KBR and the Laundry

Though it is widely known that KBR -- formerly Kellogg, Brown & Root -- is running the show in Iraq as far as support operations for the military go, I'd like to give you an idea of just how pervasive the firm's presence is in Iraq.

Veterans tell me that with each new military operation KBR has become more and more involved. What I noticed first was the laundry.

KBR handles laundry at both Al Asad and TQ. We turn our laundry bags in and after a couple of days, our clothes come back, supposedly clean. Here at TQ, the "clean" laundry does tend to have a slight hint of a fresh scent when it is returned. But at Al Asad, we wondered if they didn't just put the clothes in hot water for a while and then let them dry. Whatevery the exact process, things came back smelling so bad that we purchased liquid detergent to pour on our clothes -- for example around the collar.

Not exactly doing things by the book, but it worked to quell the odor. (I should add that although the quality of the laundry service leaves something to be desired, the concept is great. I personally enjoy it so much so that when I return home, I am sure I will look to use a wash and fold service. It just saves time!)

KBR runs the dining facilities both at Al Asad and TQ, but have recently subcontracted out to a firm named Gulf Catering Inc. Again this service is better at TQ and as far as I am concerned I am going to miss having my meals prepared and dishes cleaned once back to my civilian life.

KBR manges the Morale Welfare and Recreation (MWR) centers. MWR is a combination gym, movie theater, Internet cafe and general place to hang out where we play ping pong, chess, checkers, foosball and pool. All of these facilities are manned 24 hours a day so that those of us on night schedules can utilize the amenities.

General base maintenance is also contracted out. When Alpha company was still at Al Asad, the battalion began preparing for the coming heat of the summer by requesting window air conditioning units.

Being a National Guard Unit, we have several soldiers who are skilled electricians or carpenters outside of the Army. When the window units arrived, these soldiers begain installing the window unit by converting them to run on European standard current. After one A/C unit made it in, we were stopped from installing any more since it was technically a contract job that needed to be handled by contractors. As Alpha company left Al Asad, the contract work still had not been completed. I wonder if those A/C units are still sitting in the floor.

My observation of the Army over the past ten years is that it has attempted to outsource everything and remove a number of Military Occupational Specialties (MOS) -- the military way of saying "jobs" -- from the service. I am not privy to the cost implications of all this, but I do know that in general, individual contractors take home more money than service members. And whereas a soldier will work days in a row without sleep if commanded to do so, contractors operate on a fixed work schedule. It goes without saying that soldiers aren't paid overtime.

Even for doing laundry.

-- Written 4/29/2006

By Bert Stover |  May 18, 2006; 7:00 AM ET  | Category:  Al Asad, Iraq , Misc.
Previous: A Search for the Missing | Next: The Number One Threat in Iraq: Ourselves


Please email us to report offensive comments.

In Korea in 1951 we wore the same utilities and skivies for weeks on end no laundry service

Posted by: Old Corps | May 17, 2006 08:54 AM

Hmmm...how did the military censors allow this KBR-Halliburton slam to get by?

Posted by: E. Etage | May 17, 2006 09:18 AM

I've had laundry done by a military unit and it was terrible - your bag of laundry tied up and dumped in hot water and soap and then tumble dried and returned to you - still in the bag. As for KBR, I think they contract these jobs out so that helicopter pilots and the like can spend time flying and not washing their clothes in a tub, as we had to do when we first got to Baghdad. As for the A/C story, I'm sure you may have *expert* electricians in your Guard unit, but maybe not - and then there could be an electrical fire and who authorized this? Etc. If you have any complaints about the slowness of repairs I would recommend you be a Squeaky Wheel and let your feelings be known. Cheers.

Posted by: Mac | May 17, 2006 12:11 PM

Bert, I am sure that as soon as you come home your family will be so happy that you are home, you wont have to worry about laundry or anything else for a while. I myself am actually looking forward to doing my husbands laundry, and cooking for him.Not that I enjoy doing laundry that much ( I have 2 young boys), I just know that when his laundry starts appearing in the hamper, it means he is home with us. That I am looking forward to! Take care and be safe. God Bless!

Posted by: military wife | May 17, 2006 12:13 PM

In Somalia, some KBR folks made six figures following the "suck trucks" that emptied the latrines. The dirty work was handled by local hire Somalis while the KBR person supervised. Although that seemed like a sweet (OK smelly) job, unfortunately the Somalis REALLY hated the contractors because they could never hire enough people from their clans, therefore the contractors got shot at on a regular basis compared to those of us in uniform... I washed my own uniforms with the old fashioned scrubbing board. I wonder if your fragrant laundry is due to poor water quality or smells from the collective funk of loads of truly potent clothes. Keep up the good work and stay safe. Readers, remember that if a soldier isn't complaining, then something is seriously wrong!

