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photo of humvee in transitjoin the discussion: What are your reactions to this report on the privatization of the war in Iraq?  Is  the U.S. military becoming too dependent on the use of extra-military forces?

Dear FRONTLINE,

My brother was part of Blackwater, a retired Navy Seal, working to protect the engineers over there. It was a very strenuous job, one that I never knew one minute to the next if he was going to return.

I just want everyone to know, I may not agree with the government completely, but I do believe in America, and its enlisted people.

susan kolberg
pewaukee, wi

Dear FRONTLINE,

I would like to share with the readers here a little information on what "security contractors" do in Iraq. I worked from December of 2003 until August of 2005 with a small firm (only 100 men) owned and operated by a retired Colonel in the U.S. Special Forces who was head of Special Operations during the Gulf War. The Boss has a multitude of connections with the US Military and is a friend of the King of Jordan, to name just one of many powerful people in the Middle East he has a personal relationship with. One of the tasks that had to be completed after the invasion of Iraq in March of 2003 was the destruction of Saddam's weapons. This called for EOD (explosive ordinance disposal) teams. The US Military did not have then, and does not have today, the quantity of EOD teams to carry out this task. Therefore the job was "outsourced" to a private company, which has long experience in this field, under contract with the US Corps of Engineers.

The members of this private company arrived on the ground in Iraq on the very heals of the invasion. The problem of security for thier operations had to addressed. This security could not be carried out by the US Military because the military was stretched very thin in it's own operations and had, believe me, better things to do. Therefore, our firm was hired for the job.The job entailed securing the operations, work sites, living areas and travel of the EOD personnel sent in to do the job of collecting, categorizing and destroying all of the weapons that had been in the possession of Saddam's military. These weapons included missiles, rockets, mortars, mines, artillery shells, bombs, small arms, ammuntion and a multitude of other weapons and ordinance, including WMDs. We would get into, intially, UN-armored Ford 350 pick up trucks with a driver and three "shooters". "Shooters" would take their places in each of the always open passenger and rear windows of these pick ups, their weapons (M4s, M16s and SAW machine guns) pointed out of the windows covering the front, flanks and rear of the convoys transporting these weapons and ordinance on flat bed trucks along Iraqi highways from and to ASPs (Ammunition Supply Points) where they would be assembled and destroyed.

These convoys often consisted of as much as 30 sixteen wheel flat bed trucks, each loaded with around 20 to 30 tons of ordinace and weapons systems, making a total of around 600 to 800 tons per shipment. The convoys speed were only as fast as the slowest 16 wheeler, and these were Iraqi trucks from Iraqi trucking companies and some of them were so poorly maintained that 40mph was the average top speed of each convoy.

This all adds up to a slow moving, mile long, sitting target containing enough explosives to leave a Grand Canyon in the highway system. In order to secure these convoys we had to perform "forward blocks" and "dismounted blocks" at intersections along the trip and ride up and down it's length, protecting both it's front, rear and flanks.In the course of these convoy operations we fired many "warning shots". These shots were placed in the dirt to the side of the highways or in the front of vehicles approaching the rear or vehicles which attepted to go around our convoys. Some shots were placed in the grills of vehicles which menaced our cargo and sometimes in the vehicles themselves. There was long experience which taught us the lesson of doing so. During these operations we lost 7 dead and- wounded, a 20% casualty rate for our company, which if extrapolated to US Military strength in Iraq would mean a prohibitive sum.

We exercised great restraint during these operations. One day a car sped toward me as I stood on an Iraqi highway with a nothing but an M4 and a pistol. I began motioning for him to stop when he was 500 meters distance and continued to motion and then point my weapon at him until he finally woke up about 100 meters away and came to a screeching halt no more than a foot from me. He was just a teenager and teenagers are the same all over the world. Under the Rules of Engagement I was authorized to use deadly force on this young man but I did not because my professionalism and life experience told me to restrain myself. Had he done this in the rear of a US Military convoy he would have been shot dead. Once these convoys reached an ASP they were destroyed and these operations had to be protected as well.

There were no US Military units anywhere near us and we were totally responsible for the security of these sites. For a stretch of 4 months in early 2004 we were the only "military presence" on the highways of northern Iraq because at this time US Military units were rotating out of Iraq and new ones rotating in and therefore stayed mostly in their bases until they had familiarized themselves with the area. The ASP on which I was stationed was rocketed many times and assaults took place in which the "insurgents" (which we call murderers, rapists, kidnappers and blackmailers) attempted to obtain the material on these ASPs in order to assemble IEDs.

