR truckers share some of their experiences.

SCOTT HODGES

Scott Hodges
Photo: John Burnett, NPR

Personal: 42; nickname King; lives with wife and five children in Angleton, Texas; former auto repairman; drove for KBR in Iraq from February 2004 to May 2005.

 

Why did you go? I liked the adventure and the money was good. It's such an unusual type of job. For the people who do it, it's a real brotherhood. Your gratification is instantaneous. We ate, brushed our teeth, lay down in a cot, we didn't die that day.

 

Best memento: I wear a bullet casing around my neck that was shot at me by an insurgent and it lodged in the upholstery of my truck seat, inches from my head.

 

Strongest memories: Mortaritaville. That's what we called Camp Anaconda. Every night it gets mortared, like 60 mm mortars. We'd sit outside the hooches in the evening and smoke cigarettes and watch the mortars and rockets fly over.

 

Worst memories: Those hash-smokin' Lebanese mechanics and every night lying in a pool of sweat inside a tent in Kuwait.

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AUSTIN DUNN

Austin Dunn
Photo: John Burnett, NPR

Personal: 52; lives in Conroe, Texas; nickname Wolf Pack; professional trucker 20 years; worked in gold mines in Nevada; Air Force 26 months in Vietnam; drove in Iraq for KBR January 2004 to December 2004.

 

Best memories: I liked the mission, I liked the people. We were really a tight-knit mission, as tight as we were in Vietnam.

 

Why did you go? You go there with that $100,000 [annual salary] flashing in the back of your mind. You think, 'I'm goin' for the money and to hell with everything else.' I said I'm spending five years in Iraq. When you're a young man you get opportunities, but as you get older those opportunities become less. Here I was, 52 years old, this was gonna be my last chance to do it.

 

Why did you stay? You go over there and start working with the citizens of Iraq. You see how they live, you see them waving at you, especially the children. And if that doesn't touch you, you don't need to be there. You realize the money's good, but there's a hell of a lot more going on over there besides the money.

 

Dumbest discovery: When I first got there they put us in a tent that was brand new and hotter 'n hell. It was an arctic tent. It was July in Iraq. The little air conditioner in there was a joke. The generator kept blowing fuses. We got through it. We slept in our trucks with the a/c on.

 

What did you learn about yourself? You become very religious over there. The Lord and I got on a one-to-one basis.

 

Why are you limping? On March 18 last year [when he had quit KBR and was driving for IAP], I hit an IED (improvised explosive device) that blew out the windshield and messed up my eyes. It damaged my neck and back and the concussion finished me off. I've gone through neck surgery. I have trouble walking. Now they want to work on my lower back. One of the lumbar disks is pushed out. Both arms are numb to the thumbs. I can't stand for long. I went over there 52 years old and I was in damn good shape. I could hold my own with a 30-year-old. Now I've aged. What am I gonna be like in 5 to 10 years?

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ROY MCNAIR

Roy McNair
Photo: John Burnett, NPR

Personal: 49; lives in Houston; professional trucker for 30 years; diesel mechanic; served in the Army from 1971-76; drove in Iraq for KBR October 2003 to January 2004.

 

Why did you go? My goal was to go to Iraq and become rich. The future looked great. $100K was the tip of the iceberg.

 

Biggest waste you saw: When a truck was disabled, they took a flamethrower, put gas on the brand-new truck and set it afire. They'd give you 15 minutes to get your stuff out. If you couldn't get the truck moving, the military burned it up [so it wouldn't end up in the hands of insurgents].

 

Most discomfort: The body armor was at least 40 pounds. It's beatin' you in your lower back. The trucks didn't have air-ride suspension. A driver really got punished when he drove on those roads.

 

Why do you walk bent over? I have three disks out in my back. They want to remove 'em. But the insurance company is not cooperating with my doctor. I want 'em to fix it. The money is very enticing [in Iraq] and I want to go back.

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JIM BOB MURRAY

Jim Bob Murray
Photo: John Burnett, NPR

Personal: 41; lives in Luling, Texas; nickname Rawhide; professional trucker since 1988; former rodeo cowboy; has a 24-year-old son in the Air Force in Saudi Arabia; drove in Iraq for KBR from September 2004 to November 2005.

 

Worst memory: I lost my youngest son when I was over there. He was 19, got killed in a car wreck near Huntsville.

 

Second worst memory: My best friend over there, Christopher Lem, we called him Mad Max, got shot in the throat by a sniper. On my 41st birthday, my mission was to go out and pick up their blowed-up trucks. I had to go and recover all of Halliburton's assets. They didn't want to leave the blowed-up trucks out there to be trophies for the insurgents.

 

Why did you quit? I guess I felt like my number was comin' up. I'd had a coupla bad things happen.

 

Best memories: Hangin' out with Christopher Lem. He was a true friend. We'd go to the movie theater, go to the swimmin' pool have rock-throwin' contests. Pick a target and start throwin' rocks. Mostly we just set and talk, cut up and laugh.

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ROGER DIXON

Roger Dixon
Courtesy Roger Dixon

Personal: 52; nickname Tanker; Stamford, Texas; Army veteran 1976-1980; drove in Iraq for KBR June 2004 to May 2005.

 

Why did you go? Like everybody else, the money was the main reason. When I got over there, though, I saw all those kids. I think we'll do good over there eventually.

 

Did you know what you were getting into? KBR didn't lie to us. They told us we were going to a war zone and people were getting killed. People were getting shot and blown up. They showed us how to look for trip wires for IEDs. They didn't try to hide anything.

 

Strongest memory: The night Roger Moffett got killed, Sept. 28, 2004. It was about 10:30 at night on a mission from Camp Skanya to Camp TQ, northwest of Baghdad. A huge IED went off. I was five trucks behind and I could feel the concussion and see a big flame. A piece of shrapnel got Roger in the right side. He bled to death in the chopper on the way to Baghdad. I became a convoy commander the night Roger was killed.

 

What was the weather like? Driving in a sandstorm is like driving during a whiteout snowstorm. You can't see five feet in front of your truck. You know the person in front of you won't stop or he'll get rear-ended. It becomes a trust thing.

 

Why do you wince when you sit down? We were changing a tire one night. It was real stressful. The military shot a flare up because they saw a truck off to the side and were fixin' to shoot it up. Next morning I get up and I could hardly walk. My back never got any better.

 

I have a herniated disk. I'm taking pills every day. I'm tired of it, tired of the pain, tired of the BS from the insurance company. KBR, I haven't heard from 'em since.

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