Returned Contractor Glad of Work in Iraq Commentator Tom Reed spent 18 months in Iraq working as a contractor for KBR. He explains that he went because he needed the high salary contractors make. He says that he was glad he went, in spite of the danger.

Returned Contractor Glad of Work in Iraq

Returned Contractor Glad of Work in Iraq

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Commentator Tom Reed spent 18 months in Iraq working as a contractor for KBR. He explains that he went because he needed the high salary contractors make. He says that he was glad he went, in spite of the danger.

MICHELE NORRIS, host:

You're listening to ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News.

Commentator Tom Reed spent nearly two years in Iraq working as a contractor with KBR, a subsidiary of Halliburton. Later he helped to protect U.S. diplomats for the State Department. Reed he went to Iraq for one main reason, the same reason that has drawn some 30,000 American civilians to the country.

TOM REED: Sure, I had patriotic reasons. I always felt the need to serve but never acted on it. By 2003, though, I was deeply in debt. GM's massive auto strike, followed by the worse flood in a century, had decimated my small town Texas car dealership, which leads me to the main reason I and everyone else went there, the money. Dodging mortars and roadside bombs was deemed a reasonable risk for the money. I found it ironic that so ugly a war, so full of destruction and death for many of us was our ticket to a new life.

I left Houston with 380 KBR expats at 4:00 a.m. on a Monday in November 2003. Camp Anaconda near Balod was my first assignment, and my most difficult adjustment to life there was lack of sleep. After 12 to 14 hour days, mortar rounds crashed nearly every night. We crouched inside dark and damp sandbag and concrete bunkers, sometimes twice a night, until we received the all clear and returned to our tents.

A month later, three other new recruits and I loaded into a unarmored Ford pickup and drove 30 miles to our new assignment at Ford Operating Base Warhorse near Bacuba(ph) to the east. The night before this drive I called my wife, and in an emotional conversation, we went through a to do list in the event of my death. Wills, life insurance, the credit card debt and my funeral arrangements. I wrote two letters to my children that I prayed would never to be read.

It was to be a treacherous drive, so we sped through mud hut villages at 75 miles per hour, crossing the Tigress River, one of the four rivers in the book of Genesis. We arrived safely at FOB Warhorse. That muddy hole of razor wire and sandbags was my home for 18 months. I was a logistics coordinator working with the Army. I, among others, helped make sure that 6,000 troops were fed, housed, had safe drinking water, clean uniforms and toilets and showers that worked.

The worst kept secret in Iraq was that U.S. Forces never had the troop strength to lock down the country to prevent the carnage that continues to this day. Noncoms would tell you, junior officers would tell you, but Generals or any officers aspiring to be a General would never tell you for the well founded fear that their career would be over.

I witnessed the deaths of good American men and women from Warhorse and nearby camps and no death made me grieve more than that of a fine young solider who I watched grow up next door to me in Texas. I accomplished 90 percent of my goals in going to Iraq. I developed new skills in logistics and security. I paid off most but not all of my debt. I became less trusting of those in positions of leadership and certainly less impressed by them.

It was worth it but it was terribly hard on my family. My wife now sees my time in Iraq as a distant bad dream, but while I was there, she second guessed our decision every day. I got a chance to see an important and difficult part of our world up close and personal. The whole experience for me was more than just the money, more than a new start. It was a privilege.

NORRIS: Commentator Tom Reed spent two years as a civilian contractor in Iraq. Now he lives in Melbourne, Australia. He's writing a book about his experience.

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