In a largely invisible cost of the war in Iraq, nearly 800 civilians working under contract to the Pentagon have been killed and more than 3,300 hurt doing jobs normally handled by the U.S. military, including at least three Utahns, according to figures gathered by The Associated Press.
Exactly how many of these employees doing the Pentagon's work are Americans is uncertain. But the casualty figures make it clear that the Defense Department's count of more than 3,100 U.S. military dead does not tell the whole story.
"It's another unseen expense of the war," said Thomas Houle, a retired Air Force reservist whose brother-in-law died while driving a truck in Iraq. "It's almost disrespectful that it doesn't get the kind of publicity or respect that a soldier would."
Employees of defense contractors such as Halliburton, Blackwater and Wackenhut cook meals, do laundry, repair infrastructure, translate documents, analyze intelligence, guard prisoners, protect military convoys, deliver water in the heavily fortified Green Zone and stand sentry at buildings often highly dangerous duties almost identical to those performed by many U.S. troops.
The United States has outsourced so many war and reconstruction duties that there are almost as many contractors (120,000) as U.S. troops (135,000) in the war zone.
The insurgents in Iraq make little if any distinction between the contractors and U.S. troops.
In January, four contractors for Blackwater were killed when their helicopter was downed by gunfire in Baghdad. One of them, 52-year-old Arthur Laguna, was the brother of a prominent Utah helicopter pilot. Dan Laguna, of North Salt Lake, told the Deseret Morning News that he was flying the same mission as his brother was flying and he could do nothing but watch as the bird went down.
Another of Blackwater's private contractors from Utah was killed by a suicide bomber in Iraq in September 2005. Kenneth Webb, 42, was one of four security personnel to die in the attack, which targeted a State Department motorcade he was hired to protect.
Earlier that same year, Sgt. Brandon Thomas, who had returned from a tour in Iraq with the Utah National Guard, was killed after two suicide car bombers plowed into a foreign security convoy he was with. He had been working as a civilian security contractor when the group was attacked. Thomas, 27, was one of more than 40 people killed in the attack. Three other American civilians who were also working as private contractors at the time were injured.
In 2004, two Americans and a British engineer were kidnapped and decapitated. That same year, a mob of insurgents ambushed a supply convoy escorted by contractors, burning and mutilating the guards' bodies and stringing up two of them from a bridge.
A roadside bomb in August 2004 killed Kevin Rader, a 34-year-old Utahn working for a division of Halliburton in Iraq. Rader was driving a fuel tanker for KBR Engineering, Construction and Services. He lived in Murray and was one of three employees apparently killed in that explosion and one of 45 KBR subcontractors killed in Kuwait and Iraq that year.
Despite such examples, when contractors are killed or wounded, the casualties are off the books, in a sense.
While the Defense Department issues a press release whenever a soldier or Marine dies, the AP had to file a Freedom of Information Act request to obtain figures on many of the civilian deaths and injuries from the Labor Department, which tracks claims for workers' compensation.
By the end of 2006, the Labor Department had quietly recorded 769 deaths and 3,367 injuries serious enough to require four or more days off the job.
"It used to be, womb to tomb, the military took care of everything. We had cooks. We had people who ran recreation facilities. But those are not core competencies you need to run a war," said Brig. Gen. Neil Dial, deputy director of intelligence for U.S. Central Command.
With the all-volunteer force, the military began more stringent recruiting of troops and made greater use of nonmilitary professionals. "It puts professionals in harm's way," he conceded.
Although contractors were widely used in Vietnam for support and reconstruction tasks, they have never before represented such a large portion of the U.S. presence in a war zone or accounted for so many security and military-like jobs, experts say.
Some of the workers are former U.S. military personnel. Some are foreigners. The companies and the U.S. government say they do not keep track of how many are Americans. The contractors are paid handsomely for the risks they take, with some making $100,000 or more per year, mostly tax-free at least six times more than a new Army private, a rank likely to be driving a truck or doing some other unskilled work.
The difference in pay can create ill will between the contractors and U.S. troops.
"When they are side by side doing the same job, there is some resentment," said Rick Saccone, who worked as an intelligence contractor in Baghdad for a year.
If the contractor deaths were added to the Pentagon's count of U.S. military casualties, the number of war dead would climb about 25 percent, from about 3,000 as of the end of 2006 to nearly 3,800.
If the contractors injured badly enough to be off the job for at least four days were added to the nearly 14,000 U.S. troops requiring medical air transport because of injuries, the injury total would rise by about the same percentage.
Early in the war, most of the casualties on the coalition side were military. But with the fall of Saddam Hussein, contractors flowed in behind the troops, and the number of deaths among the contract workers has been increasing each year.
Contractor deaths are less costly politically, said Deborah Avant, a political science professor at George Washington University.Comment on this story
"Every time there's a new thing that the U.S. government wants the military to do and there's not enough military to do it, contractors are hired," she said. "When we see the 3,000 service member deaths, there's probably an additional 1,000 deaths we don't see."
Houle's brother-in-law, Hector C. Patino, was driving a truck for a Halliburton subsidiary in the Green Zone when he was killed by friendly fire at an Australian checkpoint.
Contributing: Associated Press writers Elizabeth White in San Antonio and Randy Herschaft in New York; Wendy Leonard, Deseret Morning News