'Help Wanted' Ad Belies Report on Iraq Security

By Walter Pincus
Monday, September 17, 2007

A week ago today, Gen. David H. Petraeus started his rounds on Capitol Hill, reporting that security in Iraq was improving to the point that a small number of troops could begin coming home by year's end.

But 10 days ago, his commanders in Baghdad began advertising for private contractors to work in combat-supply warehouses on U.S. bases throughout Iraq because half the soldiers who had been working in the warehouses were needed for patrols, combat and protection of U.S. forces.

"With the increased insurgent activity, unit supply personnel must continue to pull force protection along with convoy escort and patrol duties," according to a statement of work that accompanied the Sept. 7 request for bidders from Multi-National Force-Iraq.

All of the small logistics bases, called Supply Support Activities, or SSAs, are "currently using about 50% of their assigned (currently less than 100% strength) military personnel for other required duties (force protection, patrols, escort duties, etc. along with performing 24 hour combat operations)," the statement says.

The contract proposal covers 10 of the logistics bases and another warehouse with chemical protective items. Although the initial request is for 101 individuals qualified in warehouse operations, "additional manning may be required and the contractor should anticipate possible increases," according to the proposal. Some locations may end up being "completely manned by contract personnel," the statement says.

The Supply Support Activities support day-to-day combat operations by providing parts and ensuring that stocks are received and distributed "in a timely manner." In addition, the statement notes that "tanks, aircraft, wheeled vehicles and other equipment" are getting increased use and require more repair parts than are typically available in the warehouses. The increased contract personnel will allow the parts to get back to a central depot and returned to troops more quickly. The proposal, which is for six months and has a six-month extension option, calls for some personnel to be familiar and experienced with "hazardous/radioactive material handling." At the same time, it states, "Contractor personnel are not required to have a security clearance to perform duties in the SSA." A comment on the Web site version of the proposal adds, "Ensure this is correct."

Many of the stocks involved are maintained in mobile vans on bases, and so "the majority of the work will be performed outside," the statement says.

The various bases hosting the warehouses will supply military transportation for the contract workers from their living area to the work site, but the personnel "will never be allowed to travel alone and will never be authorized use of a tactical or non-tactical vehicle for travel outside the base without a military escort and required force protection measures."

The work schedule proposed is "ten hours per day, six days a week to include holidays" with a lunch period of one hour. Living space will be provided by the military, though "in the short term that may be a tent with cots and shower and toilet facilities." When "living containers or hardstand buildings" exist, the contractors will be moved along with military.

Military dining facilities and bottled water will be free for contractors. They will also have access to the PX and any local recreation facilities on the bases.

Military medical facilities, however, are available only when "life, limb, or eyesight is jeopardized and for emergency medical and dental care" such as "broken bones, refills of life-dependent drugs such as insulin or broken teeth." Military medical facilities will not be authorized for "routine medical and dental care."

As noted in an earlier Fine Print column, the Army is exploring the possibility of hiring a private health-care provider to take care of its roughly 129,000 contract personnel in Iraq and lighten their use of military medical facilities.

National security and intelligence reporter Walter Pincus pores over the speeches, reports, transcripts and other documents that flood Washington and every week uncovers the fine print that rarely makes headlines -- but should. If you have any items that fit the bill, please send them to fineprint@washpost.com.

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