Posted by: vet | May 17, 2006 12:37 PM

Halliburton (+ Dick Cheney & co.) = war profiteers

who pays?

the future generations of Americans

Posted by: dave | May 17, 2006 01:17 PM

Bert, I don't know if all the units are still on the floor but my sweetie has one installed in his barracks and they keep it at 70 degrees constantly. He said, right now, outside air temp is 90 degrees at night and WAY over 100 in the day. If the A/C's aren't in, I'm sure someone will put them in soon when the summer heat starts to hit.

Take care and keep up the good work.

Posted by: Cali-Girl | May 17, 2006 05:38 PM

I haven't checked back here in a few weeks. Glad to see that the conspiracy theorists and anti-bushies are still talking with nothing new to say.

Bert, Have you guys made it to the half way point? Keep playing it safe over there.

Posted by: Bill | May 17, 2006 05:44 PM

Thank you Che

Posted by: | May 18, 2006 10:22 AM

If our Government's intelligence (FBI) tells it the crime of 9/11 is afoot, but at the very highest levels of Government, this information is conveniently "ignored", our Government does not have to directly involved in the 9/11 crime to culpable.

Posted by: | May 18, 2006 10:26 AM

Hi Bert,
Glad to hear that, with regards to your laundry, at least they have the right concept. However, it stinks (no pun intended) that they aren't doing things properly. Although it's great that you don't have to do your laundry personally, what good is it if the laundry stinks when you get it back? Funny thing about dirty uniforms, when you put on a clean uniform and you're getting it caked in mud, sweaty, and just plain nasty, you really don't notice it too much until you take it off! Finding out that you guys are having to deal with stinky uniforms after I've spent good money (through my taxes)to make sure you are taken care of really sucks! This needs to be corrected, same with the air conditioners, if we're paying out the nose so that you guys can have the things you need, then KBR needs to come through and do it, no excuses!!!

Posted by: James | May 18, 2006 10:34 AM

Bert, it is nice that a laundry facility exists. Most veterans of the first Iraq rotation washed clothes by hand.

Posted by: Army Commo Chief | May 19, 2006 08:18 AM

Wait till you get a load of the KBR payoff at the U.S. - Mexico border.

Think they aren't getting a windfall off of this new fence?

Posted by: Washington Hotlist | May 19, 2006 09:38 AM

I see there are still some idiots out there who call anyone who puts evidence in front of their faces 'conspiracy theorists'. I'm sorry but it isn't a 'conspiracy' that this 'war' is just a front for shoveling unimaginable amounts of taxpayer money into the pockets of a few well-connected 'contractors' [i.e. war profiteers'].

If you are still too stupid to see it after the weight of years of hard evidence, you are truly beyond hope.

Posted by: Drindl | May 19, 2006 11:42 AM

As a former KBR contractor who spent 18 months in Kuwait and then Iraq starting in March 2003 and having dealt with the Sun, Sand and the civillian & military bureaucracy I can tell you that amazing working is being done by people on both sides of military / civilian fence. YES, there are problems (I too dealt with the laundry issue of white clothes comming back gray and not smelling nice) but before folks like "che" start ranting and raving and trying to politicize the issues that they do, they might consider working for a bit in the area and supporting our troops first. I doubt seriously that they could handle the 16+ hour days 7 days a week in 120+ degree heat that are the norm. (Oh and sometimes that includes being under fire and wearing 45+lbs body armour and a 13 lbs helmet and being UNARMED.) Keep up the good work and stay safe over there.

Posted by: GW | May 19, 2006 11:50 AM

Che, do you have a job? Or do you just spam your crap on every blog on the Post's site every day for a living?

I'm reporting you, for fun.

Posted by: Garbled Toast | May 19, 2006 12:31 PM

Contractors perform work for money. Those who say that they are doing it for patriotism are still being paid for their work, and receive large premiums for risk, long hours, sand, other poor conditions, etc. I also believe that some of their compensation is non-taxable.

Thus, if these contractors aren't doing good work, the contracting officer and his representatives should get the contractor to perform properly. My sympathy for contractors is close to non-existant; soldiers get glory and accolades, contractors get paid for doing a job, end of story.

