Courtesy David Meredith
Former KBR driver David Meredith, nickname Scout, was driving at the rear of the 13-truck convoy on Aug. 12, 2005, when it was ambushed.
Former KBR driver David Meredith, nickname Scout, was driving at the rear of the 13-truck convoy on Aug. 12, 2005, when it was ambushed. Courtesy David Meredith
A blazing fuel tanker was one of three vehicles in a convoy that were destroyed by IEDs in a 2004 attack outside Mosul. A U.S. armored vehicle, at left, provides security at the scene.
A blazing fuel tanker was one of three vehicles in a convoy that were destroyed by IEDs in a 2004 attack outside Mosul. A U.S. armored vehicle, at left, provides security at the scene. Steve Thompson
David Meredith drove for KBR in Iraq from September 2004 to September 2005. In an essay, he describes how an ordinary day ended in a deadly attack on his convoy.
Unarmed and untrained for combat, civilian truck drivers who haul freight between military bases in Iraq find themselves on the war's frontlines. At least 63 — including 24 Americans — have died so far, mostly from shootings and roadside bombs. The constant exposure to violence puts the contractors at risk for post-traumatic stress disorder. And some complain they're forgotten once they return home.
Last August, driver David Meredith found what little was left of the body of Larry Stilwell, a fellow trucker who died when his flatbed truck hit a homemade landmine in central Iraq. The trauma of that event, plus the death of a second driver he knew in a roadside bombing, led Meredith to quit as a driver for KBR, a subsidiary of Halliburton.
Today, Meredith is back home in Leavenworth, Kan., driving a truck again. But he says he hasn't been the same since the August incident. Meredith complains of frequent flashbacks, angry outbursts, and an exaggerated startle response.
A local doctor concluded that Meredith is suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder. Despite that diagnosis, KBR's insurance company, AIG WorldSource, denied Meredith's claim, saying there's no medical evidence.
Every day, hundreds of civilian American truck drivers working for Halliburton subsidiary KBR make their way across Iraq. 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.
Roy McNair, above left, says he's having trouble getting insurance coverage for his back trouble. McNair and other former KBR truckers share some of their experiences in Iraq.
Sixteen percent of Marines and soldiers returning from Iraq screen positive for PTSD. No one has studied contractors.
Dr. Dean Kilpatrick, of the Medical University of South Carolina, has studied military veterans with PTSD for 25 years. He says that people who work in "very unpredictable, very high-risk situations in which an attack may come at any time" show a higher risk of PTSD. "So I would expect to find the same thing among the truck drivers."
Houston attorney Gary Pitts represents contract workers injured overseas. He says scores of his clients report symptoms of combat fatigue, such as insomnia, jumpiness, anxiety and emotional remoteness. But often they don't get help because the support system is not there, he says.
A KBR spokesperson wrote in an e-mail response that all employees have access to the company's in-country employee assistance program, which is staffed with licensed mental health counselors.