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Billy McKenna and Kevin Wilkins survived Iraq—and died at home. The Oxford American sent filmmaker Dave Anderson and journalist J. Malcolm Garcia to Florida to investigate this deadly threat to American soldiers.
“Smoke Signals,” by J. Malcolm Garcia
Published in the Fall 2011 Issue of The Oxford American.
Strange to think about it, the black smoke.
As it turns out, the eventual killer of Billy McKenna was lurking in the photographs he snapped in Iraq. Billy wrote captions beneath some of his photographs: typical day on patrol reads one. The photo is partially obscured by the blurred image of a soldier’s upraised hand. Brown desert unfurls away from a vehicle toward an empty horizon, and a wavering sky scorched white hovers above. Off to one side: Balad Air Base and the spreading umbrella of rising dank smoke from a burn pit.
Billy told his wife, Dina, in e-mails from Iraq that the stench was killing him. The air so dirty it rained mud. He didn’t call them burn pits. She can’t recall what he called them. He didn’t mean killing him literally. Just that the overwhelming odor was god-awful and tearing up his sinuses. He didn’t wear a mask. It would not have been practical. In heat that soared above a hundred degrees, what soldier would wear one?
Dina doesn’t know when she first heard the words “burn pit.” A Veterans Affairs doctor may have said it. The doctors were telling her a lot of things when Billy was on a ventilator. All she could think was, How can he have cancer? He’s indestructible. He’s been to hell and back. He can build houses, race cars, fish, camp. He was an Eagle Scout as a kid. He doesn’t smoke cigarettes.
But Billy had been exposed to something much more harmful than cigarettes. Since 2003, defense contractors have used burn pits at a majority of U.S. military bases in Iraq and Afghanistan as a method of destroying military waste. The pits incinerate discarded human body parts, plastics, hazardous medical material, lithium batteries, tires, hydraulic fluids, and vehicles. Jet fuel keeps pits burning twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week. Read the remainder of this entry »
UPDATED – Click HERE to read the DoJ’s Amended Answer And Counterclaims
In the e-mail, Mr. Petsche stated that he had previously referred to the Anaconda DFAC as, “the mother of all DFAC drug deals” because of all of the irregularities surrounding it. In Mr. Petsche’s words, the Anaconda DFAC was “predestined and out of control from the start.” – Excerpt from paragraph 124
KBR Managers Allegedly Received Kickbacks from Dining Facility Subcontractor
WASHINGTON – March 16, 2011 – In response to a pending lawsuit from Kellogg Brown & Root Services Inc. (KBR) in the U.S. Court of Federal Claims, the Department of Justice has filed counterclaims alleging that KBR managers had received kickbacks from a dining facility subcontractor in violation of the False Claims Act and the Anti-Kickback Act. The subcontractor was retained in connection with KBR’s contract with the U.S. Army to provide logistical support to the military in Iraq and elsewhere. The counterclaims also allege that the kickbacks should cause KBR to forfeit its claims against the United States and to return money paid by the United States as reimbursement to KBR upon the tainted subcontract.
The counterclaims assert that, from late 2002 through 2003, Terry Hall, who was KBR’s regional food services manager for Iraq and Kuwait, and his deputy, Luther Holmes, received more than $45,000 in kickbacks from Mohammad Shabbir Khan, vice president of Tamimi Global Company. Khan provided the kickbacks to ensure that Tamimi was treated favorably by KBR. Hall and Holmes used their positions to advocate on behalf of Tamimi, and, during the time that they received the kickbacks, KBR awarded Tamimi subcontracts worth more than $400 million. Other KBR managers knew of apparent irregularities involving the Tamimi subcontracts, but approved them anyway.
