Lessons Learned as a Military Civilian Contractor in Iraq, by Robert S.

I started my journey much to the dismay of my wife and family, in December, 2007. Not ever having been in the military or anything closely resembling it. Without having a clue of what I was doing I headed off to good ol Houston Texas where my journey began at an old shopping mall with portions of it still active selling goods. This was the “processing” phase of me getting ready to deploy as a US DOD contractor to the war effort in Iraq. My life was about to take a very drastic turn and I jumped head long into it oblivious to the aftermath of things like PTSD and getting typhoid fever all of which I am sure I wasn’t told about.

The whole premise of taking this processing, if I had to guess was it being similar to the army where you get ready to deploy to a foreign land to defend freedom. Except for the boot camp and workouts and discipline which to me is the most important part. Basically the processing consists of two weeks of checking in eating meals breakfast lunch dinner which is very much like a large buffet and preplanned meetings and or classes all to prepare one for upcoming deployment to a foreign land and in my case a war zone!

One of my more prevalent memories of this processing step was the medical clearing portion, a bunch of medical tests done to determine my overall health and suitability to become a contractor. One who works in an austere environment in Iraq. This also brings us to the first topic of my post which is more along the lines of EDC and preparedness. Basically this 1 day of hell for me sums up the whole mantra of prepping survival and the reason that I sort of woke up one day and decided that I wasn’t going to be that guy the guy that is caught out in the rain the guy that is asking for assistance with a flat tire the guy the Joe who is always asking to dull my favorite pocket knife for lack of owning or carrying his own. (Usually it is sitting on his dresser all nice and shiny new where it most definitely shouldn’t be when he needs it.) This was also when I started looking at my world for what it really was and seeing things that TPTB are doing and sitting up and taking notice.

After doing a few days of classes and meetings I carry on through the first week of my DOD Contractor preparations and the beginning of medical screening. At the end of the second to third day we are told that we are not to eat anything past midnight and not drink any water the day of the medical screening due to needing to take our blood sugar on an empty stomach. Our day which starts at around 04:00 hours we are picked up by a bus and transported to what looks like an abandoned warehouse with a whole bunch of single wide trailers as offices clinics inside.  All and all it doesn’t seem bad I pass my physicals breath strength, hearing BMI most of which are very simple but as the day progresses I start to get hungry and wondering when I could eat. I asked the nurse who gave me my hernia test. The woman looked like a large-handed man. At any rate she told me I had to wait until I got my blood sugar drawn and that I would receive a sack lunch. Not knowing that I could skip around the list as I may I continued to go down my check off sheet one by one noticing that the  blood sugar was close to last. Well around 19:00 hours I completed my blood sugar test and got my sack lunch and headed to my last and final test which was blood pressure. Which by this time I was still hungry and it was getting late and cold so I failed my BP test miserably. No worries I can try again back at the mall and should be fine.

Not sure who came up with the list or the rhyme or reason behind the order the items were in but with all of the confusion it wouldn’t have mattered I could have hit that section and got to lunch no problem.

Few things wrong there to say the least. We ended up waiting around the warehouse until 22:00 and I ended up being huddled with a group of Kenyans who also hate the cold next to a space heater that didn’t put out much heat. In retrospect I would have packed a jacket even a light wind breaker to keep the chill off. Maybe some snacks even though I was told not to eat. And sought out someone in charge and communicated with them about expectations order of business and what not to get a feel for what was going on and how I was expected to complete the screening not having anything to eat nor drink any water…

Keep in mind this was to be the start of a six year journey that would be chock full of hills and valleys to traverse, especially not ever having experienced anything like this before in my life.
After 2 weeks I made it through the orientation/processing classes and meetings. I learned a lot about my own patience and the ugly side of the human person when you stick them in to a group of 800. Funny how men and women act when their wives and husbands are not around to see or find out about what they do. It is time to deploy to the foreign land and off to the war!
 My very first day in-theatre I get to my bunk where jet lag is fully taken hold and I am fast asleep when all of a sudden I hear a very large explosion and gravel and shrapnel are being flung against my containerized housing unit (CHU.) (That is a a really cool acronym for a cruddy trailer on blocks. The CHU rocked back and forth violently. At that moment I seriously questioned how bad do I need this job and am I going to die in this foreign land never seeing my loved ones again.  Forget that! What can I do after I hit the deck and wait for a few seconds? Well nobody happened to tell the new guy where the bunkers are in the maze of T-walls and CHUs.

Second lesson: Ask questions, base decisions on questions and Intel and communication with others that have knowledge of the situation or the task at hand. I can honestly say you can be as prepared as anyone can be but you can’t do much with it if you don’t have any Intel to go by or any viable way of making an informed decision. The contractor company that I worked for is loosely organized like the army in the regard that there are different sectors all with different skill sets relying on the other to complete tasks. If one doesn’t network with the other sectors then he will have a hard time completing the task at hand. This works out especially well for bartering I once bartered an AK-47 bayonet for a battery powered saw.

