My brother in law, Stephen Daniel is a country boy who drove a truck for Albertsons 23 years of his life. Steve Daniel married my twin sister, Cindy Daniel on November 4, 1994 at the Justice of the Peace in Tarrant County after meeting us at a dance class with my grandmother inside BillyBob’s Texas.
Growing up in San Antonio, Texas, Steve was an only child but had many cousins growing up that still highlight many of his fondest childhood memories today. My sister and I love to listen to his travels to Local Dairy Queen and going down the river he has a Texas Accent and often takes awhile to tell his story but, it’s worth the wait to go back in time when things were simpler and his mom had a pie cooking on the window sill.
Born on February 10, 1951, Steve was one of the oldest civilian contractors on Camp Anaconda who was driving a fuel tanker truck during the roadside bombing on Good Friday. Steve had only been on Camp Anaconda for two months when this horrific and deadly attack occurred during a “Code Black.”I was on the sales floor when the receptionist, Theresa paged me to show me my twin sister on television being interviewed after it was suspected that her husband, Steve Daniel had been kidnapped. Later, it would be disclosed that it was Tommy Hammil who had been taken hostage and later escaped. Steve and Tommy were friends and shared time together in the mess hall and often “waiting around” to take off on a convoy.
Balad Air Force Base is an Iraqi Air Force Base located near Balad in the Sunni Triangle 40 miles (64 km) North of Baghdad, Iraq. It was opened during the 1980’s called Al-Bakr Air Base which housed Mikoyan-Gurevich MiG-23 fighters, during the 2000s the base was occupied by the United States Armed Forces as part of the Iraq War and called both Balad Air Base by the United States Air Force and LSA Anaconda by the United States Army before being renamed Joint Base Balad on June 15, 2008. The base was handed back to the Iraqi Air Force during December 2011 returning to be called Balad Air Base. During the Iraq War it was the second largest U.S. Base in Iraq and today is home to Iraqi Air Force’s General Dynamics F-16 Fighting Falcons.
Some of you may be wondering how a country boy from Weatherford, Texas wound up in the line of fire with some 22-25 other fuel tanker drivers on Good Friday, and the truth is one of heart wrenching reality of an economy that tanked and left truck drivers with Hazmat qualifications scrambling to support their families. No one “wanted” to go to Iraq and everyone felt they had fewer options “back home” to earn a good living. I met many of these folks in Houston, Texas days before they “shipped out” and remarkably their struggle to find work was one thing that they all had in common.Steve was laid off after 23 years of driving for Albertsons and facing losing the “farm” when he heard of working in Iraq and making “a lot of money.” The truth of what “life or death” danger these civilian contractor tanker drivers actually faced was never disclosed to them. Oh sure, KBR told them there would be danger but reassured them that military personnel would protect them. You see, tanker drivers had no way to defend themselves- they carried no guns or knives and they had NO combat training either.
Ironically, civilian contractors who worked on base and weren’t in the “line of fire” transporting fuel made MORE MONEY than the drivers! Are you surprised? I was too and dove headfirst into finding out why my brother in law was making less than my father and cousin who were NOT driving tankers and leaving the base.
The KBR Driver OT lawsuit seeking millions in unpaid overtime hours for drivers forced to work 18 hour days with 8 hours of overtime pay “pocketed” by the corporate giant KBR was a Class Action Lawsuit my brother in law was named on (Steve worked nearly 8 years at Camp Anaconda). For some reason, last year, the attorneys out of San Francisco gave up seeking the unpaid wages of these drivers.You see, I “sought out” other folks stationed at Camp Anaconda and asked about their teeth and, their health. Shocked that nearly everyone had suffered tooth loss and gum disease, I would spend years compiling evidence of a common bond amongst civilian contractors and health issues. The similarities and rare cancers shared by everyone from the campsites were staggering. Many civilian contractors died and their surviving family members lost lawsuits for wrongful death. The corporate greed exhibited by KBR with a flagrant disregard for the health of their employees is staggering to such an extent that “digging deep” will shock anyone on the outside of their “secret circle.”
Photos on the camp were prohibited but I was unaware of this and sent Steve disposable cameras that he used to photograph the roadside convoy when he saw a tanker blow up. It’s no wonder that attorneys are struggling to find reliable photographs, KBR didn’t want any documentation to exist!Perhaps Steve was in shock or wanted my sister and I to better understand the danger he faced sending money home to “save the farm” but for whatever reason, what happened to my brother in law that day would change his life and his innocence. He took several photos of what he saw during the roadside attack that I’m almost certain was so incredible that my brother in law didn’t realize that death was all around him as he photographed the destroyed tankers in his path.
