Military Vet Reveals Horrors of Going Civilian
Many of us have our little stories of bad bosses. The boss who's mean. The boss who's insensitive. Maybe even the boss whose job you knew you could do better. But, like many fortunate and unfortunate elements of my life, my bad boss was bad on an epic scale.
The worst of the worst
Sure, many of you may have thought at one time or another that you might have to file a complaint with the union or human resources. You may have even had a boss that made you start thinking of looking for employment elsewhere. But has your boss ever made you consider making a covert escape across an international border, traversing a harsh, barren desert landscape, falsifying documents, and then carefully making your way to an American Embassy without being discovered by local authorities?
My terrible boss made me seriously consider doing all those things.
It was September and the summer was slowly coming to an end. Like many across the United States, I was out of work and getting desperate. The job hunting was taking its toll on me. I, being a former Army soldier, decided to submit my resume for a job that I had always thought would be interesting, but had never had the nerve to actually try to get. To my amazement, a few days later, I was contacted by a representative for a large government defense contractor (which I'll refer to as GDC*), and before I knew it, I was on a plane headed for Dallas to be in-processed for a private-security contracting job in Qatar.
We had beautiful accommodations at a wonderful hotel across from the Dallas Motor Speedway and were flung, almost at a running pace, into the hiring process. There were many others there. In fact, I think GDC may have actually rented out the entire hotel and taken it over as their processing center for contractors being deployed all around the world, but mainly to Afghanistan. At the end of the week our group was on a plane to Qatar.
Being a former soldier, I wasn't too concerned about my ability and knowledge on how to perform the same duties I performed when I was in the military. I welcomed the refresher course, which I expected before we went to work guarding a U.S. military base in Qatar. Unfortunately, it was a refresher that was never to come.
To my amazement, the individual assigned to get us ready for the job simply flipped quickly through a series of slides in our classroom, while stating, "you're not going to need to know that, or that, or that." He skipped much more than he actually explained. For example, the fact that the Use of Force and Rules of Engagement classes only lasted a total of 15 minutes combined started to really make me concerned about what I had gotten into. That was the first bad boss on this job, the first of many.
It was right around the beginning of the weapons training when I really started to fear for my life. The salty old former special-forces instructor asked the group a question that I initially thought was absurd.
"How many of you have never handled a gun before?"
"That's ridiculous," I thought to myself. "Like they would actually hire people that had never handled a gun in their lives to guard a U.S. military base in the Middle East."
My heart momentarily stopped and I suddenly had a sickening feeling in my stomach when I noticed that a majority of the people in the group had their hands raised. I felt even worse when I participated in the training program designed to acquaint these clueless individuals with the machine guns, assault rifles and hand guns that they would be using on a daily basis. That class lasted all of two hours. It seemed that every step of the way on this job, I had yet another terrible boss.
The next day was like something out of a bad comedy sketch. There were bullets flying everywhere. One guy was shooting the dirt three feet in front of him, one guy was trying to fire his rifle with it mounted on his shoulder like a bazooka and one lady got so scared every time the rifle fired that she screamed and dropped it on the ground. And the bosses? They didn't even notice.
To serve and protect?
After our fun-filled and sadly comedic experience at the range, it was time to throw us out into the field, "protecting" the servicemen and women on the base. Each day at the beginning of our shift, we would draw our weapons from the armory and load our magazines. A co-worker stood at the table loading his rounds backwards into his magazine. Another co-worker stood in the corner, with a loaded M-16 over his shoulder and a handgun strapped to his thigh, proudly proclaiming that he knew voodoo and could make himself levitate. A third was asking the supervisor if he could work a post that didn't require him to carry a gun because he didn't like them.
Once armed, we then went to our daily briefing, or guard mount. On several occasions the project manager would come in to speak to us. We always knew when we were going to hear one of his long-winded, cliche-filled speeches, because they wouldn't let us draw our weapons from the armory until after he was finished. Apparently, there had been several serious threats from members of the guard force toward him in the past and he didn't feel comfortable being around us while we were armed. He would finish his speeches and leave us feeling dumber for listening. One of my favorites was when he tried to convince us that the $30,000 that he was paying us (rumor had it that GDC was getting over $100,000 for each of us per year, giving us $30,000 and pocketing the rest) somehow equaled more than the $65,000 salary another company was paying for the same job on another base. In another speech he stated that "GDC has been here before you and GDC will be here after you."
Most of our "training" was on the job. Scary thought, considering our job entailed searching for bombs in vehicles and guarding against unauthorized entry into the base. One day, still new at the job and manning a post alone, I radioed the supervisor with a question. He calmly came over and explained to me that we weren't really there to provide security, we were actually there to provide the appearance of security. He then showed me how to scan IDs without actually scanning them, because actually scanning them sometimes took too long. It was right about then when I had had enough. I sent a report to the Inspector General's office and started looking for a new job.
No way out
The job offers started coming in and I was about to sign a contract. A friend of mine, equally upset with the working conditions, had found another contract and gone to the office to give his two-week's notice. He came back with a new horror story. He was brought into the project managers office, along with the deputy project manager and the operations manager and threatened with time in a Qatari prison for trying to break his contract. They also refused to return his passport and or issue him an exit letter, which Qatar required to leave the country. I've never felt more like a prisoner in my life. It was then that we started planning our great escape.
From what we heard, the border between Qatar and Saudi Arabia is open desert and quite easy to cross without getting caught. The plan was to drive from Qatar up to Riyadh and seek assistance from the American embassy there. A co-worker had tried to go to the embassy in Doha and was turned away and told that there was nothing they could do because he was under contract in the country.
A few days before we were going to put the plan into action, they started inventorying the equipment and training soldiers to do our jobs. The management tried to downplay it as just a routine thing, but they couldn't fool us. GDC was losing the contract and we knew it. Finally, a few weeks later, the project manager made the announcement. I don't really remember a lot of the content of that speech. His words from a few weeks before kept playing over and over in my head.
"GDC has been here before you and GDC will be here after you."
* Company name changed for publication
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