War Zone Contractor
2007 and 2008 entries from Rob Crimmins’ journal
The life of the war zone contractor is difficult and strange. For some the cliche about survival making them stronger is true. Others are diminished by the isolation, violence and deprivation. The form and nature of those and other difficulties is the source of both the positive and negative effects.
The physical danger is the strongest influence. Contractors have accounted for a significant percentage of the total American casualties in Iraq and Afghanistan. But there are aspects of the lifestyle itself that mold personalities, for better and for worse. For example, because I kept a journal and business records I can determine where I was every day so I know that from the time I left home until I returned, seventeen months later, I slept in exactly fifty different beds. The roundness of the number is strange and doesn’t matter but the fact that my mornings began in so many alien places is just one example of how abnormal it is.
With few exceptions I was able to maintain an excellent diet while I was away and rarely missed a workout, in fact I gained more muscle mass, even though I was in my fifties, than ever before. Some of the guys in Special Forces used weightlifting to let off steam and the ones who had a lot to release were animalistic on the machines.
The worst dietary exception was when flies in the dining facility in Waza Khwa, Afghanistan became intolerable and I had to have food sent from home. While waiting for the canned goods to arrive I ate animal crackers and MREs, which really aren’t bad except that the food is irradiated and has a very high sodium content.
Even though I was rarely physically alone I was almost always alone spiritually. Fortunately, because of Skype and email I was usually able to keep in touch with my wife but the isolation is hard and it can take a terrible toll. One night, the only thing, other than our anti social tendencies, that separated me from a tent mate who cut his wrists was the blanket draped between our two bunks. I slept through it and didn’t know what happened until the next morning when the security crew woke me up while gathering his belongings and disposing of the blood soaked bedding. Interestingly, he was the only one of seven in our tent I’d had a conversation with and whose name I knew.
The stories from those of us who went through it may be among the most important things that comes out of it. We can speak for ourselves and in some cases for others who were there but didn’t share their. My memoir is mostly about what happened, with a little about why, and with a lot of accompanying imagery, both stills and video.
The video below has a fraction of the pictures and video I took from the ground and from the air. In chronological order, from the first day I set foot on the ground in the Mid East, until my last flight out of Afghanistan there are stills and clips of scores of locations including Ali Al Salem Air Force Base in Kuwait, the Victory Base Complex in Baghdad, aerials of the city, the Victory Over America Palace, “Flintstone Village”, the playhouse Saddam had built for his grandchildren, Forward Operating Base Loyalty where I was nearly killed and was instrumental in killing others and FOB Justice, where Saddam was executed, and the house boats where he personally executed those who displeased or failed him. The scenes from Afghanistan are of Bagram Air Force Base, camel herds driven by Kuchi tribesmen, deserts and the once lush, now mine laden and barren Shomali Plain, FOBs Salerno, Sharana, Ghazni and Zormat, and one of the most remote Forward Operating Bases in the country, Waza Khwa, the ravaged palaces of Darul Aman and Tajbeg in Kabul, markets in Kabul, and the Hindu Kush.
(The period when I was assigned to PTDS (Persistent Threat Detection System) sites One, Three and Four in Baghdad was from May 5, 2007 until May of 2008. During that year I didn’t go home. The time in Afghanistan was shorter, only seven months, but I worked at more sites and saw more of the country. In the seven months that I was in Afghanistan, from June of 2008 until December, I was in six provinces and Kabul.)
© Robert A. Crimmins, Felton, Delaware, USA