Carrying on through the six years of my deployment in the stink hole they call Iraq, I developed a sort of disdain for the inept and much disorganized procurement system due to the fact that it is extremely slow and for not wanting to use a whole myriad of colorful words “lame.”

Thus it brings me to the Third lesson: Think outside of the box I couldn’t rely on the procurement process to get what I needed if I tried to get what I needed usually it was wrong. If I had a nail I was missing a hammer. Had a socket no ratchet. Silicone gun no silicone so on and so forth. All told hustling with the locals and helping their economy is very effective and a socket works pretty will with a pair of vice grips if you don’t mind what it looks like when you are done. The socket tends to get a bit chewed up… Too many times I needed to create things fix things and didn’t have all that I needed to do so. Hence would be the conditions in TEOTWAWKI.  This has become and is the “ARMY” ways they have taken “adapt and overcome” to a whole new level its called half ass! At any rate, you are not going to be able to run down to that blue or orange home service store and grab what you need to finish a project. Parachute cord (aka 550 cord) works wonders sometimes when you need to replace a shoe lace and don’t have one, drying clothes outside guy wire for an antenna or rope for a US flag on a pole. I have seen it used by adding a bit of weight and making a jump rope for calisthenics.  My personal favorite is the boot laces as that is what is holding my boots on as we speak.

One or two 1,000-foot rolls of paracord in your cache box what’s a cache box, you say? Check out Yeager on YouTube and see his take on it, very informative.
I once saw a guy make an alcohol stove with a soda or beer can and some steel wool. Very cool idea if you don’t have a stove. When TEOTWAWKI comes, these types of things will be common place if not they should be.

Thinking outside of the status quo is essential for life and especially during a tactical or trying situation and to overcome an imminent threat. If one wakes up can see things in a clear light and think things through without bias anger or spite one can see the true reality of the situation and make an unbiased and educated decision on how to act.
In summary from my six years as a contractor I would say the three essentials tools are EDC look at it, organize it, practice it,  plan it, look at your today, your tomorrow your week your month, use it Remember always have a plan “B”.
 
You cannot use what you do not have. You cannot use it if its broken because it’s the first time you took it out deployed it and it failed when you did now you’re stuck.
Communication is key. Effective communication with your team good comms are essential. Don’t forget operational security (OPSEC.) Communication with your family your community, your peers and coworkers. Base your decisions in an educated fashion; If to bug out, how to bug out, when to bug out, where to bug out to, bug in? Have a plan and run it through all the while be fluid and flexible. Again Remember always have an escape plan…
 
As it was told to me in Iraq, it is an ever evolving ever fluid mission and one has to be flexible to accommodate the needs of the mission to take care of the needs of the team. Whatever your team consists of.

Break the paradigm! We live in what I like to call a throwaway world. With that being said how many things that we take for granted that would in a normal household be tossed out with the trash can be repurposed to something else useful? If you can find him look online for the guy that takes old firefighter turnout bunker gear and refashions it into pretty sweet gear in my opinion, duffle bags, purses and other pieces of kit.

How many people could actually say that they can grow a garden enough to sustain themselves with something to eat? I watched a guy who lives in a CHU (remember those?) in Iraq grow tomatoes squash and peas in the window of that CHU using it like a greenhouse, cut milk jugs, dirt, some seeds, water and a little love. I cut him the stakes to help the plants stay up right out of old pallet lumber. Boy that was a pretty sweet tasting salad!

In summary, a few take a ways from being deployed in Iraq for six years (boy I never thought I would be there that long!) Every Day Carry (EDC.) Live it, breathe it, be it. Build a kit, use it, break it, and perfect it. It’s better to have it and not need it then need it and not have it.

Communication you can’t problem solve if you have no idea what the problem even is. Develop a plan with your family and friends. Who, What, When, Where, Why. Each person in an effective team knows what to do before they need to do it.
 
Be flexible, adapt and overcome and please please don’t do it the Army way and half ass it. Think outside the box don’t be trapped in it! If something breaks fix it and move on. Try and build it stronger than it was. When it comes to gear it’s amazing what you can repurpose to something you need. Duct tape! Need I say more?

Oh one last thing that should go without saying, always carry a knife, a good quality fixed or folder. My father is an Army veteran from the Vietnam War and he said “the only thing I need to survive is a good pair of boots and a Ka-Bar.”

I wish I had a nickel for every time I heard: “Do you have a knife?” Or, “Can I borrow your knife?” I’ve heard it all the way from the local national laborer to a Command Sergeant Major in the Army.

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