Overseas Civilian Contractors

News and issues relating to Civilian Contractors working Overseas

Whistleblower Claims Many U.S. Interpreters Can’t Speak Afghan Languages

Says Translators Failed Language Tests, Were Still Embedded With US Troops In Afghanistan

By MATTHEW MOSK, BRIAN ROSS and JOSEPH RHEE at ABC News

More than one quarter of the translators working alongside American soldiers in Afghanistan failed language proficiency exams but were sent onto the battlefield anyway, according to a former employee of the company that holds contracts worth up to $1.4 billion to supply interpreters to the U.S. Army.

“I determined that someone — and I didn’t know [who] at that time — was changing the grades from blanks or zeros to passing grades,” said Paul Funk, who used to oversee the screening of Afghan linguists for the Columbus, Ohio-based contractor, Mission Essential Personnel. “Many who failed were marked as being passed.”

After being asked about the allegations, U.S. Army officials confirmed to ABC News they are investigating the company.

Funk outlined his claims in a whistleblower lawsuit unsealed earlier this year against Mission Essential Personnel, saying the company turned a blind eye to cheating on language exams taken over the phone and hired applicants even though they failed to meet the language standards set by the Army and spelled out in the company’s contract. He alleges that 28 percent of the linguists hired between November 2007 and June 2008 failed to meet the government’s language requirements. The company has contested those claims in court, and this week rejected them as false in an interview with ABC News.

Civilian translators have for nearly a decade been playing a crucial if unsung role in the Afghanistan war, embedding with troops as they have moved through the countryside, helping soldiers gather information from local villagers, and attempting to spread the message of security, moderation and peace that undergirds the U.S. presence there. Some Afghan veterans have rated the value of a skilled interpreter as equal to that of a working weapon or sturdy body armor.

But a former top screener of translators heading to Afghanistan tells ABC News in an exclusive interview that will air tonight on World News with Diane Sawyer and Nightline that he believes many of the translators currently in the field cannot perform their function.

Please read the entire story here

September 8, 2010 Posted by | Afghanistan, Civilian Contractors, Contractor Oversight, Mission Essential Personnel, Pentagon, Safety and Security Issues, Whistleblower | , , , , , | Leave a comment

DynCorp Employees Killed in Afghanistan

just released this:

September 7, 2010 – We are deeply saddened to report that a September 6 attack on a forward operating base in , in Kandahar province, Afghanistan, took the lives of three LOGCAP IV personnel and wounded several others.

William Allen, 51, of Munhall, Pennsylvania, worked as an electrician on the LOGCAP IV program and was killed at the time of the incident. Alan Herzel, 48, of Milton, Florida, who worked as a plumber foreman, received medical care after the incident but later passed away as a result of his injuries. A third subcontract employee who provided information technology support for the program also lost his life in the attack; International will defer to his employer to release any personal details.

A number of individuals who were wounded in the attack were transported by medevac for hospital care.

In a condolence note to LOGCAP IV management, Colonel Cameron G. Holt, Defense Contract Management Agency (DCMA) Commander, Afghanistan, wrote:

“As is too often the case in war, the cost of freedom extends not just to the Soldiers, Sailors, Airman, and Marines who have pledged their lives to defend their country; it is also borne by our civilians at home and among the ranks of American defense contractors like you who stand shoulder to shoulder with us in this struggle.”

Thanks to Ms Sparky for this update

Our thoughts and prayers are with those who were injured or killed, with their families, and with all of our colleagues at FOB .

September 8, 2010 Posted by | Afghanistan, Civilian Contractors, Contractor Casualties, DynCorp | , , , , , , | 1 Comment

“Wikipedia Journalism” Can be Contagious

Many Injured Contractors were repatriated via the Military Medical Evacuation System which was/is badly contaminated with Multi Drug Resistant Acinetobacter baumannii.  Soldiers and Contractors alike lost lives and limbs to this dangerous Superbug.

Injured Contractors played an even larger role in the spread of MDRAb across the US and to every country of the “coalition” than did the soldiers themselves.  Injured Contractors were infected  in field hospitals, Landstuhl, Walter Reed, Bethesda Naval, and then transferred to Civilian Community hospitals.    Civilian hospitals were seldom warned their new transfers were infected with a life threatening highly contagious bacteria.

The DoD’s usual knee jerk reaction was to cover this problem up rather than deal with it.  Lie about to be exact.

Steve Silberman, Investigative Journalist for Wired, has written again, on the spread of this Superbug and the Military and “Wikipedia Journalism’s” aiding and abetting the enemy.

Is Wikipedia Journalism Aiding the Spread of a Deadly Superbug?

