Independent student content

BG Falcon Media

Independent student content

BG Falcon Media

Independent student content

BG Falcon Media

Follow us on social
  • They Both Die at the End – General Review
    Summer break is the perfect opportunity to get back into reading. Adam Silvera’s (2017) novel, They Both Die at the End, can serve as a stepping stone into the realm of reading. The pace is fast, action-packed, and develops loveable characters. Also, Silvera switches point of view each chapter where narration mainly focuses on the protagonists, […]
  • My Favorite Book – Freshwater
    If there’s one book that I believe everyone should read once in their life, it’s my favorite book – Freshwater by Akwaeke Emezi. From my course, Queer Literature under Dr. Bill Albertini, I discovered Emezi’s Freshwater (2018). Once more, my course, Creative Writing Thesis Workshop under Professor Amorak Huey, was instructed to present our favorite […]

Civilians take Iraqi jobs

By Pam Zubeck The Colorado Springs Gazette

COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. (KRT) – When Lane Vannatta stepped off a plane at Colorado Springs Airport at 11 p.m. on Dec. 22, the nearly deserted terminal held no flag-wavers or welcome-home banners.

Only his wife, Kimber, awaited his arrival after a year in Iraq.

Unheralded homecomings are happening with thousands of civilians who are helping fight the war, risking their necks to serve meals, wash clothes, move supplies and provide security.

The war couldn’t be fought without them.

“If you were to withdraw the civilian contractors, from KBR to Blackwater providing private security, the system would deteriorate very quickly and you would be faced with a much worse case than we currently face,” said Brett Lambert, managing partner with the Densmore Group, a Washington, D.C., defense consultant. “You just can’t do the job we’re doing now without the civilian contractors.”

But Lambert said the Pentagon and intelligence communities worry they’re losing soldiers and workers to contractors who offer hefty salaries the government can’t match.

“If you’re a specialist making $28,000 driving a truck, and you can come back and do it for a firm and make $120,000 a year, it’s something that is worrisome for people looking at longtime trends,” he said.

“It’s taking outsourcing to a new level,” he added. “These folks were absolutely necessary to the job we’re doing now, but the question is what effect it will have on the forces over time.”

In providing critical support, contractors have made a lot of money, but they have also given their lives.

Vannatta’s boss, KBR, a Halliburton subsidiary and the largest contractor in Iraq, has deals worth more than $15 billion. Hundreds of other contractors are making billions more.

So far, at least 309 contract workers from across the globe have been killed in Iraq, about half of them Americans, according to a Web site,, created by two citizens that tracks the number of slain contractors and military members.

They’ve died in bombings, beheadings, missile attacks, accidents, ambushes, sniper fire and executions.

Michael White of Atlanta and Patricia Kneisler of Benicia, Calif., who call themselves “concerned amateurs,” say the actual numbers likely are even higher because their site relies on news reports, press releases and word from families. For example, the site lists 28 KBR employees, while KBR says 79 workers have been killed in Iraq, Kuwait and Afghanistan, without specifying the number for each country.

The risk clearly is overridden by the lure of excitement, purpose or money, of which up to $80,000 a year is tax-free.

KBR has more than 250,000 resumes on file from those wanting Iraq jobs, and interest is building despite 2004 being the most deadly for contractor deaths, claiming an estimated 187 victims.

During August 2005, KBR received 15,000 resumes from people seeking Iraq jobs, twice the number it got in August 2004, KBR spokeswoman Melissa Norcross said.

Vannatta, 62, took the bus-driving job when he couldn’t find decent-paying work after moving here in May 2003 from his pastor job in Alaska. He made $84,000 last year.

“Nothing came close to what this pays,” he said in a telephone interview from Baghdad, “and the only insurance we have is that offered through KBR. Financially, I couldn’t do anything else.”

He left Dec. 16, 2004, and worked 12-hour days, seven days a week, taking only two breaks, one in Mexico with his family and another in August in Colorado Springs. His Dec. 22 return marked completion of his one-year contract.

In January, Vannatta returned to Iraq to again drive buses ferrying KBR workers, often through “red zones” rife with bombs and mortar fire.

Vannatta, calm and soft-spoken, downplays the danger, though he stood 175 yards from a mortar attack in March.

“When things go ‘boom’ around you, you definitely look for cover, that’s for sure,” said Vannatta, who wears a flak vest while working.

But the military soothes his nerves. “Maybe ignorance is bliss – I’m not sure – but when you have the military Humvees ahead of you and those will take the hits, I feel pretty safe,” he said.

Vannatta said his days are filled with prayer, and he misses his family. He calls home twice a day, morning and night.

“Thank God KBR has a dedicated line from Houston, so it’s like making a call from Houston,” he said. “I can’t imagine being without it. It’s a way to keep in touch and hear a familiar voice and know what’s going on.”

Vannatta hopes a new marketing business he and Kimber started in December takes off so he can come home for good.

Meantime, his wife relies on church friends to keep her spirits up. “They became a strong support for me,” Kimber Vannatta said. “That is what’s gotten me through.”

Not everyone makes it home alive, though.

Jason Obert, 29, of Fountain, Colo., a law officer working in Iraq, was protecting diplomats for Blackwater Security Consultants when his helicopter was shot down north of Baghdad on April 21, killing 11 civilians, including Obert.

Another security firm, DynCorp International, which made $400 million from its security operations in Iraq last year, pays up to $150,000 a year. It has 1,500 to 2,000 workers in Iraq, and 46 have died.

Still, people want the work. “We have not had trouble recruiting for Iraq, but we can experience short-term difficulties in recruiting after a violent event, such as the death of an employee in the country,” DynCorp senior vice president Gregory Lagana said in an e-mail.

Some workers go to support the military and help build democracy in Iraq.

Ben Hayner, 55, of Colorado, traveled throughout Iraq for 11 months disabling radio-controlled Improvised Explosive Devices, a chief cause of U.S. troop fatalities.

He was paid $175,000 by a technologies company he declined to name, but said money wasn’t his main motivation.

“It was the right thing to do,” he said. “I wanted to feel like I was doing something important. I believe in our country, our military. I wanted to do my part.”

Leave a Comment
Donate to BG Falcon Media
Our Goal

Your donation will support the student journalists of Bowling Green State University. Your contribution will allow us to purchase equipment and cover our annual website hosting costs.

More to Discover
Donate to BG Falcon Media
Our Goal

Comments (0)

All BG Falcon Media Picks Reader Picks Sort: Newest

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *