Then I got a phone call from a man who used to work as a trucker for KBR in Iraq and I realized that he had a LOT more to worry about than me. "I was only over there for four months but already my body has aged 30 years and my muscle mass is just melting away." KBR paid him $8,000 a month to drive the big rigs all over central Iraq. "And I'd give every cent of it back in a heartbeat if I could get my health back." Fat chance of that happening.
"After four months living in a tent pitched over an old bombed-out bunker, blood and pus started coming out of my eyes. It really scared me and I tried to get back to the states to get treated. But the moment I left Iraq, KBR canceled my health insurance. I used to be able to hang 160 sheets of drywall a day. Now I can hardly help the neighbors move their front room couch."
The contractor was very unhappy with KBR. "They promised me that I was going to get a COBRA but it never came through. I need an operation, I have severe nerve damage in my arms. I don't sleep because my hands and arms are so sore. I can take a lot of pain but this is constant. This is too much. If I ever get my hands on the KBR employee who canceled my insurance, they'd have to put me on four-way restraints!"
The contractor has lost three inches off of his biceps. What happened over there? Depleted uranium? "I wouldn't be surprised. Iraq is the most polluted country in the world. It scares the hell out of me." Then he added, "I think part of my nerve damage comes from wearing 56 pounds worth of body armor for 12 or 15 hours at a time because rather than up-armor the trucks, they up-armored the drivers."
He thought that the KBR operation was a circus run by buffoons. "They were only in it for the money."
"Do you think you will ever go back to Iraq?" I asked him. "I can't go back. I'd never pass the physical." He then gave me the names and numbers of several friends who had suffered the same experience. Scary.
After I got done talking with the contractor, I biked downtown to get a copy of the Berkeley Daily Planet, featuring an article about the Blackwater mercenaries. Even MORE scary! According to reporter Jeremy Scahill, "In February 2006 Donald Rumsfeld issued the Pentagon's quadrennial review which lays out the Pentagon's vision for years to come. There he classified Blackwater and other contractors as a legitimate part of the total force making up the U.S. war machine." So. The neo-cons are hopefully anticipating the day when they can contract out our entire Army -- not just the quartermaster department and the KP. I wonder if the troops know about this?
"This was legitimacy that they could not have dreamed of," continued Scahill. "Now Blackwater has taken that designation and used it in two wrongful death suits filed against it -- one for the incident in Fallujah and one for a plane crash in Afghanistan. They have said they should be immune from civilian legislation inside the United States because they are essentially part of the U.S. national security apparatus. At the same time it lobbies against placing its men under the US court-martial system." Oh boy. What will happen to our soldiers, our sailors, our Marines if even the soldiering part of our military is contracted out? If I was a career West Pointer and read that, I'd be DEFINITELY worried about job security!
"The Democrats' plan for withdrawal from Iraq doesn't mention private contractors," says Scahill. "The congressional initiatives are all aimed at oversight and transparency. No one with the exception of Congressman Dennis Kucinich is framing this in concept as the radical privatization of war."
Now our troops not only have to worry about losing their jobs because of the withdrawal from Iraq and because of Bush's highly successful attempts to stretch the military to its breaking point. Now our troops also have to worry about losing their jobs to scab labor. Sucks to be you!
PS: I just talked with my contractor friend again. He said that he doesn't have an e-mail address "because I don't see very well any more," and needs an operation -- but he still doesn't have any health insurance except for Medicaid. Plus he is now fully disabled and living on Social Security. In other words, the American taxpayer is now taking up the "benefits" slack for KBR -- just like we do for Wal-Mart.
PPS: Another contractor just called me -- I guess my 15 minutes of fame isn't quite over yet -- and this one started telling me some really scary stories about a mysterious place called "Area 51" where trained-killer special-ops forces hunker down in between "jobs". And he REALLY scared me as he described soul-less men with glazed-over eyed who lived like those hordes of evil bad guys from The Lord of the Rings -- just waiting to be let out of their cages. But what he said spooked me so much that let's not talk about that.
PPPS: Holy cow! I just received an e-mail from my friend Stewart who just missed getting blown up by a truck bomb. "There are body parts all over the place here." Listen up, all you psychotic bombers -- be you Iraqi extremists or George W. Bush. Don't make me go over there and give you a stern talking-to. I will, you know. You had better freaking APOLOGIZE to my friend this instant -- and to the people of Iraq. And DON'T DO IT AGAIN. Blowing up people is the height of barbarism. Get a grip.