When American soldiers are deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan, they know they risk injury or death at the hands of the enemy.
They shouldn’t also have to worry about being fatally electrocuted in the shower.
Potentially lethal electrical wiring problems on U.S. bases in Iraq have been known to military officials since October 2004. That’s when an official Army bulletin went out, citing the deaths by electrocution of two soldiers due to poorly grounded wiring.
Since then, several more soldiers and Marines have been killed by faulty wiring and many more injured. The latest confirmed death was Jan. 2 in Iraq, when a Green Beret died taking a shower after a badly grounded water pump short-circuited.
The blame for these deaths rests squarely on KBR, the American defense contractor responsible for base maintenance in Iraq and Afghanistan. There’s evidence that KBR was fully aware of the problems, did little to address them, fired at least one whistle-blower and may even have fabricated paperwork to make it look like proper wiring repairs had been performed when they hadn’t.
Another problem is the lax government oversight by the Defense Contract Management Agency, which has only 90 contract officers in Iraq and Afghanistan to supervise more than 22,000 KBR employees – many of whom are poorly trained, low-paid local workers. The officers, stretched too thin to do on-site inspections, mainly just check paperwork – an ideal scenario for a company trying to maximize profits with minimal effort.
Congress and the Defense Department are currently investigating the continuing deaths and injuries due to faulty wiring performed by KBR and its subcontractors. If those allegations are confirmed, it’s more than outrageous. It’s criminal, and those responsible for endangering U.S. service members should be held accountable.
One former KBR electrician said the company’s standard excuse for the shoddy electrical work was, “This is a war zone. What do you expect?”
What is expected is that an American company, being well-paid for its work, show at least as much concern for U.S. service members as it does for its profits. When service members die by easily preventable electrocution, it’s clear that KBR has much to answer for.