The charming “good old boy” demeanor of my brother in law for the next 11 days while under attack at Balad AFB was nowhere to be found when he finally called home as my entire family “camped out” at the Daniel Diva Diggs awaiting word that he was not kidnapped and yet had somehow survived and instructed the other drivers to “go real fast and get the Hell outta there!” Steve Daniel was crying and horrified that his friends had died “right before his eyes” and fearful he would live to reunite with his family ever again. Steve had never shown any degree of fear or uncertainty to either myself or my sister and as he spoke to us with bombs and gunfire all around him, I told him I would somehow find him a job and to please return home before something happened again.Steve’s desire to support his family outweighed his desire to return home. To date, Steve Daniel stayed far beyond the length of time civilian or military contractors stayed at Camp Anaconda for nearly 8 years. When he finally returned home, loud noises upset him, crowds made him feel dizzy and war movies caused him to cry- he never recovered from the Good Friday Massacre and I do not believe that he ever will. His story is a story that needs to be told, a voice that needs to get heard. Steve Daniel is an unsung hero that went through Hell to keep his home from being foreclosed on and who supported Maryssa and Makenna Mahaney when his step daughter, Stephaney Mahaney became pregnant with twins while he was at Camp Anaconda. Steve Daniel was afraid to come home to no job and a family who relied on his income. Steve Daniel is a “working man” who has never had the luxury of being unemployed with a family that relied on his income. Cindy Daniel is physically disabled after an accident left her with 12 lbs of aluminum alloy fusing her spine. Steve Daniel did what he could to send money home, money that KBR “skimmed” from tanker drivers.
Many of the drivers were dairy farmers and grocery truckers and most certainly never trained on how to react during a bombing. Survivors of that attack would struggle with PTSD and Survivor Guilt along with numerous other health conditions that included death.
Years later, I continue to fight for my brother in law to be granted Defense Base Act Compensation with many others who died with mysterious cancers or in front of Steve during the roadside bombing. These families have never been compensated for losing the sole breadwinner for their families who risked everything to send money home. There are many victims within the ranks of civilian contractors but their stories are overshadowed by the military personnel who were also exposed to contaminated water and toxic burn pits. I come from a military family myself and understand that it isn’t only the contractors who struggled- military personnel have died or become ill from the very same exposure that civilian contractors have.
At least 18 death claims, At least 90 death claims Afghanistan, At least 3,195 Defense Base Act Claims filed during this quarter, At least 121 death claims, At least 1,138 were for injuries longer than 4 days off work, At least 85 were for injuries requiring no time off from work, At least 1,879 were for injuries requiring no time off from work, A total of 90,680 Defense Base Act Claims have been filed since September 1, 2001.
But, how many of these claims have been settled? Most certainly not my brother in laws and thousands of others. Fighting the Department of Labor even after being a victim and survivor of a roadside bombing and losing all of your teeth and suffering lung issues, mysterious cancers, PTSD and more continue to go unresolved and that includes many who died both civilian and military. Let’s examine who is fighting for the contractors while the Veteran’s Administration fights for the Military- No one other than a handful of attorneys, reporters and me. You see the Military protects their own and while my brother served several tours in Iraq and a 20 year career in the Navy, Jerry L Thomas Jr of Monroe NC along with many other Vets, was forced to go on Obamacare and cannot get his high blood pressure medication filled (along with thousands of others) due to the restrictions of the “plan.” So, whether you were civilian or military- the issues for both groups continue years after Operation Freedom ended.
Civilian Contractor Casualties continue to be the “best kept secret” of a war that made KBR millions and cost many their health and even their lives as they struggled to send money home to their families. Overseas Civilian Contractor websites continue to publish the accurate details of these men and women who left for Iraq in order to earn a living. Ask yourself how “easy” leaving your family behind and working in a war zone for years with only two breaks to return home a year for ten days (two- four spent traveling) would be. Being cheated out of mandatory overtime and exposed to toxic air and water? Or, being put into a war zone with no weapon or training? Steve Daniel endured all three.
While KBR maintains that sending fuel tanker drivers into a war zone with no warning (remember these were NOT soldiers! They were dairy farmers and grocery truck drivers) KBR (then part of Halliburton Houston, Texas) once run by Vice President Dick Cheney, delivered 80% to 90% of the military’s fuel and “we had to get fuel to the soldiers- this was a WAR!”
