Thursday, November 3, 2011

Civilians Killed in Kabul Suicide Bomb Attack

I have waited to post about mass casualty events to allow the situation to resolve and also out of respect for those that gave their lives, civilian or military.

So, here is the story as reported on many news agencies.  What does this mean to all of us civilian contractors?  I'm going to try and breakdown as much as I can without sacrificing OPSEC. I, and many of my expat brethern have ridden this exact route many times.  I can tell you, it is nerve-racking and quite the experience.  All that said here is what I know:

Civilian contractors dominate these routes that run in/out of the major US and NATO bases in Kabul.  The contractors are predominately Americans.  The Rhino is in fact a nice target, and this is not the first time they have been targeted both in Afghanistan and in Iraq.

Kudos to the USG for commissioning such a vehicle.  Having ridden in one more hours than I care to admit it to my spouse, it makes you feel very safe.   The bomber in Kabul had over 1500lbs of explosives.  The route they were on is a known deadly route and I know from experience the military did all they could to secure it.  Kabul traffic is your worst nightmare and the military is under very strict guidelines on the rules of the road in yielding to civilian traffic and not causing 'incidents'.... Our soldiers are handcuffed in their efforts to protect those that serve them.

A typical convoy has a specific class of protection that is formidable.  I will not go into specifics about those details, but to tell you that there is significant intelligence, firepower and communications capability in all of these convoys with a very high level of oversight.  These are a no joke mission with specific objectives.  I do not believe in any way that the soldiers protecting this sort of convoy became complacent.  I can tell you that their rules of engagement could have likely hindered their effort to protect.

Please do not think that I would ever minimize sacrifices that anyone makes (civilian or military). I do believe it is time for America to wake up to the reality that for us to continuously be able to project our presence worldwide it requires a force of people that are not 'uniformed'.... They are however: just as committed to the cause of American efforts, just as committed to doing the right thing, just as committed to all of the ideals of American freedom and in fact the largest majority of them are former servicemen/women.  The increase in pay for these folks will not keep them in these situations, trust me I have seen it time and again, search my blog for examples.

So, in respect and salute of our civilian and military brethren that gave the ultimate sacrifice on October 29, 2011, we will never forget you, we honor your sacrifice and pray for those you have left behind.

Friday, October 21, 2011

Qadaffi Dead - Mean anything to us?

Well, it's an interesting thought.  Does Qadaffi being killed mean anything to us.. the expaters?

Well, I'll say this much about it without delving too far into the political realm.  I can say with 100% confidence and experience that had a unit of US soldiers captured Qadaffi alive... he would not have been killed.  That means something.

What does it mean?  Our men are moral, value human life and respect the rule of law.

The rest of the world does not.  They (the world) do not respect the rule of law, respect human life or value life.

However, I respect the fact that this country, like Iraq, Afghanistan and other countries is/was under extreme repression from this regime, therefore their morals and respect for the rule of law was skewed.

Hmm.. So does that mean that the rest of the world is innately immoral or incapable of appreciating these values?  Absolutely not.

Lincoln said '
They are just what we would be in their situation.'.  

This has been proved time again in psychological testing and experiments since WWII.  People will do extreme things to survive, it's conditioning in the extreme and much like Maslov's Bell they can be conditioned to do ... things.

In the end of this episode, I say that Qadaffi 'reaped what he had sown'.  It's a good thing for the world for him to be gone,  it does not portend good things to come in that there are a significant generation of people in these places that do not value human life, do not have a solid moral foundation (regardless of religion) and have had very poor examples of moral leadership.

Friday, September 16, 2011

Taliban Attack Embassy Compound

I waited to write this until after the event was over.  This should be another reminder for all of us expaters, that it ain't safe over there!  If you look at the news reports  and the photos that are published, this attack was very close to home for many of us that have worked with the embassy and other agencies related to work with the Department of State.

I was speaking with a colleague who was there during the attack, and you could here the explosions thru the phone.  The attack was very real and they were definitely out to kill Americans.  They don't care whether the American has a uniform or not.

I would like to remind all of us to be vigilant over there.  Also, as I have mentioned in previous posts, please ensure you have a family preparedness plan in place PRIOR to deploying.  Make sure you have an updated will and a solid life insurance that does NOT have warzone exclusions in it.  Many of these are available from organizations like Navy Mutual Aid and other military support organizations.  DBA does pay some portion of life benefit, but it certainly wouldn't be enough to support your family for long should something happen to you.

