MICHELE NORRIS, host:
This week, we're talking with Americans who've recently returned from Iraq. We've been asking them to describe the country they saw and talk about their experiences. Today, we speak with a security contractor. Scott Schneider spent much of the last three and a half years in Iraq. He worked for several of the private companies that provide security for the truck convoys traveling throughout the country. We caught up with him during a brief trip home to Ohio and asked him what running security for a convoy means.
Mr. SCOTT SCHNEIDER (Security Contractor, Iraq): Normally, when I ran a convoy, I was normally be the first vehicle or the lead vehicle. And my job would be the, you know, to clear the - make sure the road was clear for the convoy. Because you're talking of 20 on up vehicle, you know, semi-trucks traveling in a substantial speed. And if there was an obstacle on the road, you're not going to stop those vehicles on a dime. So the point vehicle would clear the road, there would be checkpoints, make sure the checkpoints were aware a convoy was coming, and just be the first guy on the ground. If an attack would happen, you can signal to the other security with the convoy, let them know if the convoy needs to slow down, stop, or redirect their travel.
NORRIS: Scott, every time I see the pictures of the roads in Iraq, it seems like they are strewn with debris, that there are vehicles on the side of the road, all kinds of obstacles. And yet, I'm listening to you describe this massive truck convoy moving at high speed along these roads.
Mr. SCHNEIDER: Well, for the most part, the roads themselves are clear. It's -the debris you see are usually on the shoulder of the road. The highways over there are pretty decent. You know, they're not littered with potholes or what. Because most of the explosions are off on the shoulders of the road.
If a vehicle does get attacked or disabled on the road, it's cleared from the roadway, you know, shortly thereafter. Either by a contractor, military or the locals will drag the vehicle off the road and just, you know, strip the metal from it.
NORRIS: Had one of your convoys ever been attacked?
Mr. SCHNEIDER: Oh, (unintelligible) every one of them.
NORRIS: When you say every one of them had been attacked, you mean that gunfire overhead or…
Mr. SCHNEIDER: The attacks range from just some small arm fire, it could just be nuisance or harassment fire. It could be an actual all-out attack where they try and take your convoy or kidnap people.
NORRIS: So you know every time that you set out on one of these convoys, you're going to take on fire…
MR. SCHNEIDER: It's like…
NORRIS: …or perhaps something worse?
Mr. SCHNEIDER: It's likely. You got to keep the thought that most likely, you're going to be attacked. So you got to keep your guard up the whole time. You're on edge the whole time. When you're in Iraq traveling the roads, you're on the edge.
NORRIS: Scott, I understand that you lost some of your coworkers.
Mr. SCHNEIDER: Yes. I'd say - I've buried four of them who was over there. I still have five that are missing. They were kidnapped November 16th of 2006. And I've lost count of the number of the ones that I've taken to the hospital to remove or for injuries.
NORRIS: Why did you decide to go to Iraq?
Mr. SCHNEIDER: I guess I'm a patriot. You know, I've seen our country and our soldiers who over there are doing something that I thought I was capable of doing, too, and, you know, supporting the soldiers and supporting our country. And also, it's helping to make another country worth living in.
NORRIS: If I may ask, was money a factor? I understand the pay is quite good.
Mr. SCHNEIDER: Well, as I tell people, you know, the money might get you there, but the money doesn't keep you. In a war zone or hostile environment, there's got to be more than just the dollar signs.
NORRIS: Well, Scott, thank you so much for talking to us.
Mr. SCHNEIDER: Thank you, Michele.
NORRIS: Scott Schneider will soon return to Iraq, you know, once again, work for a private security firm.
No single government agency in the U.S. tracks private contractors in Iraq. Recent reporting by the L.A. Times and New York Times puts the number at well over 100,000, and perhaps high enough to outnumber U.S. troops in Iraq.
Tomorrow, we will continue our series. We talk with Horatio Uretha(ph). He's a political officer for the State Department based in Ramadi. And you could find previous conversation at our Web site npr.org.