In Iraq, the Job Opportunity of a Lifetime
By the fall, when Ledeen and peers arrived, the CPA had a serious staffing problem. Initial plans called for 3,700 people, but for most of the year it had been operating with 1,300. Moreover, many of those who did come stayed the minimum 90 days. Mark St. Laurent, 36, a D.C. paramedic who was assigned to the economics team, said the short commitments made getting work done difficult: "One month learning the ropes. One month doing actual work. One month lame duck -- you don't want to do anything because you don't want to piss off the guy coming next."
Pentagon spokesman Lt. Col. Joseph Yoswa said the CPA was satisfied with the quality of applicants. Some staffers may have been young and inexperienced, he said, but "we have people right out of college leading troops on the ground."
Yoswa said the recruiting office had to hire quickly for the Madrid donors conference that fall and "turned to the Heritage Foundation, an educational facility, albeit a conservative one, but primarily a place where you can get good, solid people." He said this was a one-time event and that there was no organized effort to hire Republicans.
In late October, he said, the Pentagon set up a job site on the Web. Eleven thousand people filled out an application and several hundred of them were hired. "Nowhere did we ask party affiliation," he said.
'The Brat Pack'
When Ledeen's group showed up at the palace -- with their North Face camping gear, Abercrombie & Fitch camouflage and digital cameras -- they were quite the spectacle. For some, they represented everything that was right with the CPA: They were young, energetic and idealistic. For others, they represented everything that was wrong with the CPA: They were young, inexperienced, and regarded as ideologues.
Several had impressive paper credentials, but in the wrong fields. Greco was fluent in English, Italian and Spanish; Burns had been a policy analyst focused on family and health care; and Ledeen had co-founded a cooking school. But none had ever worked in the Middle East, none spoke Arabic, and few could tell a balance sheet from an accounts receivable statement.
Other staffers quickly nicknamed the newcomers "The Brat Pack."
"They had come over because of one reason or another, and they were put in positions of authority that they had no clue about," remembered Army Reserve Sgt. Thomas D. Wirges, 38, who had been working on rehabilitating the Baghdad Stock Exchange.
Some also grumbled about the new staffers' political ties. Retired U.S. Army Col. Charles Krohn said many in the CPA regard the occupation "as a political event," always looking for a way to make the president look good.
Ledeen was determined to prove she could do her job. She and the others worked 100-hour weeks and ended up producing not only their assigned report but a searchable Web site of possible reconstruction projects. At the end of their six-week assignment, their bosses were so impressed that they were rewarded with more permanent postings.
The occupation's economics teams had been especially hard hit by attacks by insurgents. After the United Nations bombing in August, the International Monetary Fund pulled out. And after the rocket attack on the Al-Rashid Hotel in October, one CPA staffer who suffered burns on his feet and lost a testicle was evacuated and another was so spooked he went home. So that's where Ledeen and her colleagues were placed.
© 2004 The Washington Post Company