By Steve Silberman at NeuroTribes

Japan is in an uproar. Last week, officials at the Teikyo University Hospital admitted that 46 patients in the past year have been infected with an antibiotic-resistant bacterium called Acinetobacter baumannii, and that 27 have died. Today, the number of infected patients was increased to 53, and hospital announced that it would admit no new patients until it checks for the presence of the bacteria in more than 800 patients currently in the hospital. In a contrite press conference, hospital officials admitted that they had not promptly reported the infections to local authorities as they are legally required to do, and that this delay likely contributed to the spread of the bacteria through the wards, and to patient deaths.

Meanwhile, other Tokyo hospitals are also now reporting infections and deaths. Yurin Hospital discovered that eight of its patients — aged 59 to 100 — were colonized by the bacteria, and four of them have died. Three patients at the Metropolitan Geriatric Hospital were also infected, and one has died. The bacteria seems to be spreading rapidly through hospitals in the Japanese metropolis, aided by patient transfers, overuse of antibiotics, lack of sufficient infection control, and failure to report the infections to health authorities. Seeking to place the blame for the seemingly sudden upsurge of the bacteria, The Daily Yomiuri ominously speculated today, “Could medical tourists bring something more sinister than their own health problems with them when they come to Japan?”

Sadly, none of this is a surprise to me: not the rapid spread of the bacteria, not the deaths, and not the failure to acknowledge the problem until numerous patients had died or become colonized, and not the frantic seeking to place the blame by demonizing people from other cultures. The same pattern emerged in an epidemic of Acinetobacter baumannii infections among American and Canadian troops returning from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, which I wrote about for Wired magazine in 2007, in an in-depth investigative feature called “The Invisible Enemy.”

Back then, it was the U.S. Defense Department officials who were slow to acknowledge rampant acinetobacter infections in the ranks, and they were not nearly as eager to take responsibility as Japanese officials have been this week. Indeed, there seemed to be a coordinated effort to mislead the press about the true source of the infections. Antibiotic-resistant Acinetobacter baumannii is almost always found in hospitals and other health care facilities. It is a nosocomial infection — like MRSA, Clostridium difficile, and the other horsemen of the post-antibiotic apocalypse, it preys on those who are already sick, elderly, or traumatically injured, piling agony upon agony. That’s why troops and civilians gravely wounded in war are one of acinetobacter’s favorite target demographics: all that fresh, exposed meat, left undefended by already weakened immune systems or immunosuppressive drugs. Particularly among the young — car-crash victims and the like — many acinetobacter infections go undetected, because the primary trauma alone is enough to kill the patient.

The story coming from Washington, however, was that the source of the bacteria was Iraqi insurgents who were intentionally “dosing” improvised explosive devices (IEDs) with the superbug, in the form of dog feces or rotting meat. The alternate version of the official story was that Acinetobacter baumannii lurks in the Iraqi soil itself, waiting to pounce on young American warriors like some kind of microbial jihad. In the fog of war, reporters bought these official story lines and parroted them dutifully, from CNN’s Situation Room to CBS correspondent Kimberly Dozier, who called A. baumanniian Iraqi bacteria” (as if organisms carry passports) after barely surviving an IED attack and subsequent infection in 2006. In the military and the press, the bacteria acquired the catchy nickname “Iraqibacter,” which has a darkly ironic grain of truth to it — wounded Iraqi citizens cared for in our field hospitals in the early days of the war became infected at much higher rates than our troops, and were then released back into a country with a health-care infrastructure that had been bombed back to the Stone Age.

For more information about how the Pentagon conducted a secret war against this bacteria, see my 2007 story. But I knew when I filed it that the saga of the medical battle against Acinetobacter baumannii was just beginning. Since my story ran, there have been numerous outbreaks of the superbug in hospitals in Europe and Asia, with scores of patients — both military and civilian — left dead.

In time, the “dosed IED” story slowly faded away. But one aspect of the misleading press coverage of the bacteria refuses to die: the notion — repeated by the Mainichi Daily News and other Japanese papers this week — that multi-drug resistant Acinetobacter baumannii is commonly found in water and soil. This notion — that A. baumannii is nearly ubiquitous in the natural world — has been reinforced by everyone from local TV news stations to the New York Times.

Multidrug-resistant Acinetobacter baumannii is not commonly found in water and soil. It is found in hospitals and clinics, where the tenacious organisms earn their resistance to the best drugs we can throw at them; it is particularly prevalent in intensive-care units, lurking among those moist places where medical equipment enters the body, such as catheters and breathing tubes.

To put it another way, Acinetobacter baumannii is not a “wild” superbug. It is a thoroughly domesticated superbug, inadvertently trained and evolved by us, living alongside us in a terrible synergy, and thriving on the spoils of war, aging, disease, and the failure to implement proper infection controls.

