Bechtel CorporationRebecca Sooner describes life in Iraq while working as a constructionengineer for the largest engineering company in the US.
Rebecca Sooner made aspontaneous decision to workas a construction engineer for Bechtel in Iraq.“My first week was traumatic; my boss resigned after hisdaughter was kidnapped, anda Bechtel employee was killed by a car bomb,” stated Sooner, 32. “But I figured itwas better to live my life with some danger than to not live at all.”
She soon realized that no training session exists to prepare a human being for these situations. Being an American constructionengineer in the foreign city of Al Basrah is dangerous. So why does she do it? First, it pays well. Second, it is a chance to make a difference. Third, it is a chance for adventure. Sooner is a small town girl from the South. Her workwith Bechtel is dangerous, but fulfilling.
Months after Sooner arrived in Al Basrah, the Iraqigovernment increasingly lost authority as kidnappings andbeheadings of Iraqis and foreigners became a frequentoccurrence. All routes to the hospital were no longer safe fortravel. With insurgents running the city, it almost impossiblefor the project to continue.
Bechtel employees are notjust concerned about meremishaps; their lives are inconstant danger. Eighty-eight percent of theviolence occurs away fromthe workplace and theviolence usually results inthe victim’s death. On oneoccasion the senior BechtelIraqi engineer resigneddue to the kidnapping ofhis daughter.
“Though our employees persevered through 99 out of the 102 projects on theIraq to-do list, Bechtel Corporations could no longer work securely as thedeath toll of our honored employees increased,” stated Riley P. Bechtel, theCEO of Bechtel Corporations. “We had no choice but to abandon the hospitalproject.”Death claims for civilians working on U.S. government contracts in Iraq hadreached 276, and 52 for Bechtel Corporations alone.
“When I first came toIraq I was too naive tonotice our primarymission: to help a countryin need,” stated RalphWessels, a co-worker ofSooners. “But after Isettled in I began to realizethat the Iraqi civiliansneeded us the most—theycouldn’t even trust theirown police officers.”
Sooner says that one thing that helps numb her fear, are thetimes when she sees the lit up faces of Iraqi children repeatingArabic words like “ma-laak”, which means “angel.”
Wessels was the contract manager of the Al Basrah Children’sHospital project and also the liaison between the Ministry ofHealth and the CEO of Bechtel. He would help to driveconstruction supported by digital photos, email, daily phone callsand web cameras, but the increasing levels of intimidations,kidnappings and murders had a pronounced impact on staff andsubcontractors.
Though Bechtelevacuatedconstruction, Wesselsnoted the manyconversations he hadwith civilians and thelevel of appreciationthey have forAmerican soldiers andthe American people.