If transparency—including public access to past performance information—were added to the process, maybe the government would be deterred from awarding taxpayer dollars to risky contractors and the contractors would improve their performance. But then again, maybe these contractors are too big too fail. – Scott Amey, General Counsel Project On Government Oversight (POGO)
In brig, WikiLeaks suspect Bradley Manning ordered to sleep without clothing
Ellen Nakashima – (Washington Post) – March 6, 2011 – Military jailers are forcing Bradley Manning, the 23-year-old soldier accused of passing classified documents to WikiLeaks.org, to strip naked in his cell at night and sleep without clothing, a requirement his attorney says was imposed after Manning made a “sarcastic quip” about his confinement.
For most of the past eight months, Manning has been required to sleep wearing only boxer shorts, because of his status as a detainee under “prevention of injury watch,” said 1st Lt. Brian Villiard, a spokesman for the military detention facility, or “brig,” in Quantico. Beginning Wednesday night, the facility commander ordered that Manning turn over his boxers, too.
“The intention is not to cause any sort of humiliation or embarrassment,” Villiard said. “The intention is to ensure the safety and security of the detainee and make sure he is able to stand trial.”
Villiard said he could not explain how Manning might harm himself if he were allowed to keep his underwear, citing rules to protect detainees’ privacy. All he could say was that “circumstances warranted” the measure, which was ordered by the brig commander, Chief Warrant Officer 2 Denise Barnes. The requirement will remain in effect until a review next week, he said.
Lawmakers criticize military funeral protesters
Ben Terris – (National Journal) – March 4, 2011 – Members of the Westboro Baptist Church, who won a Supreme Court ruling this week supporting their right to protest military funerals, are misusing their right to free speech, say Senate Armed Services Committee members Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.V., and Sen. Mark Begich, Alaska.
Christine Dobbyns – HOUSTON (KTRK) — For the first time on Monday night, we heard the story of a local woman who claims she was brutally attacked and raped while working for an American government contract company in Iraq. Now, we’re continuing the story with reaction from the company — KBR — and how other women say it happened to them too.
The story of 27-year-old Anna Mayo is graphic.
“He was grabbing my hair and grabbing my hair, and my face and at one point he had my face and he was ripping it, he had gloves on and I was biting him so hard, I could taste, I could taste the gloves, I could taste the blood, I could taste the smell,” she said.
Mayo was working at KBR’s Ballad (Joint Base Balad) Facility in Iraq last November when a man claiming to be a maintenance worker attacked as she lay sleeping in her bed.
“I remember poking him in the eyeballs because he was on top of me, and I took my nail and digged it into his eye, and it’s like he was mocking me,” she said.
He put a rope around her neck and she passed out. When she came to, she was being raped.
“It was almost like a relief because it didn’t hurt as bad as when he was ripping my face off,” Mayo said.
Her injuries left her in intensive care.
“A girl that I worked with at the warehouse came in, looked at me, sat down and fainted — that’s how much of a monster I was,” Mayo said.
Mayo has filed a lawsuit against the government contractor and subsidiaries, saying, “It is not the first time that KBR has had problems with sexual violence in its workspaces, nor the first time that it has been put on notice of these rampant violent behaviors.”
This is the full interview with Anna Mayo (approximately 20 minutes)
Christine Dobbyn – HOUSTON (KTRK) — A Houston woman is telling her story of survival for the first time on camera. She is a former KBR contractor who began working in Iraq in November of 2008.
Anna Mayo says what happened to her one morning in her sleeping quarters changed her life forever. While we don’t normally identify rape victims, the young woman says she wants her story heard.
In the fall of 2008, Anna Mayo left Austin to work as a KBR contractor in Iraq. Within a month, she was promoted to an operations specialist with project management.
“I loved it,” Mayo said. “I moved up really fast; I got a lot of responsibility.”
And then Mayo was moved to the night shift, so that meant sleeping during the day.
“I had a sign on my room that said daysleeper, please come back after 14:00,” she said.
On a November morning in 2009, there was a knock on her sleeping container door. She opened it to find a man she says was not an American.
“He told me that he needed to come in and check something in my bathroom,” Mayo said. Read the remainder of this entry »