Beyond misleading shaggy dog-poop stories from Pentagon spokespeople, the source of this problem in journalism may be tragically mundane. Acinetobacter in general — that is, not baumannii — is one of the largest and most diverse genera of bacteria on the planet, comprising more than 30 distinct species, including Acinetobacter baylyi and Acinetobacter haemolyticus. Right up at the top of the Wikipedia entry for Acinetobacter, Googling journalists on deadline are informed that the bacteria is an “important soil organism.” While that’s true of some members of the genus, it’s not true of the species causing these infections. You have to get down in the fine print to realize that A. baumannii — the evolutionary sequel — is a whole other kind of beast, native to hospitals, and worthy of its own Wikipedia entry.

This confusion has resulted in hundreds of news stories — and even a fact sheet [PDF link] put out by the Infectious Diseases Society of America — claiming that Acinetobacter baumannii is “commonly found in water and soil,” when the scientist who discovered antibiotic resistance in the organism, Lenie Dijkshoorn, a senior researcher at Leiden University Medical Center in the Netherlands, told me when I interviewed her for my Wired story, “My colleagues and I have been looking for Acinetobacter baumannii in soil samples for years, and we haven’t found it. These organisms are quite rare outside of hospitals.”

So what’s the big deal?  The big deal is that errors in medical journalism — particularly ones that proliferate everywhere in big media virtually unchallenged — can lead to bad medicine. I felt a chill pass over me when I read a 2006 paper in the Canadian Medical Association Journal that quoted Major Homer Tien, a Canadian trauma surgeon serving in Afghanistan, saying that because he believed the windblown desert sand carries A. baumannii, “There’s talk of building an antechamber to the hospital, so you’d have a double set of doors, to help keep the sand out.”

In any health-care setting, infection-control resources are stretched thin. Hospitals — on the front lines or back home — simply cannot afford this kind of confusion. Every news story that echoes the false claim that Acinetobacter baumannii is “commonly found in soil and water” is part of the problem.

A citizen journalist named Marcie Hascall Clark — the wife of a contractor who picked up the bacteria in a hospital after being wounded in Baghdad — has been sounding the alarm for years, a voice in the online wilderness. By 2007, when I wrote my Wired story, many physicians in the military had already figured out what was really going on, and were starting to implement strict protocols — including rebuilding the field hospitals, increasing disease surveillance, and isolating infected and colonized patients — to minimize colonization and new infections among wounded troops. The US medical establishment and smart science bloggers like Maryn McKenna, author of Superbug, have also awakened to the growing threat of this particularly nasty and adaptive organism. “In the all-star annals of resistant bugs,” McKenna wrote in June, “A. baumannii is an underappreciated player.”

Much of the media, however — from America to Japan — has yet to catch up.

September 8, 2010 Posted by | Acinetobacter, Afghanistan, Civilian Contractors, Contractor Casualties, Iraq, Pentagon, Propaganda | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Alan Herzel, DynCorp, Killed in Explosion in Afghanistan

Local Contractor Killed in Afghanistan

HAROLD – A local family is mourning the loss of a father and husband killed while working as a civilian contractor in Afghanistan.

Alan Herzel worked for the Dyncorp Company, first working as a civilian contractor in Iraq before transferring to Afghanistan.

Last night, his wife Connie was told Alan had been killed in an explosion.

Right now, Alan’s family does not have a lot of information on what happened, but they believe there was an explosion at the base in Khandahar where Alan had been working.

A representative from the company Alan worked for is supposed to meet with the family soon.

says the toughest part is not having any real answers as to what cost Alan his life.
A family friend says this sad case has brought the tough reality of war home to a lot of local people. He says the toughest part is not having any real answers as to what cost Alan his life.

Bruce Spencer/Herzel Family spokesman
“That’s where we’re at right now. We don’t know. We have no idea what happened. All we heard was there was a bomb blast. It was in a building he was in. But we don’t know if he was working or sleeping or what.”

Bruce Spencer/Herzel Family Friend said, “We’re so sheltered from a war, in Pensacola. We don’t really think much about wars. We hear about them, but unless they touch someone specifically to you, it’s just a far away thing like a fairy tail, but it’s not a fairy tail. It’s real and men are dying. Good men.”

Alan had just married Connie Herzel before being sent overseas this spring.
I’ve spoken to Connie several times today.

As you can imagine, she’s emotionally drained, and just wants to know what happened.

He also has a 15 year old daughter who lives with her mother in Mississippi.

A family spokesman told us the only thing that’s being requested from the community is everyone’s prayers.

September 8, 2010 Posted by | Afghanistan, Contractor Oversight, DynCorp | , , , , | Leave a comment