The story of my small company is too long to go into further details but let me just tell you that I travelled to the borders of Iran, Syria, Turkey and Kuwait and have been in Falluja, Mosul, Baghdad, Ramadi, Tikrit, Sammara, An Najaf and a dozens of other Iraqi locations in the time of my service and have been bombed and ambushed along the way. During that time I never saw anything but complete weapons discipline and a high level of professionalism from any of the former Special Forces, Navy Seals, Marines, Delta Force and other US Army personnel of my company. We are not cowboys and our respect for the customs and traditions of Iraq and its people is absolute.

Mike Barrett
Cheyenne, Wyoming

Dear FRONTLINE,

Thank you (once again) for a program that I could not turn off, another program that i watched from start to finish. Frontline continues to 'cover' stories that the mainstream media should be covering or reporting on, but I am glad they do not, for they would only candycoat and gloss over reality as they always do, Frontline manages to avoid that and I respect that...The connections between Halliburton, KBR, Blackwater Security Service, and Vice President Dick Channey ARE very unsettling, and when you consider that war, or at least this administration's wars have become more of a business it's not a fact that big business is in bed w/ the Pentagon and the Oval Office, they all want a piece of the war's pie, no matter how they get it. I found the KBR's spokesperson's responses to the questions asked about COSTS to be very unsettling as well, how in te world could they not know how much things are costing, costing US taxpayers...and that line that "I'm a taxpayer too" really hit me like a suck punch to the stomach...as if that was honest in any respect......

Craig Biertempfel
Pittsburgh, PA

Dear FRONTLINE,

Your program "Private Warriors" hit the nail on the head. It accurately depicted the twisted relationship between the military and its contractors, where personal and corporate greed have almost become ends in themselves. In this environment, where conditions on the ground are so fluid, accountability is difficult at best, not only for those that are gaining financially from lucrative Pentagon contracts, but also for those security personnel who are essentially beholden to no authority.

My first introduction to KBR was as a U.S. soldier in Bosnia and, later, in Macedonia and Kosovo. My recollection of KBR at the time was one of gratefulness - that we could count on them for semi-permanent housing, for laundry facilities and eventually, for hot meals. Even then, though, I was astounded that a KBR trash truck driver was earning double my salary or that tons of excess food were prepared and simply thrown away if not consumed by the soldiers. It turned out that those limited glimpses into KBR's operations were drops in the bucket.

I spent the late winter and spring of 2004 in Iraq (I was and remain a federal government employee) and was staggered by the gluttonous excess of KBR and other contractors. "Private Warriors" conveyed the absurdity of it all: gas guzzling SUV's, entertainment centers, all-you-can-eat buffets...Flying over Camp Victory, I was sickened by this thought: If a fraction of what the U.S. wastes on its contractors, private security personnel and completely unnecessary luxuries (who needs salsa lessons or a bowling alley in a war zone?) was spent in rebuilding Iraq's infrastructure, we might not only see greater progress in developing the country but we would also gain a glimmer of credibility in the process.Although your report didn't delve into it, there is a striking contrast between the extent of contractors' use in Afghanistan and Iraq. I spent almost all of 2003 in Afghanistan, much of it in a remote area near the Pakistan border. The only contractors I ever saw were those that provided some logistical support in the larger U.S. military bases and those providing personnel security (this excludes contractors engaged in reconstruction).

Unlike Iraq, Afghanistan does not appear to have a self-serving corps of contractors that has taken on a life of its own. Sitting in the "dining hall" that we'd constructed ourselves from wood that we bargained for in the local Afghan market, many of us wondered why KBR and other large "service contractors" were omnipresent in Iraq and nearly hidden in Afghanistan's hinterlands. Someone said "oil." Others said "strategic interest." To me, it boils down to money, and Afghanistan ain't exactly a treasure chest of resources.

There are so many policies astray regarding the conduct of our military and political activities in Iraq it's difficult to know where to begin fixing the problems. Firstly, though, our military and political leadership need to re-evaluate what are our fundamental objectives in Iraq. If it's to make our military personnel fat and happy, then by all means we - the taxpayers - should continue to support the billions of dollars - millions of them only loosely if at all accounted for - going to contractors.

