by David Phinney
Friday July 12th 2024



The Shadow Army

CBS and The San Francisco Chronicle both ran recent stories on contractors working in Iraq.
Privatizing support services supposedly brings down costs for the Pentagon. It also sweeps a myriad number of problems under the rug — everything from who gets to carry guns and the liability for shooting people to the longterm health problems of the civilian workers.
Both CBS and the Chron hone in on the looming challenges of post-traumatic stress disorder. PTSD is common among soldiers so it seems likely it is among civilian contractors as well, right? Especially in an asymmetrical threat environment where danger lurks around every corner and there is no frontline to hide behind.
I tried selling a story about contractors to CBS last summer — actually several. This is that organization’s effort: Civilian Contractors Face Perils in Iraq. It has an uncanny resemblance to a story I ran several years ago, including the spotlight on Sam Walker. He was eating french fries in a dining facility when a body bomber walked in and killed dozens:

“Body parts were flying all over and pieces of flesh flying in my face,” Walker says.
When it was over, the former contractor was drenched in the blood of the victims around him and rescue workers took him for dead. “I was so close to the bomber,” he adds. “There was copper wire from the bomb embedded in my jacket.”
Walker took a full blast to the side of his head and shrapnel pitted his body. But when KBR medics treated him following the bombing, he says they merely rubbed Vaseline on his burns and gave him Motrin for pain.
“For two days I told them my side was hurting but they said I would be okay, and wouldn’t give me medical leave,” Walker says.

The Chron’s, “Civilian Workers in Iraq Suffering Combat Tauma,” charts a similar course. (Yes, I did suggest the subject to a Chron editor).
Of course we all owe a debt to Jana Crowder and her Web site She is the source for so much of what reporters do about the personal lives of contractors these days.


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