Battleland

Burned by the Boss: How To Tell We’ve Been at War Too Long

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Air Force photo by Tech. Sgt. Jeremy T. Lock

Wackenhunt firefighters battle a 2006 blaze in Mosul

There are lots of signs the nation, now amid its longest war ever in Afghanistan – and just finishing up a second lengthy military campaign in Iraq – has been fighting too long. Sure, the budget deficits are one sign. So is the human carnage, both among innocent civilians in both lands, but also among the 2.4 million U.S. troops who have fought there. Beyond the 6,300 Americans killed and 40,000 wounded are the broken families, PTSD and suicides the wars have triggered.

But here’s a new one: 28 firefighters who went to work in the war zones for private contractors KBR and Wackenhut claim they were shortchanged by their employers.

They have filed a class-action suit on behalf of some 2,000 firefighters and maintain they routinely “were required to provide 24/7 fire protection” but paid for only 12 hours. When the firefighters complained, they allegedly were told “that they were lucky to have jobs, that they would be fired and sent back to America, and that many were waiting in line for their jobs,” their suit alleges. “Various phrases were used as shorthand for threats to fire if the Plaintiffs continued to complain, such as `chicken or beef,’ which referred to the dining choices one had on the flight home from Iraq.”

It’s a safe bet the contractors will deny wrongdoing, and it’s a safe bet the firefighters’ claim for $100 million is excessive. But what’s also clear is that any war that generates a need for private firefighting forces – and then drags on so long that the firefighters become aggrieved enough to believe they have a case that they were underpaid – is a war that has gone on too long for the firefighters, the contractors, the military and the country. Not to mention the taxpayers.

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