KBR Electrical issues  

Posted by Wishwords

Please note that I am not an electrician. Therefore, my interpretation of the details my husband has told me could be wrong. For part of my contract, I worked the Service Call Desk where the military came to report maintenance problems. I knew most of what was going on, on the base as far as maintenance issues. Also, we were on Al Asad AB, Iraq, not in Baghdad, not in the Green Zone. We were out in the middle of the Al Anbar Province.

When I met my husband in Iraq, he was a KBR electrician, a licensed journeyman. Going from working union jobs in the States to working in Iraq was trying experience for him. In the States, anything he wanted; tools, supplies, equipment was available for the asking or just by running down the street to the local Home Depot or Lowes. Not in Iraq.

He quickly discovered was that the few tools he was issued were made from substandard materials. The screwdrivers would chip and sometimes bend with normal use. Tools such as pliers and Klines would come apart at the screw joint, and the rubber-wrapped handles would peel off. A lot of his coworkers had their personal tools shipped to them, despite the possibility of the mail shipment never arriving or their tools being stolen once they got them.

All the wiring and cables in Iraq were metric. He'd never worked with metric or substandard materials. He's told me stories of going through spools and spools of cable or wire trying to figure out what he needed, throwing his hands up in the air, and yelling in frustration about not being able to get some normal supplies.

In the States, the electrical code calls for using the green wire as the ground. Standardization saves lives. You open a panel, see the green wire and know exactly what it's doing. In Iraq, some of the electricians were unlicensed and had never studied the code or were from third world countries where safety didn't matter. Anyone who complained about "code" issues was told that Iraq wasn't the States and OSHA and the electrical code didn't apply.

I've heard people say, "Why didn't you just label the wires with colored electrical tape?" or similar things. Because they didn't have colored electrical tape. Sometimes they didn't have black electrical tape. Sometimes they didn't even have duct tape.

When we talk about there being a supply problem in Iraq, we aren't kidding. We don't mean that it took a couple of days to get things; we mean that it took months and sometimes years to get things. A lot of the time when the supplies came in they were from Turkey or Syria and didn't come close to American standards. Picture the cheapest supplies you can get at Home Depot; what we got was even lower quality.

We knew an electrician that needed to install a breaker panel for a group of tents. He didn't have a panel so he made one from an ammo box. You did the best you could with whatever you could find or steal. And yes, we stole. We stole from the military, other contractors, and each other. When your job is on the line if a project isn't completed, you do what you'd never do in the States.

One of the issues the electricians had was how to ground steel-shell buildings in a desert environment. You can drive six-foot steel rods into the earth, but if there is no moisture in the earth, the building won't be grounded. To top it off, the buildings were from Turkey and Syria. The wiring inside didn't meet American code to begin with. But the guys did the best that they could.

Most everything was powered by generator. None of the generators were designed for a desert environment. The generator techs were some of the most overworked people we had. Every time it rained (yes, the winter in Iraq brings tons of rain), or a sandstorm blew through, they spread thin across the base trying to bring the generators back up. The electricians had to help because half the time the problem was that the cables, which were buried between the generators and whatever they were powering, had gotten wet and literally exploded out of the ground. The cables weren't armored or coated properly, so they weren't waterproof. It took a lot of rain to seep through the moon dust of the Iraqi desert, but it eventually did.

Several months before we left Iraq, KBR began getting ready to take over the hard buildings (the buildings built by Saddam). All the departments had to do assessments on each building and turn in estimates for what it would cost to fix everything in the buildings. The electricians invariably recommended replacing every light fixture, outlet, switch, panel, and all the wiring itself. The stuff was twenty-years-old and was crap when it was initially installed. No one wanted to touch it.

Up until that time, whenever there was a problem in a hard building, it would be turned over to the SeaBees or a local unit's maintenance personnel. At Al Asad, they wanted KBR to fix the stuff because even with our supply and employee problems, we had the best available. We weren't allowed to work on the hard buildings because they weren't included in our contract.

Want to know a secret? Sometimes we did it anyway. A Soldier or Marine would come to me at the Service Desk and the story they would tell was terrifying or disgusting. Yeah, we civilians were there for the paycheck, but we lived with these men and women, and we cared about them. When the SeaBees or maintenance just couldn't handle it, I'd write up a ticket for an "assessment". We were allowed to go into a building, assess a problem, and tell the maintenance teams what they needed and what they had to do to fix a problem. I knew which electricians, plumbers, and HVAC techs to give those assessments to. Usually, about the time the assessment was finished, the problem was miraculously repaired. No one talked about how that happened.

Yeah, KBR employed some lazy, lothesome SOBs. But they also employed some caring, resourceful, talented people. We did what we could with what we could get our hands on.

KBR water issues  

Posted by Wishwords

I've been reading a lot lately about these issues, and since I have experience with both, thought I'd go ahead and talk about them. We'll talk about the water first. I worked at Al Asad AB from July 2004 to December 2006. As soon as we arrived, we were told not to use the water in the ab units to brush our teeth or drink because it was non-potable. The water in our showers stank, so I wasn't tempted.

In September of 2004, I was sitting with a boyfriend near the water tank that fed the KBR women's ab unit. One of our friends drove up in a water truck and climbed the ladder. We knew something odd was going on because the tanks had been filled just an hour or so before, and the driver didn't take the fill hose up with him. So, we accosted him when he climbed down with a bag in his hand.

He told us they'd found ecoli in the water and they were superchlorinating every tank on base that night. The problem was that the tanks were all full and the chlorine was just floating on top.

By the next day, they had all the tanks superchlorinated and continued to keep them that way at least until I left. You could smell the chlorine when you took a shower, washed your face in the sink, or even sat on a toilet. It dried out our skin. I don't know when the problem was found, but I do know when they started fixing it.