- By Thomas E. RicksThomas E. Ricks covered the U.S. military from 1991 to 2008 for the Wall Street Journal and then the Washington Post. He can be reached at email@example.com.
By Col. Larry Wexler (U.S. Army, ret.)
Best Defense department of first person experience
I served in Iraq from 2008-2009 and served as the deputy program director for LOGCAP Iraq. I was relieved of my duties in March 2009 after having apparently performed them just fine from October 2008 to March 2009. In January my supervisor recommended me for a Bronze Star for the work I was doing. He was stationed at Rock Island and came for a theater visit in February 2009. At no time did he mention any performance issues or his intentions to relieve me of my duties. What had transpired up to that time was I reported fraud, waste, and abuse on the part of the SERCO Management Contract and certain of the contractors and a failure to perform on the part of KBR on their contract. Prior to all this I had served 30 years in the Army in both active and reserve and extended my retirement a year to serve on the LOGCAP contract, had been promoted to Colonel, had command assignments up to 06 level and had attended the U.S. Army War College. I was also mobilized for two years on a joint assignment as the chief of staff of a deployable joint task force headquarters core element. In my civilian career I served as a vice president of corporate infrastructure — essentially purchasing and contracting.
Up to the third week of March I had no communication that I was not performing my duties to my supervisors’ satisfaction, in fact I had accomplished 90 percent of my performance objectives on my OER support form. I had built out a new life support area to improve the quality of life for those assigned to my detachment, have developed a better training plan, had developed a reception plan, had created a functional chain of command to provide better customer service, developed an SOP to ensure standardization across the detachment, and yet in March I received a call from my supervisor that I was being relieved (he wouldn’t say why) and that I had one week to get my affairs in order and be on a plane out of Iraq. My predecessor, who was also relieved, as well as the DPD for Afghanistan who had been relieved, were all given a month to get their affairs in orders. I was given a week because KBR and SERCO wanted me out of country before the arrival of the Congressional committee on wartime contracting the first week of April. They did not want me to brief them on the fraud, waste, and abuse on both contracts. KBR also wanted me out of the picture because instead of just handing the base at Basra to them, I worked with JCC-I to bid out the base life support as fixed price contracts. KBR did not like losing Basra from the LOGCAP contract. They also wanted me out because I would have presented my case that the fraud, waste, and abuse — and failure to perform in accordance with the respective contracts — would cost them their award fee bonus. The retired general in charge of the KBR LOGCAP Contract in Iraq worked with his active duty general counterparts to have me removed, not for having failed to perform my duties, but for having the integrity not to look the other way when contractors behaved badly.
The Army still relieves commanders or those in positions of leadership, but as you can see not always for a good reason and those that should be relieved for condoning fraud, waste and abuse are not relieved because generals today for the most part look out for each to protect each other.
Col. Larry Wexler (USA, Ret.), is an Armor Officer with over thirty years of commissioned service, both active and reserve. He has served at all levels of command from platoon through group and is a U.S. Army War College graduate. He was mobilized and deployed twice to Iraq.