If, however, our objective is to secure Iraq, transform its police and army into self-reliant and capable forces, build competent government institutions and foster an inclusive, diverse and democratic government, then monies spent on contractors must be immediately diverted to supporting these goals.Our handling in Iraq is an embarrassment. Not only because it gives short shrift to the Iraqi people, but also because we, as Americans, should be capable of performing so much better.

Ethan S
rockville, md

Dear FRONTLINE,

Your report, although for the most part was balanced and revealing, the notion that the families of those contractors who died in Fulujia on 3/31/04 must wait for the government and courts to establish liability for their family members' deaths is ludicrous. The insurgents are responsible for their loved ones' murders! Those men signed up to work in a war zone, and although many of us would never do so, they knew what the job entailed and were well paid to do it. To suggest that our goverment, their employers, or the US military was responsible for an attack by the enemy is simply foolish.

Edward McIlwain
Marion, Indiana

Dear FRONTLINE,

The military has been using civilian logistic enhancement companies since world war two. This is not new. Pres. Clinton used them in Bosnia and Kosovo. The company there was K.B.R.the same one that is in Iraq. The reason that there was a "no bid" contract awarded is because K.B.R. was already set up in the region and was capable and ready for the mission at the time the military needed them. There is no reason except politics that this is an issue now. There are numerous half truths and speculation about "over charging" the military. There has been news about the military being jealous of the money contractors make and it is causing friction in country.When the service member has twenty years experience in a job maybe they will make good money. The contractor has no retirement benefits and bound by the same regulations that the service member is under. Contractors have to do what the military tells them to do, I know, I heard it often. I am a veteran contractor who ran combat convoys with the military. To say that the military is protecting K.B.R. property is ludicrous. They are protecting their own supplies! This politically motivated argument is doing nothing to further the accomplishment of the mission in Iraq.

wallace mcnabb
mankato, kansas

Dear FRONTLINE,

I have to tell you that I really enjoyed this program. My boyfriend is employed by Blackwater Security and works on a Personal Protection Team. He's been in the military for' years and is an active reservists for a Military Police Detachment.

He tells me that they go on missions three to four times a week and every mission is different, not knowing where they are going. Sometimes, he can't even tell me until he's back sending an email telling me he had a mission that day and everything went well or they got caught up in a fire fight. It's very nerve racking not knowing the unknown and I pray every day for him to come home safe. I’m sickened and very sad for the families of those contractors killed in Fallujah, my heart goes out. Now I see the big pictures and it doesn’t sit with me well at all.

I don't think of these contractors being cowboys because I really never thought anything different until I watched this show. I never realised how close they work and not work with the military. I hate to think that my boyfriend would be in harms way because some other person on his team isn't experienced or wasn’t physically fit to do the job at task? I don't want to acknowledge that Blackwater would allow those types of people to work for their company. I only pray that things are different now on how they pick their teams.

I just want to say thank you for airing this program, it gave me the real insight as to what goes on in Iraq and some idea on how my boyfriend works and lives.

Lisa

Lisa Tarr
Bradford, Mass

Dear FRONTLINE,

Last year, my last few days of active duty as an Army medical officer were spent processing soldiers and civilian contractors for Iraq.

What I witnessed at the mobilization site better resembled the Klondike Gold rush than a military operation. Thousands of middle-aged men and women in what appeared to be a frenzied effort to get in on the mother-load before the gold mine was tapped out. These folks demanded I medically approve their deployment, no matter what medical condition they were in. Some of them became quite demanding and agressive about the whole thing.

Probably a good 1/3 of the civilian contractors were well into middle age, many could have qualified for an AARP card. Some had shoe boxes full of medications they wanted filled for the deployment, at the tax-payers expense of course.

My thinking at the time was that some medic was eventually going to be ordered to stick his neck out and take some ground fire to medevac a good portion of these people out for a trip that wasn’t to conserve fighting strength, but rather to treat common diseases of aging such as diabetes, fractured hips, strokes and heart attacks.

Any good medic will tell you he'd crawl through fire to get a wounded buddy out, but I don't think it's reasonable to ask the medics to take on the burden of providing geriatric health care in the middle of a war.

I had a good deal of pressure applied to me from both their companies and the military command to “get these people medically approved and get them out of here"

I really caught hell for openly speculating as to whether these civilian contractors would be as enthusiastic to go to war on a Corporal’s pay. I agree there may be a few true believers in the group. I realize many of them have nostalgia for the old days.