Make sure you evaluate the risks for yourself.  The highest demobilization times occur after attacks.  Sometimes it's folks that have been there for years and the attack is just the icing on the cake, realizing their number could be up/ luck running out.  The other group of folks are those that took the job for the money, and now realize money isn't everything!!  It certainly is not, and if money is your primary motivator for being there, you will likely not make it past an event like this.

So, thankfully, there were no reports of US/expat casualties in this event.  From reports I received it was well responded to and contained.  Be safe, be vigilant and enjoy reading my other posts about preparations for deployment and other expat rants.

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

US Engineer/Contractor Killed in Kabul

This should be a reminder to all of us expat/engineers/contractors that work in Afghanistan and other places.  See the story here .  Folks, this is a warzone.  It is dangerous.  Yes I know the mountains outside Kabul and Bagram are beautiful.  I know that back where you come from you like to hike and meet the local folks.  You just cannot do that in Afghanistan.  I do not, have not and will not trust the local population in that country.  It's just the way it is. 

As much as they are kind, helpful and show all kinds of courtesy and gratitude for things that you may do for or with them, the bottom line is when push comes to shove they will sell you out.  It's cold, hard reality folks.  If someone kidnapped your family, your young daughter/wife/sister and told them that if you did not bring that American to them they would kill or torture/rape your wife/daughter/sister then you would do it.  That is the situation on the ground there.  Sorry to break the news, but the culture there is just not for us Americans.  Go there, earn money, come home.  Stay safe, follow the rules, do not tread off the beaten path. 

Another story that broke today in the same link above, that 2 Germans were killed while hiking North of Kabul.  Hiking?  Are you kidding me. Seriously guys, this is a warzone!  You can get kidnapped, tortured and killed.  I don't know why anyone would take it any other way.  I am sorry for their families loss of course.

Guys, please treat this seriously.  Go there, make money and come home. 

Monday, August 29, 2011

Contingency Contracting Posts $30billion Waste According to CWC

The Commission on Wartime Contracting (CWC) has issued their interim report on wartime contracting in IRaq and Afghanistan.  I would recommend reading it if contracting in warzones is either something that you do now, something that you have considered doing or are a taxpayer of this country.  No matter what your level in the workforce would be, it is a good read and will give you valuable insight.

A few myths that are dispelled in this text are:

  1.  KBR was awarded LOGCAP III with no bidding.  You hear this constantly from the media that the evil KBR won the LOGCAP contract without bidding.  Simply not true.  They won the IDIQ contract in fair open competition.  However, the way the IDIQ was written there was no mechanism to include other bidders in future IDIQ task orders.  The original contract was only meant to last 18 months, not going on 10 years!  No one thought we were going to be in Iraq and Afghanistan this long.

  2.  KBR is doing a bad job in Iraq.  Again, you hear this in the media.  It is simply not supported by the facts on the ground.  KBR has consistently out performed their competitors on other contracts, consistently getting top reviews and rankings from Award Fee Board (AFEB) members throughout the life of the contract.  Reading thru the report you will find numerous areas where KBR has delivered on the ground.  Supplying the troops with what they need, good meal facilities, adequate facilities for eating, sleeping and recreation and meeting surge needs whenever asked.  I invite you to become more educated on this by reading the report in full, not just the headlines.

The purpose of this post was not to pontificate about the greatness of KBR.  It's really to point out a few simple facts:

     1.  The contractor civilian workforce that volunteers to go and work in these places is just that, volunteer.
     2.  The contractor civilian workforce will stay.  The contractor (KBR, FLuor, Dynacorp, etc) constantly change due to politics, rebidding, contract expiration, etc.  In the end, the contractors will end up with the SAME workforce. 

If you've been around this business long enough you will find that every place that you go in the warzones you will find there to be familiar faces and names.  That's because the cadre of folks, especially in specialized fields (engineering, construction and logistics) tend to be recycled. 

From the report:  The corps of engineers is executing a project to construct 900 Afghan National Army (ANA/ANSF) security compounds for a total cost of $11billion.  The SIGAR report and the CWC report point to the fact that due to 'inadequate planning for construction' the entire $11billion is at risk!  The corps of engineers is the largest construction agency in the world, how could that be?  Could it really be as simple as people?  The people on the ground for the corps of engineers and other agencies generally follow the same rotation as military personnel, 1 year maximum tours. 

Could be that this is especially problematic in this environment as the rate of change is dramatics and shifting out key leadership positions with this amount of frequency has greatly enhanced the mismanagement problem.  By the time the leader gets his arms around things it's time for him to go.  The CWC recommends that the government needs to extend these tours, provide a dedicated contingency contracting managmenet force and centralize it's execution. I agree with this approach.

