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Tending to Employees in a War Zone

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By Ellen McCarthy
Thursday, June 10, 2004; Page E01

The checklist that Science Applications International Corp. gives employees about to be deployed to Iraq includes such practical suggestions as how much underwear to bring (enough for two weeks) and what type of insect repellents work best (those containing the chemical DEET). The company recommends that employees complete personal wills and assign powers of attorney before shipping off.

Preparing bids for contract work in Iraq can be lengthy and arduous; landing on the ground and getting the job done is taxing and dangerous. Dozens of contractors have died in attacks and accidents; others have been kidnapped and held hostage. But beneath those obvious challenges is a thick layer of logistical and human resources tasks -- such as preparing the checklist SAIC hands out -- that companies sending workers into a war zone must take on.

"It's a tremendous amount of work," said Anita Jones, corporate manager of international human resources for SAIC, which is based in San Diego and has its headquarters for federal business in McLean. The company has about 50 employees in Iraq. "We've been working on our program since before the conflict in Iraq, and we are constantly updating. . . . The issues in Iraq are changing daily."

Much of the work is sorting through details to make sure that employees can do their jobs as well as possible after they arrive in Iraq, Jones said. That means figuring out beforehand how workers are going to travel to the region and get into the country and where they are going to live. It also means making sure that employees have access to money, the right type of footwear and enough medication to last the length of their deployment.

Companies are often well-equipped to do the complicated work for which they've been hired, but some contractors are surprised by the amount of preparation it takes to do that work in wartime conditions, said Neil C. Livingstone, chief executive of Global Options Inc., a Washington consulting firm that has run seminars for companies getting ready to go into Iraq.

Beyond getting individual employees ready for departure, companies have to grapple with providing security for all of their workers and making sure each is covered by health and life insurance, Livingstone said. Some contractors may find that the costs of doing business in Iraq outweigh the benefits. "It's a formidable undertaking, especially if you're looking at a relatively small contract," he said.

JB Management Inc., a 100-person Alexandria firm with three or four employees working in Iraq and Afghanistan during the past few years, mitigates its risks by sending personnel with experience in the military. Still, the company takes on more obligations whenever it sends workers to provide technical support services in dangerous places, said President Leonard G. Nowak.

"There are family considerations. Just as the military goes through family separation trauma, you have the same thing with civilians. You need to be able to support families when your employees are not there," Nowak said.

Social services become an unofficial part of the benefits package when employees are sent into a war, executives said.

MVM Inc., a Vienna security company, conducts psychological tests to make sure workers can handle the stress of war zones.

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