It’s sad Uncle Harry, Grampa Joe, or even Grandma Jane doesn’t have anything better to do in their golden years besides this. What's sadder is our nation has stooped to this.

Joe Justice
Kerrville, Texas

Dear FRONTLINE,

I work in Iraq, in the IZ, as a security manager. I am a private contractor. Like all businesses, you have option, you have standards and if you do your research you can select a contractor to suit your values whilst maintaining effective security. I manage six Protective Security Details, 125 Guards and for two years have seen many Private Security Teams Operate.

WE have moved clients, at least 10 moves a week by road all over Iraq, in Baghdad, to the airport and in the country. We have not killed a single Iraqi in the line of duty and have not had a single death with our operators or clients. You can operate professioanally with good intelligence and if you are truelly professional you can move about without drawing attention to yourself and still achieve your mission. We thank the high speed siren weilding teams becasue they attract the insurgents for us and allow us to move about safely. They think they are tough and show off, great! We will live through it - they all won't. We have armored cars, we have ex military, mostly special forces but we do it for real with out tactics from Mad Max.

If you are a true professional you do not attract and look for contact, you do you job, protect the client, respect the locals and leave the place better than you found it. I recommend that next time you come to Iraq, you look us up and you will get to see more of Iraq, not risk your life just because of how we drive and you will be safe and feel safe. We did not just pop up in Iraq and grab some ex-(failed) soldiers and open a company. We wont let you film us, we wont let you take photos becasue we do security seriously but we will take you around safely.

The guys that want to get on film, that want to be seen as tough guys are usually the guys with something to prove because they cant get in the real companies, they cant do the job for real. You know what they say about big guns, small &. Who do you want to travel with next time? Unfortunately you get what you pay for and as contractors increase the cheaper companies that create there own need are becoming prevelant not the Teams who really are professional.

Craig

Dear FRONTLINE,

Thank You for an excellent program. Next time do a report on why there are less and less enrollment to the US ARMY.

I really thought that KBR did only a few jobs in Iraq, but to my suprise they do alot of jobs. There are even alot of other private contractors. I'am sure that they are doing a good job there but didn't America go in for a war? Whats with the lavish lifestyle? I mean... 3 types of ice-cream? What for? No company in the entire world takes private contracts from the government to help out!! Its about the MONEY! DUHH! The taxpayers money.

Whats the point of being a soldier if your going to get a VIP treatment once you get back to base? PLaystations, bigscreen T.V's etc. Being a soldier means enduring hardships, being on the edge 24/7. What happened to 'be all that you can be'? I'am sure that after the war the high level employs of Haliburton are going to retire in the Hawaiian Islands.

Get the contrators out and put the army in.

KILO VESJO
HOUSTON, TEXAS

Dear FRONTLINE,

An excellent program on a subject that I've not seen covered at all by mainstream news organizations.

I am ashamed to admit that I almost always overlook public broadcasting when turning on the television, and came across "Private Warriors" completely by accident last night. The sobriety and transparency of the reporting told me, five minutes in, that I was very likely watching the most honest televised news piece on Iraq that I'd seen in many months. The information (and the manner in which it is presented) that streams out of my TV set normally serves only to further thicken my shell of cynicism; your program inspired me, in large part because I felt it treated me as an adult. As this posting is perhaps too full of praise and does not discuss the subject matter of the program, it may not be fit for display on the page that led me to this submission form. Yet I hope it will find its way there, to show the faithful audience of public broadcasting that the latter has a new convert. If only there were more happy accidents as this one, across the land.

Josh Thompson

Dear FRONTLINE,

Dear Frontline:

Thank you for putting the light on the role of the private military. The citizens of the United States are viewed by the actions of these contractors; yet there is no public accountability.

The connections between Halliburton, KBR, Blackwater Security Service, and Vice President Dick Channey is very unsettling. How much greed, power, and money is enough? How many lives will it take to satisfy the thirst?

Duane Davis
Port Townsend, wa

Dear FRONTLINE,

The situation in Iraq seems to becoming more and more a sensitve subject i.e.(abortion, religion, etc.)

When I was stationed in Iraq (March '03 to Jan '04) KBR and other civilian contact companies were not as prominent as they are now.Slowly with their growth and shared friendship alongside the military forces I find it surprising that it was not anticipated that the military was going to have a problem with its numbers.

