When The Neon Green Safety Shirt Feels Out of Place

Geotechnical Drilling - IRAQ Geotchnical Engineers

The preparation for take-off seemed mostly routine, a night flight, common almost anywhere. The pilot's voice called for no smoking, but also commanded that no lights would be used in the cabin, as outside markers, or for navigation lighting for that matter, until further notice. The state was a complete blackout. The plane, with a capacity of about 75 people was occupied only by men. The thrust of the engines was unlike anything we had experienced as the pilot moved the throttles to full open in one quick motion. As soon as the gear broke contact with the runway, the bird went into the steepest climb possible without stall. Peering out the starboard side of the craft, we could see what looked like small fireworks. The stranger in the seat beside us grumbled simply "insurgents." This particular takeoff was performed to avoid small arms fire from the countryside below.

Welcome to Iraq, Spring 2011, on a geotechnical drilling assignment with GeoLogic. The flight maneuver is one known in the trade as a "combat take off" and is used commonly to avoid contact with the many armed insurgents remaining in this vast untamed land of hostile deserts and colossal oil reserves. The Driller was one of GeoLogic's senior people, finishing an assignment of about six weeks in Basra. Some of the things witnessed while in country were outside the realm of imagination for all but the heartiest traveler. The ubiquitous M-RAPs for example, were rugged enough to outmaneuver the wiliest Boston taxi. They were used to jam area radio transmissions while diffusing IEDs.

Diplomats ran the country with a certain sense of purpose. The visitors' quarters were among the guards protecting most of the senior figures, and their day would start early, transporting each soldier's personal arms to their assigned SUV. At road crossings, the typical convoy would have four SUVs. The first would simply push any traffic into the intersection with its massive front bumper, the second and third would fan out to the left and right to stop traffic as the fourth, presumably carrying the VIP, would push through unhindered.

When the local politicians were eventually finessed by the lead Geologist, the rig arrived with as many as five crew members, some in sandals, non in hardhats. OSHA was not present. With some considerable time and patience, through extreme temperatures and several sandstorms the program was completed. Another of Geo's crew has been invited for the next round, to start when the paperwork clears.

In hindsight, this writer felt a bit naive for sending a batch of neon safety green GEO shirts as a gift for the crew. Let's just say they posed politely, then quickly changed back into their camo gear.

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