The LA Times published reports that (for obvious reasons downplay the role played by knowing the drivers were being sent on a Suicide Mission) documents show that Peterson, a retired Army General then new to KBR, was determined to meet the company’s contractual obligations with the military which he referred to as the “customer.” Peterson was adamant that civilian truckers had to “move out” when the military called for them. “Drivers did sign up with the understanding of some level of hostility, but they did not expect to be in the middle of a war.” Richard argued that truckers were NOT soldiers. On the day of the roadside bombing, Military commanders called for 200,000 gallons of jet fuel to be rushed from Camp Anaconda Steve Daniel of Weatherford, Texas was one of those drivers. The orders were passed down to military units that escort KBR convoy’s with an Anaconda commanders comment attached “Note the statement about convoys. They move.” In the end (under a Code Black) Chambers ordered the jet fuel cargo to move but, he also ordered a beefed up military escort for the KBR convoy: more Humvees, double the ammunition and an armed soldier in every cab. Chambers, now head of Army’s Transportation Center at Ft. Eustis, VA., declined comment through a spokesman with the LA Times reporter who broke the original story, T. Christian Miller on September 3, 2007.The Good Friday Ambush 2004, was an attack by Iraqi insurgents on April 9, 2004 during the Iraq War on a convoy of American supply trucks (near the Baghdad International Airport). It happened in the midst of the Iraq spring fighting of 2004, which saw intensified clashes throughout the country. The 724th Transportation Company was tasked to haul fuel to the North Gate of Baghdad Airport from Camp Anaconda, 60 miles away the next morning- Good Friday and the anniversary of the Americans entering Baghdad. Unknown to the truck drivers, elements of the 1st Calvary Division had pushed militants into the suburbs of Abu Graib, through which the convoy had to travel. Up until this time, the convoy ambushes consisted of 4-5 insurgents firing on passing convoys with rocket propelled grenades and small arms. The read ruin to enemy contact was to return fire and clear the kill zone. Five vehicles of the 724th armed with crew served weapons escorted a convoy of 17 fuel trucks with two bobtail tractors operated by American defense contractor KBR and driven by civilian contractors. Five civilian contractors and one U.S. Army soldier were killed. Twelve soldiers and four KBR drivers were wounded. Three civilian contractors, Thomas Hamill, Timothy Bell, and William Bradley, U.S. Soldiers, Sergeant Elmer Krause and Private First Class Keith Matthew Maupin disappeared. Hammil escaped from his captors and was recovered by U.S. Forces 27 days later. Bradley’s body was recovered in January 2005. Krauses body was recovered on April 23 and Maupin was held captive for an undetermined time prior to being executed. Matt Maupin was the first American soldier missing in action during the war in Iraq and symbolized the risk and sacrifice ALL TRUCK DRIVERS made during the war.
Thomas Hammill later wrote a book regarding his kidnapping titled “Escape in Iraq: the Thomas Hamill Story.” Tommy, like all other drivers was taught to never stop driving and the gun crews were trained to take care of disabled crews or trucks to pick them up. Everyone who was able had to keep running. Tommy couldn’t see the shooters, they were hidden in the grass. My brother in law, like every other driver, put the “petals to the metal” as fast as the governed engines would allow them to drive. Steve shouted into his cb radio “drive real damn fast and get the Hell outta here!” Had anyone stopped on that dangerous convoy- they would be sitting ducks. With gunfire and trucks fish tailing and spinning out of control, the drivers that survived passed a truck that had been hit by a rocket with no signs of survivors when a truck passed Tommy moving fast, it exploded and erupted into flames.
What happened on that road that day still haunts Tommy and Steve and all the other drivers who survived the attack known as the Good Friday Massacre. There was no counseling offered for these survivors who couldn’t afford to leave the Camp and return home with no way to support their families. Held 11 days under attack at Baghdad AFB, the drivers never had an opportunity to discuss what happened, how they felt or how they would “deal with” the trauma of the attack. Instead, they returned to Camp Anaconda to continue working.
Camp Anaconda burned up several hundred tons of waste per day that was not separated. Three times a week, Steve Daniel had to dump trash in the fiery Hellish Hole that never stopped burning. Smoke and ash encircled the camp with temperatures in the shade of up to 125 degrees.
My brother in law finally came home after nearly 8 years and continues to fight for Defense Base Act Compensation, Unpaid Overtime Wages, and finally exposure to toxic burn pits and contaminated drinking water. I’m the voice for all of the drivers who had no voice of their own and I will continue fighting for these drivers who are the forgotten victims of war.
At Camp Anaconda, everyone wore a Kevlar vest with a hard hat and mortar attacks occured daily. Every time Steve called home we could hear the gunfire. Jet fuel was used to start the Burn Pit fires. KBR operated the Open Air Burn Pits and Water Purification Operations. Wastes burned in these open air pits included animal carcasses, asbestos insulation, lithium batteries, pesticides, medical supplies, human corpses, petroleum products, copiers and printers, tires, trucks, munitions boxes and more. Smoke, ash and fumes covered the camps as these fires burned 24 hours a day.
Contaminated drinking water was used for personal hygiene (brushing teeth, bathing etc) and to make coffee.
How many civilian and military personal were exposed to these toxins? Sent into a war zone with no way to defend themselves? How many continue to suffer PTSD and health issues? How long with KBR continue to “Dummy Up” regarding the disaster and danger involved for drivers who were sent out that fateful day from Camp Anaconda?
Many people cant understand why I created unique businesses that directly target low to middle income families and the answer lies within my families struggle to survive joblessness. You see, I understand desperation as did Steve Daniel when he signed on to “save the farm.” Targeting people who face the same hurdles when planning a wedding or other event is very important to me because no alternative existed prior to my creating one. I’m not interested in the rich consumer- I’m interested in the struggling consumer doing the best they can to hold their heads above water. My focus is with the People that no one else cared enough to reach back and help when they stumbled in their path to survive.
As military and civilians continue to fight for compensation, these forgotten heros continue to go unnoticed….
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