Posted by: Tom Canick | May 19, 2006 01:33 PM

I have to say, the laundry may not have up to par but when my Sgt son accidentally left his wallet in the clothes, the Filipino that washed them turned it in with nothing missing- I will be forever grateful to him that my soldier didn't have to worry about his ID SSN bankcard etc when he had more serious stuff to worry about.

Posted by: em | May 19, 2006 02:13 PM

The trouble with having the military do these kinds of jobs is that it does not produce big fat contracts for well-connected firms like KBR. How would you expect the GOP to reward major contributors if they can't pass them huge no-bid chunks of our tax dollars?

Next thing you know some soldier getting paid $24,000 a year to protect a $100,000 a year truck driver will expect the driver to know how to shoot a gun!

Seriously though, this outsourcing is unfair to the soldiers and wastes our tax dollars while filling the war zone with civillians to be protected instead of military drivers etc. who are trained to shoot back.

Posted by: Ted | May 19, 2006 02:31 PM

For those of you who haven't been deployed, the best way to understand KBR is to read Heller's "Catch 22" and replace all mentions of M & M Enterprises with KBR.

Posted by: nitpicker | May 19, 2006 03:38 PM

The military has their own MOS for laundry, water treatment and what not -- as they have to be independent and perform anywhere BEFORE civilian contractors can arrive.

Why aren't they doing it? The government pays to train such troops, but we have to also pay private contractors (who usually do it sub-par, as US standards are higher)?

You're right, if the laundry doesn't come back Tide fresh, it's not clean!

All of this sub-contracting is simply a waste of tax dollars, and makes our military dependent on private contractors to do all the floating-city jobs. Image WWII's support/constructions services operated by Haliburton, et.al., instead of the Seabees. Or country would be broke, the boys living in latrines, and we'll be under the boot of Hitler and Tojo. :(

Thanks for the headsup. It's just another topic to fix, and one of the little ones so easily amended, yet mean so much (no one wants to wear filthy clothes for years, and it doesn't take brain surgery to understand that!).

Keep us informed of these little things, we'll get the ball rolling from back home.


Posted by: SandyK | May 19, 2006 06:27 PM

Contracting military services to private for-profit business strikes me as obscene and I hope it will become subject of post war profiteering scandals. The relationship between customer (soldier) and server is turned on its head, as in civilian life generally. We who need service are insulted daily by those who claim to serve us while screwing us a thousand ways. For-profit health services are getting rich while one of seven of us are without regular care and many more are priced out of the so-called market. I despair.

Posted by: Paul R. Cooper | May 19, 2006 10:03 PM

Bert, I know I'm coming on this one late, but I couldn't pull it up a couple of days ago.

As a contractor and retired O-2E, I have to take issue with your anti-contractor slam (not least because it reflects an attitude common throughout the deployed troops). You are only seeing part of the issue.

To start with, you are probably correct about how much contractors get to put in our wallets compared to soldiers doing the same job. On the other hand, contractors don't have anywhere near the "paid-for" benefits which active-duty soldiers get (think: who pays my hospital bill if I get medevacced?). On the gripping hand, contractors have no job security -- if I get into an argument with an officer or NCO about whether they're doing their job competently (or even can recognize common sense 2 times out of 3), guess which one of us is more likely to be on a plane home by nightfall, without a job? (This is not a rhetorical issue, as some of us hot-headed types have been reprimanded by our stateside food chain when we get upset and protest incompetent or illegal behavior by DACs or uniformed military.)

As to working a fixed schedule and getting paid overtime, remember that most contractors are only authorized to work a fixed number of hours and overtime has to be blessed in advance by a contracting officer (usually located 8 or 9 time zones away). This does not mean that those are the only hours we work, because most of the contractors I work with are former military (many retired like myself). For example, my people and I are only authorized to work 12 hours per day, 7 days a week, so I am legally obliged to send them to their quarters after a 12-hour day. We will not discuss how few hours during the night you would find the lights out in our office or how often I got to chat with the MPs on my way to bed as they set up their early morning checkpoints. Nor will we discuss all the work I did which could be considered sort of, um, outside the scope of the contract which created my position.

But please do think about how I should react when somebody who first donned a uniform long after I went through BNCOC makes disparaging comments about a project into which I have invested dozens of my own hours (at least, but I haven't really kept count) as "just some contractor trying to justify a six-figure salary" rather than as a tool which helps the commanders see what is happening with the toys they're pushing into the theater.

