Earle Williams, president of the defense services firm BDM International Inc., spent an anxious day in his Tysons Corner office yesterday after failing to persuade 16 BDM employees working in Saudi Arabia to send their wives and children out of the country.
With the situation in the Persian Gulf growing more ominous each day, Williams said he is becoming increasingly concerned about the safety of his employees and their dependents living in Riyadh.
He has not decided to evacuate the employees "just yet, but I would like to get the women and children out of there now," Williams said. "But the employees are being difficult."
Williams had a telephone conversation yesterday with the manager of BDM operations in Saudi Arabia. During that call, he learned that the BDM employees stationed there, many of whom are retired military people, don't want to leave and don't want their families to leave.
"They say that if I try to send the dependents out, they'll quit," he said, sighing.
Boeing Co. and McDonnell Douglas Corp. already have evacuated employees from the region, according to Williams. Boeing pulled out one of its new planes, blackened out the name of the airline that was to buy the aircraft, and flew it to Saudi Arabia to pick up the company's employees. They offered extra seats to BDM employees, "but they didn't want to go," said Williams.
The BDM employees in Saudi Arabia are providing logistical support to the Royal Saudi Air Force. Since 1980, BDM has provided the Saudi Air Force with a range of services, including assisting in the design and operation of the supply systems, maintenance operation and data systems.
Williams said the employees have told him they do not feel threatened, particularly in the face of the growing U.S. military buildup. The employees, many of whom served in Vietnam, also have argued that it would send the wrong signal if they were to leave. They argued that it would look like they were walking out on an ally, as well as deserting a client. Williams has countered that BDM promised to provide the Saudi Air Force with BDM employees, not their dependents.
BDM employees in McLean are tracking the situation on Cable News Network "pretty continuously. Things are moving so fast. ... And the State Department looks after global issues, not individual people," Williams said, explaining why he cannot simply base his decisions on State Department statements.
Williams said he is revisiting the situation every 12 hours. He also has advised the BDM manager in Riyadh to meet with employees individually, so that they will be subject to less peer pressure to stay. "I think there is a feeling that no one wants to be the first to leave," he said.
But Williams said that if his concerns about the safety of employees and their families continue to grow, he is going to order the dependents out of the country. "If I get sufficiently uncomfortable, I'm just going to send them out," he said.