Editor's Note: Below is a first-person
account by construction science student Ryan Elkins of his unique
internship in Iraq with KRB Engineering.
BY: RYAN ELKINS ’06
I stepped off of the plane and took a deep breath. I had been
traveling for close to 15 hours, and I was hungry and tired. We
arrived in Dubai early in the morning for a three-day layover.
We would then be sent to Camp Anaconda in Balad, Iraq.
For the past two weeks, I had been processing and training in
Houston. I had to pass physicals, Nuclear, Biological, and Chemical
training, personality tests, and pass a background check performed
by the United States Government. It was a long two weeks, and
I was ready for the adventure of a lifetime.
Upon arrival at Camp Anaconda, we were lined up in military fashion
and briefed by the U.S. Army right there on the runway. We were
then loaded into a truck and taken to the KBR camp. It was a strange
feeling, arriving in Iraq. Even just flying into Iraq sent a chill
up my spine. I didn’t know what to expect, and the only information
I had came from CNN. I was excited until I found out that I would
be living in a tent and sleeping on a cot for the next four months.
As if that wasn’t bad enough, there were 12 people just in my
one tent. I adjusted quickly to the scene, and started to really
enjoy my new home — Camp Anaconda!
The project controls team was a four-person crew, consisting of
one Aggie. I hit it off with them really quick, and started to
learn the process within a few hours of my first day. They were
wonderful teachers, and I found learning easy and interesting.
At first I was taught how to cost code a requisition. The process
is, anyone can write-up a requisition, but then it must go through
the right channels. It passes through a few departments before
we receive it, but when we do, we put the cost code on it. All
cost must be passed through project controls and must receive
a cost code. Basically, this tells finance and accounting where
to take the money from when they bill the government. Our estimators,
who are also part of project controls, put together a “Rough Order
of Magnitude” form, which estimates how much we will bill the
government in a given period of time. We have to check all requisitions
against the ROM, and write down if the item was or was not found
in the ROM. Then we have to determine if there is enough money
in the ROM for the material. The army sets guidelines where requisitions
over certain amounts must be checked by the ACO for approval.
All of this is spelled out in a simple code of numbers and letters.
An example of a cost code from Anaconda for the purchase of a
vehicle would look like this: GU84 0559AA16 55301 Y-NA
After I had become more familiar with requisitions and coding,
it was time for me to learn how to enter these costs into the
database. Our database was run using Microsoft Access, and was
fairly easy to learn. I was taught who, what, and where this database
was used, and what it did to help us. If you mess up in the database,
you only get one chance at the end of every week to catch it.
At the end of every week, the files are sent from every site in
Iraq to the headquarters in Baghdad. They are then compiled all
together to form one master database, then are redistributed to
every site. You replace your “dbase” with the master, and the
process starts over again. Bad coding and bad database entry can
lead to overcharging the government, and if you watch the news
you would know that this has happened several times.
After I was comfortable with every aspect of the job, I was sent
to Mosul to cover for a guy on R&R. I was the only project controls
representative there, and had no other help. Not only did this
build my confidence, but this also was a great learning experience.
I was forced to learn every detail about my job, and I interacted
with a large number of people everyday. It was a great two weeks
and then I returned back to Anaconda. Since we are in the business
of cost coding, we also had the responsibility of checking all
timesheet codes before they went to F&A to be processed. Timesheets
had to be in by midnight every Saturday night, so we usually stayed
pretty late every week.
I loved my co-workers and I loved my job, but let’s not forget,
I am still in a war-zone. Sleep and work was constantly interrupted
by mortar and rocket attacks, and I had to get used to sleeping
with the sounds of Black Hawks flying overhead all night. If this
was not bad enough, who wants to go home, when home is a cot next
to Billy Bob the truck driver? I think that these will be the
hardest accommodations that I will ever have to face. I gained
a respect for the military that I never had before. I always appreciated
our military and I have always been proud of what they do, but
I now see what military life is like, and I have a deeper respect.
I came into the Theater of Operations alone and I was forced to
make friends all over again. There was no comfort zone for me
when I first arrived. This was a true test of my character and
the way I interacted with people. Everyone works a minimum of
12 hours a day and seven days a week, so there are a lot of attitudes.
I had to learn to control my temper no matter how I slept, or
didn’t sleep, the night before, and no matter if I had taken a
warm shower in a week or not. Sometimes people do something to
set you off and, even though what they did wasn’t that bad, you
release all of your stress and anger out on them. This happened
all of the time because of the stress level, and many people couldn’t
take it. It was a true test of character, and I passed with flying
colors. I learned to leave my attitude at the door when I entered
the office. Everyone was always on the edge, and it didn’t take
much to set most people off.
One of the best lessons that I learned was to not take things
for granted. Everyone says this all of the time, but it usually
takes some instance, usually bad, to make people believe it. Returning
to the States will be like a vacation for me. For the last three
months I have slept on a cot, shared 10 showers with 1,400 people,
gone weeks without hot water to bathe in and cold water to drink,
eaten MRE’s three times a day, had laundry lost or stolen, lived
out of a bag for weeks at a time, slept in freezing temperatures
with a broken heater, slept in very hot temperatures with a broken
air conditioner, worked over 90 hours a week for three months
straight, been forced to work all day wearing a flak jacket and
a Kevlar helmet, spent hours upon hours in bunkers because of
constant mortar and rocket attacks, and last but not least, done
all of this while thousands of miles away from all of my friends
and family. I think that I have truly been tested as a person,
and I feel good about the outcome.
I don’t regret taking this certain internship at all. In fact,
it has inspired me to work internationally after I graduate. I
actually wouldn’t mind coming back into Iraq. My eyes have been
open to different people and different cultures all over the world.
America is relatively small when compared to the rest of the globe,
and I am glad that I got to venture outside of the lines. It has
left me thirsting for more, and I plan on extending my international
education. I have made a difference in people’s lives and helped
out in building a democracy for a country that has been suppressed
for years and years. Operation Iraqi Freedom will soon be in textbooks,
and young children will learn about what Americans did in Iraq
in the early 21st Century. I take a sense of pride in knowing
that I contributed a small part to this project, and will hold
dear the lessons that I learned while in Iraq. This was a life-changing
experience for me, and I feel blessed every day that I got this
opportunity. I am truly a better person!