Tuesday, March 10, 2009

A Bad Day In Habbaniyah

Notes from early May, 2007. Habbaniyah, Iraq:

Today was awful. The temperature peaked today at about 105F sometime in early afternoon. But this was actually secondary. The primary problem was water. Currently, all water for recruits and recruit training is provided through a US contractor, whose agreement is to provide a set quantity of water per a set number of recruits. He is contractually obligated to have a certain number of vehicles per recruits supplied. Come hell or high water (no pun intended), he’s supposed to ensure that they are watered. But they rarely are. They run out of water almost daily.

There are several problems. First, the recruits are extraordinarily wasteful. If you put out a water tank, they’ll wash their hands, their faces, their feet, heads, etc, rarely actually putting water into a bottle or canteen. Thus, I would estimate that at least 40% is wasted. The second problem is supply. There are no wells. All the water on this base, Iraqi, Coalition or otherwise, is pumped through various filtration/treatment systems from the Euphrates river and then trucked to points throughout the base – usually holding tanks. These tanks are associated with nearly every coalition building or unit, as well with most significant Iraqi Army buildings as well. When all the filtration pumps work well, things run relatively smoothly, although our Marines have to daily wake up this US contractor and tell him to start cracking on water. He may or may not comply.

But of late, these pumps have been breaking, such that only one of the filtration systems is operational – putting out a max 24 hour volume of 173,000 liters. That’s a little skimpy, but certainly enough to get the job done. But nobody cares to truck it. In fact, they only pump for a few hours a day. The pumps are run by Iraqis, who, though they’ve been rationed sufficient fuel to do their necessary tasks, still consistently run out – because they’re stealing it. OR the officers simply put the ACs on in their trucks and blast them all day, while their troops bake in the sun. So they’re constantly running out of fuel – meaning once again that they’re stealing it.

So the pumps don’t run enough, the US contractor doesn’t truck that which IS pumped, and the recruits, well over a thousand, go without water. And nobody seems to care except for us. We had 288 recruits this morning with no water. We had to find some. This afternoon, EVERY other training company on East Camp refused to train besides ours. And then those that didn’t train started rioting because they had no water.

Ultimately, facilities, maintenance and supply for East Camp is overseen by the US Air Force living over there. There is a LtCol in charge of it. I observed him today tell us that the US contractor who is supposed to supply the recruits with water is, in fact, doing a great job. But the recruits still have no water. And it’s 105 degrees outside.

So we stormed in their office again today and pointed out that the entire recruit training facility is out of water. The first thing said to us was this “um, well, so put them in the shade.” That was their best response. Meanwhile, this US contractor, who sadly doesn’t work for us (because we’d criminally charge him) is short 4 out of 8 water trucks (breach of contract), doesn’t pump enough (breach of contract), and is supposedly still has the good graces of the USAF. I DO NOT understand how this is. The conclusion I have reached is this: if the USAF guys have water, they don’t care if anybody else does or doesn’t. They have theirs.

There is viable speculation that this US contractor is providing kickbacks to the US military personnel for whom he supposedly works. There is no other way that a man whose job it is to provide water, but does NOT, can still be in good standing with the units they supposedly support. We are investigating the matter as we are able – unfortunately not much, since their primary customer still thinks they’re awesome.

The consequences of this whole fiasco are far-reaching. The glaringly obvious one is that our students need, but do not have water, which is severe. Secondly, they’ve discovered that if things go horribly wrong like this (as has been happening more and more often), that we will move mountains to get them what they need – so now we are swamped with requests for cold water, AC, food, nearly every amenity that you can imagine. Naturally, this disrupts training having recruits whine constantly.

Furthermore, problems of this gravity are requiring the attention of an increasing number of our personnel, pulling them away from other, essential tasks. As I have said before, we spend just as much time fighting and negotiating with our own professional colleagues as we do bickering with our Iraqi counterparts. In fact, this retarded form of diplomacy is our second most time-consuming task, save training itself. And right now the two are vying for our precious time. One productively, the other counterproductively.

Herein lies the biggest problem: Worth ethic. As we are all well aware, men worldwide are lazy. In a capitalist society this is somewhat limited, mostly because failure to work will prevent one from eating. Yet even still lazy people abound. Here, however, particularly in the US military, laziness seems to be condoned, even encouraged. Why? Because an exhibition of competence will almost guarantee that you’ll be assigned more work. The SMARTEST thing a private can do is mess up everything he does. Eventually nobody will ask him to do anything anymore. And then he’s off the hook entirely. Similarly, it’s incredibly hard to fire somebody here, and most senior leaders are too lazy to write the proper paperwork to see that these people are never put in positions of responsibility. Thus, lazy people seem to collect in the military. I’m fully aware that they’re in the civilian world as well, but I swear there are more here.

The greatest fear, fact, and tragedy, is that laziness here ultimately results in men dying. Recruits that don’t get proper training miss out on valuable skills intended to keep them alive. When all our efforts are devoted to ensuring that they have food and water, we are further taken away from training. Yet in a matter of weeks these recruits will be on the front lines. How many more will die as a result of apathy? I can never collect numbers on this, but I am confident that it is a real number.

We’re growing weary of this. We had as much as 50% of our staff working on this problem today. And this isn’t the first, and no doubt the last time. I can predict what will happen: as these units leave (as they are slated to do), their responsibilities which they now barely perform, will be ignored altogether. And we’ll have to pick up their slack. It has happened already. We’ve already taken over the responsibilities of a USMC Colonel, and his crew of two. We now do this work on our own.

In the end, we’re losing sight of our original purpose – namely training and ensuring the tactical readiness of the Iraqi Security Forces. Now we’re facilities management guys who happen to do a little training on the side. I fear it will worsen significantly in the coming weeks.

Copyright © 2009, Ben Shaw
All Rights Reserved


  1. Which is more valuable? Oil or water.

  2. Sounds like another no-bid contractor.