Posted by: wlc over at Victory | May 22, 2006 10:26 AM

Gone are the days of soldiers taking care of soldiers. Thanks to all the cutbacks we are now dependent on civilian contractors. :(

Posted by: Marty | May 22, 2006 12:48 PM

Wow--all I can really say is WOW...you people just love making up your own figures. I know for a fact what almost every position with KBR pays in Iraq and there's not a single truck driver making six figures.

The highest they can hope for is $78,000, which isn't too darn far from what a full time trucker makes in the US.

And by the way...this one is from the heart..if you dont like the ideas of your 19-25 yearold soldiers guarding our trucks, then by all means, petition LOGCAP to allow us to be armed. Instead of getting us kidnapped when a convoy gets ambushed and the military escorts run away leaving american contractors--as happened and they are still missing.

Posted by: | May 22, 2006 01:54 PM

Do you, the taxpayer, want to pay for a much larger military with large numbers of soldiers trained to wash clothes? Do you, as an individual, want to volunteer to work in a laundromat in Iraq or Afghanistan for the same wage you'd make in the States?

Posted by: | May 23, 2006 10:08 AM

TJIS, Thank Jesus It's Sunday
11JUN2K6 13:04:30 eastern daylight time
Toledo, Ohio The Little Apple.

Read the entire article above: Reporting for Duty, and that is what I am going now,

Reporting for Duty:
James Lamar Baldwin PFC E3 US52544199
Prior Service: 1963 - 1969 2years active
duty, 2 years active reserve, 2 years inactive reserve Honorable Discharge.
Fort Knox, KY. Basic
USASESCS Fort Gordon, Georgia
Signal Long Lines, Taegu and Pohang, South
Korea 1964-1965.

Dear Birt:

I don't remember exactly what time I
started reading the report above, but it
was early in th A.M. You got my full
attention right from the beginning, to the
end. I think I finished somewhere around
10:00 AM, with several breaks to rest my
eyes and think (smoke), and do a little
back yard Astronomy (Full Moon)(Big Dipper)

I thoroughly enjoyed reading it, I was
very informative.

One comment I would like to make. It
would probably have been cheaper to establish
a full service laundromat where you could
do your own or have them do it for you.

I could keep going on and on and on
with this report, Reporting In.

I have traveled on the Amtrak:
Lakeshore Limited to Chicago, Albany, Boston.
Capitol Limited Cleveland, Pittsburgh,
and Washington D.C. I didn"t stay in
Washington long enough. I was there checking out the great Station, and
exploring the sights out in front of the
Station/Depot. I was just there for the
time period between the arrival of Amtrak
Capitol Limited No. 30 from Chicago/Toledo
and depart back to Toledo, Ohio on Amtrak
Capitol Limited No. 29. The Passenger Train is the greatest way to travel.
You meet and talk to some of the finest
People on Amtrak Passenger Trains. It
is better and more relaxing and enjoyable.
I call it ground level flying. Also
Dinner in the Diner, Nothing could be finer. Try it you"l love it.

More Later

Sincerely Yours James Lamar Baldwin
14:03:30edt SUN11JUN2K6

Posted by: James Lamar Baldwin | June 11, 2006 02:06 PM

Your report has the makings of a good
Movie. The names would have to be changed
to protect the GUILTY AS CHARGED.

Posted by: James Lamar Baldwin (White-Indian) | June 11, 2006 02:42 PM

I am a Republican, and I hate to do laundry. I have always said that if the Democrats would promise a government run laundry benefit that I will vote for them. But if KBR can't get it right, then any other contractors effort to provide this service is doomed to failure as well. I think I need to re-evaluate the price of my vote.

Posted by: Bill | June 15, 2006 11:40 AM

I have nothing but adverse comments for KBR.
My son was stationed at a FOB in Baghdad, Sept 04- Jun 05.
KBR had the service contract for laundry, & cleaning the bathrooms & shower areas. When the unit went on patrol, they wanted to return to clean facilities & showers - always filthy, I complained to KBR corporate, got some temporary help but it was soon back to the "Same ole S#!**"

Posted by: Chuck | July 7, 2006 10:48 AM

i'm currently in iraq working with kbr and i can say after reading this article it is apparent that not everyone can be satisfied. there is always someone who got something that they seemed not "up to standards" just because you've gotten your laundry back not up to specks doesn't give you the right to say that all kbr employees and all the departments operate the same way and in the same manner. yes of course civilian contractors came to iraq on a volunteer basis and yes because of the money. at my camp here the soldiers get weekends off! they work a regular day, oh i served in the military myself so i know about the hours they put in. soldiers get off at 4:30pm when kbr employees start at 0630 and get off at 1900 plus overtime that has to be worked so you're looking at a 14 hour day at least! kbr is understaffed at camps and when something doesn't get done in 15 minutes within a soldiers waiting time, it's just to long for them. there are thousands of soldiers on the camp, and we cannot service all of the equipment with 15 people on staff. get your facts straight before pointing the finger at all contract companies. take care while you're here in country.