An E-4 with 3 to 6 years experience in the military, in almost any field, can end his/ her contract legally and join a civilian contract company. With this company they can make double to triple their annual income (in their field of experience) without doing push-ups, digging latrines or standing guard for 12 hour shifts. Not to mention the numerous tax exemptions from being employed outside the U.S.

Many of today's soldiers are coming to this realization and the military is countering: Stop-loss/movement policies: no soldier may leave the service until numbers in that particular field/area increase (can be world wide wide). Involuntary Extension: your contract is over, you have fullfilled your obligation but, the military decides to change your four years to eight. Increased-Enlistment Bonus: Not hard to realize that "taxpayers" are going to paying this bill.

No direspect to the gov't or our troops home and deployed, we are still the best contry out there...... so far. I must confess though the military was the best years of my life. I gained more knowledge and discipline than anywhere else while serving my country, I would not do anything differant. Come home safe people.

Charles Amos

Dear FRONTLINE,

This is great information. I think it is important for the American public to understand there are two different types of contractors in Iraq. The first group are those like KBR who provide services such as logistics, food, etc. While some may be upset over how many flavors of ice cream soldiers have, the reality is they are doing a hard, dirty, thankless, and most importantly dangerous job. Most Americans know little of the hardships of soldiering—I have been doing it for almost thirty years in good times and bad and I am thankful that we can provide our soldiers with these niceties.

The second category of contractor is those who provide security. They are cowboys—they are reckless, they are arrogant, they are dangerous to themselves and the American forces they encounter and they treat the Iraqi people with distain. During my six months in Iraq I got tired of them pointing guns at our Military Vehicles anytime we got close to them. I am sure they are good people, but they are nothing short of legal mercenaries, the U. S. Government has an obligation to set rules for their use, and if they don’t adhere to those rules get rid of them.

Just my thoughts.

Hank Foresman
Atlanta, Georgia

Dear FRONTLINE,

Thank you for the long awaited insight into the presence of private contractors in Iraq. I myself am not in the armed forces, however, my friends and family members who are insist that the luxuries such as those provided by KBR (ice cream, cakes, movies, etc.) are not the necessary for even the most modestly trained soldier. What is necessary are properly armored vehicles, the adequate supply of which our government and its contractors have failed to meet.

It is absolutely unacceptable for our government to contract a company like Halliburton's KBR so it can increase its profit margin for luxury services while simultaneously short-changing our deserving men and women of the pure necessities they require to return home safely.

A M
Houston, Texas

Dear FRONTLINE,

If the contractors were not there - yours sons would be! There would be a draft......Many of these contractors are highly trained professionals. They ARE putting their lives on the line to help out and they deserve respect for their bravery and the backing of our country...I for one am so very proud of my husband who is serving along side with our military - we are there weather one likes it or not- and these men have signed up to help protect our guys and offer their skills where needed. MY husband is a shot gun instructor - taser instructor- rappelling instructor- St Louis County mobile response team , tactical unit- ASP Baton instructor- response active shooter instructor- worked for ST. Louis City Metropolitan Police Department for many years, and was active member for their hostage resuce team/SWAT trained by our FBI as hostage negotiator- departments chemical/biological response team- trained by the department of defense on response to a weapons of mass destruction event.- worked undercover narcotics - qualified verbal judo instructor - was top graduate in all three fields - Fire Academy, Police Academy and is also a paramedic top in his filed for many surgical criothyrotomy-left working in the states at a department in Des Peres where he loved what he did to help out in this war, because he has the skills necessary and felt an obligation to go something to help -they do all three where he works as a public safety officer -firefighting- police officer and paramedic the guys there are up to speed in all three jobs and do shift work for all three!

I'm very proud of my husband wanting to go overseas for a year and a half contract to help train the police there and also to back some 21 years old kid who recently only signed up for weekend to pay for college! These are not men without background training who are contractors- they are men with outstanding background abilities giving a helping hand where its needed - putting their skills to use in helping out our guys come home faster and helping a country that needs it....many of the men he trains are so thankfullhe is there, but you never hear of the good we are doing - I for one am very proud of the contractors who are putting their life on the line using the skills God has blessed them with to help out where they are needed.....FREEDOM IS NOT FREE - Thank you to all the men and women who have fought for our and others freedom- May the ones who have scarified their lives now be in the arms of God and their souls at peace. -

J.C. Kellerman
Ballwin , MO

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posted june 21, 2006

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