Dispatches From Iraq: The Man Who Blew Up Goats

In ‘08 I gave my notice to Parsons and went to work for an Iraqi company called Leadstay. Leadstay was the outfit that provided all the heavy equipment and operators we employed at Camp Wolf in Anbar Province. They worked under the direction of our EOD (Explosive Ordnance Disposal) guys, (Tetra Tech) helping them to locate and destroy the UO (unexploded ordnance) that Saddam had so graciously left behind.

goats

The project, USACE CMC (U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Coalition Munitions Clearance project), was a noble one and I worked for them two years, “Kicking bombs” as my IT guy referred to it.

Previously I had worked for Parsons on the USAID (U.S. Dept. of State) Rural Water Project. We built water treatment plants for rural villages all over Iraq providing clean potable water to people who had never put lips to same. Spent two years doing that. I was in the ‘Construction’ business. At CMC I had moved into the ‘Destruction’ business, or for you literary types: ‘deconstruction business’. The circle was now complete.

CMC was winding down in ’08 after having destroyed roughly four hundred thousand short tons of old live ordnance during the five years they had been ‘kicking the bombs’ which the bad guys would surely have turned into IED’s.

I needed to find a new gig.

leadstay_operators

Through my connections with Leadstay I was hired on as ‘Business Development Manager.” They paid me fifteen thousand bucks a month (In cash if I so desired) plus two percent of any new contracts I landed. Potentially very lucrative.

The Leadstay ‘Man Camp’ was in the ‘Red Zone’ just outside the wire of Camp Victory, which bordered BIAP (Baghdad International Air Port). Electricity was hit or miss. The power grid from Baghdad was kind of like Texas weather; “If you don’t like it just wait a minute and it’ll change.” We had backup generators, but they were only for show. The shower in my hooch often gave me little shocks, reminding me that “OSHA does not live here.” All the Iraqis (and some of us) were armed. I wasn’t, but I had my eye on an AK-47 for sale in the duty-free shop Ahmed owned.  Mostly the Duty-Free was a liquor store.  We were only allowed to drink booze on Thursday nights. (Of course we mangled that rule, being ‘By God Americans!”)

I lasted about a month.

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Letters From Iraq: A Day in the Life of a Camp Manager

An Excerpt from an email I sent from Mosul, late 2008. Victor was a soft-spoken, highly educated and proper gentleman originally from Nigeria. He could not have been more out of place and time.

I realize this is rather a crude ‘toilet joke’ post, but it is a true story. Regarding ‘dirty words’ and ‘dirty toilet stories’, no one had better commentary on the subject than Lenny Bruce. Please have a listen below.

Lenny Bruce – 1961 arrest for using obscene language

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There was another ‘Victor Moment’ during this morning’s meeting with Parsons and my Boys. After I had finished discussing everything I had on today’s agenda I asked if anyone had any issues which needed to be addressed. Usually there are none, but today Victor piped up and said,

“I want to report an incident that causes friction.”

“Now what?” I’m thinking. “Friction?” I said. “Friction’s no good; friction causes fires.”

“That’s not what I meant,” Victor said.

“Oh, of course not… Okay Victor. I’m all ears. What’re you talking about?”

“There must be more respect and decorum in this camp. This morning at the Tetra-Tech meeting, one of the security guys, the big fat one, sat right in front of me and he leaned forward and…’Brrrrruuuuppp!’”

Laughter all around.

“Victor, you mean he farted in your general direction?” I said.

More laughter.

Very serious now, Victor said, “Yes. This was disrespectful. I told the gentleman that this was not good to do this. He turned around and said, ‘No really; it’s good for you.’ I told him I did not appreciate this behavior. There were eye witnesses too. The CRG guys were sitting right next to me.”

Trying to stifle my laughs (and failing), I said, “Any nose witnesses?” Then over the howling laughter of the boys said, “Sorry Vic, couldn’t resist. So, do you want to, uh… file a grievance against this guy?”

“Not yet,” he said. “But I want it on record.”

“Ok Victor. Consider it on record. Hey Dana, would this be considered a health, safety & welfare issue and do we have a form for this kind of… uh, grievance?”

The Boys still giggling.

“I’ll have to look online and get back to you on that one,” Dana said as straight-faced as he could which wasn’t very convincing.

“Ok, please do that.” Then I said to all, “Does anyone else have any ‘incidents’ that require my attention this morning?”

Nope.

“Ok then, Launch!” (Which is how I end all my meetings: I ‘launch’ my Boys off into their work day.)

Later as I was signing out for my walk at the TOC (Tactical Ops Center—Radio Room) with the CRG guys, they told me they had an ‘incident’ to report.

“Let me guess,” I said. “Someone has farted at you, eh?”

Laughter again all around.

“Yes,” Garth said, “Actually not at one of us, but Victor was just in here trying to muster support for his case. Says we’re all witnesses and we will be compelled to provide a written statement.”

“Oh Christ,” I said. “This guy wears me out.”

“Well, we just fucked him off,” Mark said.

Gareth (the Welshman) chimed in, “Yeah, I told him, ‘Hey we’re all just a bunch of blokes working here for fuck’s sake! Take a look at where we work: fuckin’ Iraq. What a wanker!” (Gotta love those Brits)

“Well, I guess the war’s over,” I said.

“What?” Gareth said.

“War must be over if this is the kind of shit we have to worry about. Some people seem to think we’re working on Madison Avenue. Too bad Miss Canada wasn’t here for this. (She had actually been here for a USO Show a week earlier.) We’d probably be looking at sexual harassment… Well, I’m off on my morning walk-about; gotta keep up my girlish figure ya know. You can call me on Channel One if there are any more wind-breaking developments.” I said as I headed out the door.

I could still hear them laughing and joking about Victor and his complaint as I walked away. I’m sure there will be more to this story. I sincerely hope Victor complains to Baghdad about this. Those guys could use some humor injected into their lives. Once again, I really can’t make this stuff up.