Posted by: david | July 8, 2006 07:34 AM

I returned jan 06 from Iraq where I was an equipment operator for KBR. There seems to be one common thread between KBR and the military. In my time in country I met some of the finest people and some of the biggest scumbags both civilian and military. First, an MHE or material handling equipment operator, as I was designated makes around $86,000.00 based on 12 hrs. a day, 7 days a week,365 days a year. You can R&R every 4 months. I didn't. Second, these "6 figure truck drivers" were working 12+ hours in base and 20-30+ hours on convoy to make 100 to 125 grand. Not much money when you break it down by the hour. As far as taxes go, ANY overseas job is tax free if you stay outside the US more than 330 days in one year. I was at Anaconda/Balad at first. Called Mortaritaville for good reason. The longest period without incomming fire a was 6 days once in 6 months. The living conditions were pretty plush as far as Iraq goes. Good chow, laundry, PX, and gym/MWR. Just all the damn mortars.I worked Pax, army CRSP, and unit rotation gigs. There the average soldier,airman,marine had a civil view of KBR contractors even though I met many lazy lowlife types with KBR. All in all, conditions were damn good. Next I transfered to Al taqqadum (TQ) where I worked for the Marines on the MDC line. The conditions were pretty rough for contractors. The chow did improve greatly just prior to my arrival. We lived in tents the army threw away, we bathed in frigid water in winter, and the main PX was on mainside where contractors could rarely access. Still life was good with one notable exception. The KBR management was horrible. I have never seen so many petty, self important, dishonest people anywhere. How they were ever advanced to management positions makes the mind reel. My coworkers were largely made up of former military and or journeyman operators looking to lend a hand and do their part for the war effort and far more skilled and experienced than any 19 yr. old with a few monthes training. The military elements that we worked for were doubtful of us untill we assured them that we were there for them. After that was established, everyone worked together as a team. All except for KBR management. Their policy was to arbitrarily set up obsticles to productivity and sow discontent among workers. I have never seen such corrupt meanspirtedness like KBR management. The military had their power trippers and clowns playing numbers games, rather than getting the material to the end user in a timely fashion, but most problems were manufactured by KBR management. For example, it was decided that AlTaqqadum(TQ) would be the main B-sites distribution point instead of Al Asad due to a large lake to supply water for the base and to be bottled and distributed throughout Iraq. KBR managers at Al Asad, seeing their positions and chance of advancement diminishing, Started a campaign of theivery and deception against TQ base. Supplies sent to TQ never arrived and convoy personell saw it removed from their vehicles at Al Asad. Even a water plant earmarked for TQ was offloaded at Al Asad, hastily set up and cemented in. My employment came to a close after an incident where a marine on her second day at the MDC line stepped from under a cover,head back with a bottle of water to her lips into the path of my machine. My ground guide pulled her back and luckily she got off with an elbow bruised by my passing outrigger. The MHE supervisor had me at fault before an investigation was even started. The investigation findings said inattentive ground personell in operating area. I recieved no loss of operating license or reassignment and finished the day. A month later I was called to the supervisor's office after shift and was read a semi-literate letter stating my willfull violation of policy and my contract was terminated. I had returned to the bunker I was living in and started packing when KBR security showed up on a disturbance report. I was hustled to the airfield, onto a C-130 and off base before I could call dipute resolution or anyone. As I was signed out going through Al Asad on my way to BTC (Baghdad/victory) I walked past rows of hootches, tagged for TQ, being set up. Most contractors are heart and soul, just like the soldiers ,sailors, airmen and marines they support. The fault is in the management sector where every office pogue has a huge SUV sucking down JP-8 that must be convoyed in under fire by KBR truck drivers. Even with all this,the profit margins aren't enough. KBR has begun using TCN drivers on their more secure routes. How much of this money is finding it's way into hostile hands is anyone's guess. At least keep the wealth in the US economy.

Posted by: Ard aka Fester | September 12, 2006 03:48 PM

The comments to this entry are closed.


© 2007 The Washington Post Company