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Managing contracts an eventful activity in Iraq

  • Published
  • By Howdy Stout
  • 72nd Air Base Wing Public Affairs
The explosion shattered the windows and threw her across the desk. The walls were peppered with shrapnel from the rocket, which had detonated in the air after striking a nearby lamp-post and tree. It was the second time their office had been hit by rocket remnants. Her hearing wouldn't fully return for another eight months.

"We came under attack every day for almost 45 days straight," remembers Capt. Virginia Diehl. "It was really intense. It was the most severe attack on the Green Zone since its establishment."

As an acquisition officer, the opportunities to deploy were limited. But when the U.S. decided to surge in Iraq, the Defense Contracting Management Agency put out the call to the Air Force to oversee contracts and inspect facilities to ensure contracts were properly executed.

"So they asked the Air Force and other agencies to send people out to help," Captain Diehl said. "It was an opportunity for people who didn't normally deploy to deploy."

In a way, Captain Diehl felt obligated. Her father, an F-16 pilot killed in a training mission in preparation to potentially deploy at the beginning of the first Gulf War, had told his then-12-year-old daughter that America would return to Iraq in 10 years. His prediction came true. "I thought a lot about that again while I was there," Captain Diehl said. "That's part of the reason I went. I don't think he would have expected (me) to head out there."

Assigned to monitor Army contracts, Captain Diehl found herself based at Saddam Hussein's former palace in the diplomatic area of Baghdad, the so-called Green Zone. Monitoring contracts meant Captain Diehl spent much of her time inspecting facilities and, in some cases, checking on safety issues at five Forward Operation Bases and the Combat Support Hospital. With the surge of troops into Iraq, existing facilities were often pushed to the limit.

Working with other inspectors, Captain Diehl helped formulate guidelines with Camp Mayors -- company-grade officers in charge of various bases -- to ensure food and water safety, provide uninterrupted power supply, improve morale and recreational services and prevent unplanned modifications to facilities. Housed in the livable parts of bombed-out buildings or in temporary camps, troops would often build makeshift privacy walls and daisy-chain electrical outlets to plug in computers, TVs and air conditioners, creating unanticipated safety hazards. "That's when you start running into fire and electrical safety issues," she said.

Her work helped reduce electrical outages and fire and electrocution dangers at camp facilities. "I really learned what it takes to sustain operational troops in austere environments," she said. The work done by contractors amazed her, especially considering that many were civilians who volunteered to take contract work in austere locations, working hard to support their uniformed countrymen. "It was amazing to see their dedication, especially when things got intense" Captain Diehl said. "It motivated us to keep going."

But as the surge continued, so did the rocket attacks on the Green Zone. Captain Diehl said the attacks were sporadic but constant. Rocket attacks were primarily aimed at the Presidential Palace and other high value targets within the Embassy compound where senior Coalition and State Department leadership worked. Several rockets landed right outside her office, near the TV studio General Petreaus used for his weekly media briefings.

"The first rocket came in early on Easter Sunday and took out multiple security vehicles," she said. "Hitting snooze for an extra 15 minutes of sleep was the difference of me being in the office versus a bunker on my way in to work. When I got into the office I found pieces of shrapnel and holes in the window that would've hit my head and chest. The insurgents were aiming for the palace and all the high-level targets. It was like horseshoes and we were the horseshoe posts."

Calls to and from her husband, an Air Force communications officer deployed to Djibouti at the time, were often interrupted by rocket attacks. "I'd have to drop (the phone) and run," Captain Diehl said. "One time he called and I said, 'I'm not sure if I'll make it back.' It really was hard on him. But he understood why I was there."

An international business degree major, Captain Diehl found the Green Zone fascinating. She had the chance to interact with civilian and military coalition partners.

"It was an exciting place to be because it was where the action was from a political perspective," she said. Weekends were sometimes spent in sports competitions with British friends.

"They taught us cricket and we taught them dodge ball," Captain Diehl says with a smile. "Of course we beat them; they thought it was just a made up game from the movie. My fellow Americans and I broke the news that most of us had been playing since grade school!"

But after six months, her tour neared its end. She met her husband in Cairo for a few days before heading home. The deployment gave Captain Diehl a better perspective on the support required to keep the Air Force in the fight.

"When we were getting rocketed, we'd hear the fighters and Army Apache helicopters buzzing around and see the Marines eager to get out there and do their battle damage and security assessment. You can't have that without the support of all our brave military and coalition partners," she said. "They couldn't sustain that mission day in and day out without tankers and all the other pieces of the puzzle."

Back at Tinker for nearly a year, Captain Diehl is now an operations director for the KC-135 tanker depot-level maintenance program office. She is glad she volunteered.

"Absolutely," she says. "I've got some good war stories to tell my kids and I've met some amazing and brave fellow countrymen and allies. Life has come back full circle."