Looking Into Iraq’s Rear-View Mirror

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REUTERS / Chris Helgren

Funny how different things can look as a war winds down.

In this February interview with the Combat Studies Institute at Fort Leavenworth, Kan., Major Amanda Warren, an Army logistician, talks of her 2011 deployment to Iraq.

She didn’t have the logistician’s standard marching orders to “git thar fustest with the moistest,” but the one that invariably follows: bring (most of) it home– as well as everybody, especially those civilian contractors. Excerpts:

I ended up becoming a sheriff in addition to trying to get people to leave. I did not know as a BLAST [Brigade Logistical Support Team] chief that I would be in law enforcement. It was to that degree.

As the FOBs [forward operating bases] began to close mid-deployment, and things started pushing south toward our location, so did the contractors start jumping FOBs to hide, so they didn’t have to go home. I found it strange.

So, instead of them taking the flight, they would get on a bird in their current location, and instead of going all the way south to Kuwait, they would just get off at the nearest FOB where there were still Soldiers, and try to blend in with their peers at that location, who were supposed to be there.

So, you know, I’m with two of my guys and we’re looking for Mr. Johnny. Mr. Johnny is hiding in his friend’s tent, just hanging out like he’s on vacation, but he’s still receiving paychecks from the company as if the company did not care.

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But, it was my responsibility because I had just told a two-star, “We’re down to this many civilians in your footprint, and now I have this one rogue person that I had to actually get the MPs to escort him to the airport. I had to send one of my guys on the plane to make sure he stayed on the plane, and have the MPs waiting for him in Kuwait. So, we did get him to the airport…

This person, in particular, told me that his unit never told him that his job was done, but his FOB was closed, so that, to me, indicates that the mission was complete at that current location.

So, he jumped FOBs to find work. I’m like, “It doesn’t work that way. If something bad happens to you, then somebody’s going to be responsible for you, so when you were supposed to leave theater, you needed to leave theater…”

I finally found a contractor company to get to the admin and say, “Look, your job has ended on this date. You should have been out of theater a week ago.” He was in a state of denial, so that’s what we had to do to impede escort out of theater…

The companies themselves retrograded their equipment. Basically, all they did was just move it from one FOB to the next, so just pushed it south…They had to clear their footprint and that’s another beast. Trying to clear the footprint with a contractor who doesn’t want to leave. And, then I have requirements with the Mayor’s Cell to have the footprint cleared at a certain date, and the contractor is dragging their feet to leave because they want an extra week or they need an extra week…

We had to convince people back at home, “Iraq is closing, so you need to change the date that you originally had on the contract to end this month by date, and then we have to make a plan to get your people out of country…”

Every night I was at the air station counting names on the manifest of who left without telling me, or who arrived without telling me, and who said they were going to leave on this date — and didn’t. That’s what I did for like the last 120 days in Iraq in 2011…

I found every one of them, and I got everybody out on time. We didn’t leave anybody there. That’s what I was afraid of. As a whole, we did not have accountability of how many civilians, contractor civilians, were actually in Iraq and working on behalf of the government. It’s scary, but that was the truth and I don’t think anybody wanted to say that.

But, you know, once the numbers got back, and I take it that it went to the Secretary of Defense or to the chief, and it was like it was a full-court press to figure out who we had on the battlefield, and it was on each BLAST chief in their area to try and figure it out. Unfortunately, I had 2,000 [laughter] to try and figure out…

Q: Were all of the contractors you were dealing with American?

All U.S. citizens…

We did not know who, and how many people we had, civilians, contracted. We knew DOD civilians, but not contractors in support. We did not know how many we had in each location.

It was like a revolving door for the last 10 years, and as long as the support was being provided, nobody really cared where these people were or what they were doing. Were they really doing their job or why they were there for eight or 10 years…

Then with the closure, the amount of equipment, infrastructure that we just left in Iraq. I mean, I had maintenance, or what we call LAMS [Large Area Maintenance Shelters] or plans of maintenance facilities, or they can be storage facilities or workplaces.

I signed three of those over. They were brand new. The government had just built them and had them in place and not even a year and a half later, I was signing them over to the Iraqi personnel. One of them was $1.3 million.

My hand receipt as a whole was about $5 million, and I left over half in Iraq. So, a trillion dollars a day. I see where it’s coming from. I really do.

I don’t think the taxpayers know how much stuff we left in Iraq, and it’s going to be unimaginable how much stuff we leave in Afghanistan.