April 24, 2014

Defense Contractors

Taps

Contractor Worker Deaths

Mike Vogel | 12/1/2010

Alan Herzel
Alan Herzel
Alan Herzel, 48, of East Milton in the Panhandle, died in a Taliban mortar attack at a forward operating base near Kandahar, Afghanistan, on Sept. 6, as Americans back home were celebrating Labor Day. Herzel was a master plumber working for DynCorp International, a fast-growing Falls Church, Va., contractor to the U.S. military. The mortar rounds fell in the afternoon as he and other contractors were setting up an office at the camp from which he could supervise construction of water and sewer lines. He was wounded and died later in the day. Two other contractors also died, and five were injured.

The Iraq and Afghan wars are the most contractor-dependent in U.S. history, and the casualty numbers show it.

According to the website ProPublica, contractor deaths outnumbered the deaths of service people through the first half of this year. Overall, 2,176 contractors have died during the Iraq and Afghan wars compared with 5,531 troops through June. Florida contract workers killed in the war total 29, according to the Department of Labor. Additionally, wounded contractors, like uniformed military, struggle with disabilities, loss of limbs, mental health disorders, chronic illnesses and risk of suicide. Although the vast majority of contractors in the war zones are locals and third-party nationals, U.S. citizens also have been injured and killed. "The public continues to fail to understand how contractor personnel are increasingly making the ultimate sacrifice alongside, or in lieu of, service members," George Washington law school professor Steven Schooner wrote in the September issue of Service Contractor.

Workers for Florida companies have been injured and killed doing everything from security to IT.

A 1980 graduate of Pensacola High, Herzel had been in the U.S. Air Force military police for a time before becoming a plumber. Six years ago, he met his neighbor and future wife, Connie, a retired sheriff's deputy from Virginia who had moved to the Panhandle, as they both went through the cleanup from Hurricane Ivan in 2004. "We told everybody the hurricane kind of put us together. It was kind of a joke," she says. They went from friendship to romance, but Herzel said he wouldn't marry until he could afford a big ring for Connie and a house. Unable to find work in the recession, he took a job nearly two years ago with a contractor in Iraq as a supervisor, working on projects deep within large, well-established bases.

This year, the couple was able to afford the ring and the house. Herzel returned, married Connie in March, honeymooned on a cruise, returned to Iraq and then took a job in July in Afghanistan that, unbeknown to Connie, involved work in forward areas such as Howz-e Madad, utilized by the 101st Airborne Division. There he lived on MREs and took bottle baths as the facilities were built.

When the mortar rounds came in, an eyewitness told Connie, Herzel made sure his crew got into a bunker and was within a few steps of safety himself when he was hit. Connie has set up a scholarship fund for Herzel's daughter, who turns 16 this month. "He was over there making the facilities for our military easier and better."

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