There is a table included in the report that shows the number of government agencies supporting contingency construction activities.  The table shows over 17 government agencies that support contingency operations in the warzone.  How could the government possibly expect to do this work effeciently when supporting only one year tours for the leadership in country for these positions?  Not realistic or possible in any environment especially in a complex / contingency environment that has political, social, interpersonal, tribal and hostile factors added to the equation.

What does happen and I've experienced this myself is the contractors themselves become the resident experts and end up being the driving force behind much of what goes on.  Think of it this way, when a new director of an agency in country arrives in the warzone with saucer sized eyes, the first person he meets likely is his civilian contractor.  The civilian contractor profile shows that he has been on the ground for 2 or more years and knows the in's and out's of how to get things done.  Should it be this way? Even though I was one of those contractors for 2 years, I would say no. The government agency leaders need to be the ones with the institutional knowledge, not the contractors.  This can only happen by being there.  Period.  Conference calls, white papers, video conferences, etc, etc all help, but in the end the government needs to commit to putting these leaders on the ground for a minimum of 2 years.  It sucks for them, but they are well compensated for it and would earn better retirements and rank in the long run.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

The Difference Makers

I've worked in the engineering, operations and construction industry for almost 20 years now.  Most of my career has been spent in the consulting business working for large municipal and federal agencies advising on highly technical and sensitive issues. 

Here is one key piece of information that I have learned in my travels overseas.  You can take the smartest, brightest engineer (substitute any profession here) into a complex technical situation and he will likely fail.  You can take a reasonably educated, non-technical engineer and dump him into the same complex scenario and guess what?  He will not fail.  Hmm, how can that be?  Shouldn't the smartest guys always succeed?  I mean doesn't it make sense to send the guy that has the most subject matter expertise to solve a problem?  Hmm, again, history and experience show that is not the case. 

Well then, what is the difference between the smart/technical guy who knows his subject backwards and forwards and the reasonably educated.. difference maker?  Often times, the smart, technical guy may not have the correct communication skillset, or he may talk to much and listen too little.  Yes, I think it comes down to listening skills.. by that I really mean the ability sit quietly, analyze a situation, sort out the facts from heresy, misinformation, urban legend and determine what the true hard facts are.

When the difference makers gets to that point, when he knows he has the facts sorted out guess what he does?  He gets out his cell phone or email machine and finds the smart technical guy and frames the information, puts it into context FOR him and lets the smart technical guy then solve the problem.  Yep, that's it. 

Often times I've seen the smart/technical guys get out there and make too many far reaching assumptions.. the older they are, the worse it is.  You'll have a 30 year technical guy show up to solve a problem for you and often times you'll have to drag him out to 'see' the problem because from afar he had decided that he had it solved because of his immense intellect... well 9/10 he was wrong and when he gets to the problem area and is shown the facts in the appropriate context, miracles happen.

So, remember this, find the difference makers, let them make a difference and as a manager your job will be easy... put the smart/technical guys without the ability to listen and observe and watch mayhem and chaos ensue.

Monday, August 15, 2011

The Latest (Updated)

I'm still asked on a regular basis asking me 'how do I get a job in Iraq or Afghanistan?'. Scrolling down you'll see a lot of information that I compiled based on my experience with the big contracting companies (KBR, Fluor and Dynacorp) over the past 3 years or so. The big contract that has the most positions open is Logcap IV. Logcap IV was split up amongst the three big guys with Fluor and Dynacorp receiving the largest pieces.

Fluor operates in Northern Afghanistan, Dynacorp in the south.  KBR has the transportation and postal missions in Iraq under Logcap IV.  They also have some work in Bahrain, but it doesn't pay very well.

Logcap III is still operating in both Iraq, yes still operating in 2011 even though troops are supposed to leave, the mission is ongoing. However, word on the street is the program will be closing up shop in the near future.  I wouldn't apply to Logcap III as you may get there and be sent home.  It's happened before in that program so don't think it cannot happen to you, they could fly you to Houston, do all your shots and get you all geared up to go.  You could land in Dubai and then be turned around.

Afghanistan / Logcap IV is probably your best bet right now.  I wouldn't anticipate that changing for the next year or so.  There is a lot of construction going on there and the war is still pretty hot and heavy, so you'll see job postings on all the major contractor's websites (Fluor, Dynacorp, IAP Worldwide, etc.).  I would recommend reapplying fairly frequently and if possible get your resumed tailored to the specific jobs you applying for, this will increase the chances you get picked up.