Coalition forces get help from citizens abroad
Army News Service
Release Date: 1/7/2004
By Staff Sgt. Nate Orme
CAMP ARIFJAN, Kuwait (Army News Service, Jan. 7, 2004) -- Third-country nationals, called "TCNs" work side-by-side with American contractors and military personnel, in nearly every vocational field in the war on terror.
There are TCNs in management, construction and maintenance. TCNs repair M1-Abrams tank engines and communication systems. They serve food in dining facilities. They install plumbing, drywall and air conditioning into buildings. They risk and have lost their lives driving massive amounts of coalition supplies into Iraq.
Yet, due to their critical but behind-the-scenes work, their often limited English, differing schedules, pay-scales and living locations, they seem more a part of the landscape rather than the committed and enthusiastic partners they often are.
Rather than working for the military directly, most TCNs are hired by defense contractors through job agencies in their native country, said Cynthia Fowler, a human resources professional with CSA Ltd, out of Kuwait. TCNs typically respond to ads placed in newspapers or through word-of-mouth information, often from friends already hired. Potential workers submit a resume and the best are selected based on the job requirements. Strong candidates usually have some English skills and, often with skilled positions, a degree.
Third country nationals can be found throughout the theater, just on Camp Arifjan in Kuwait, there are about 3,500 TCNs, said officials with the Provost Marshal Office.
Mohammed Basheer works as an administration assistant for the Public Works Branch of the Installation and Community Service Department on Camp Arifjan. Basheer helps his employer organize and communicate with other TCNs working on a myriad of projects around the base.
Basheer learned about the overseas job from a cousin. He applied and was interviewed in Bombay, India, by Fowler. He has been in Kuwait for about one year.
"It has been a good experience for me. I learned a lot about conducting administration," said Basheer, in his singsong Indian accent.
"I have lots of friends in the U.S. Army," said Basheer, "I especially like (CSA) management because they support me whenever I go to them for help."
Through first-hand exposure working for the military, TCNs generally get a much more accurate view of coalition forces compared to their countrymen at home.
"When I was learning about Saddam, I had some opinions," said Basheer, "but when I came here I understand the situation better; how the United States is trying to keep the peace and stability in the region. The U.S. Army is doing good."
Still, the major incentive for TCNs is money.
"These jobs are considered high paying in places like India where unemployment is very high," Fowler said. "Workers start here at 75 KD (Kuwaiti Dinars; one dinar is about $3.40) a month. They bring good skills with them when they come, and they rarely leave. It's a solid paycheck for them."
Room and board are free for TCNs working for CSA, Fowler said.
"TCNs live in residence compounds and are provided three meals a day plus a snack. We provide them with transportation for work and there are also buses that go to Kuwait City. The residences look very much like a campus. They have libraries, cricket leagues, gyms and TV rooms. The housing areas are owned by the Kuwaiti Ministry of Defense and private companies," explained Fowler, adding that the Kuwaiti government provides medical care to TCNs.
To those unfamiliar with the TCN program, it may be surprising to see TCNs working on sophisticated military equipment, as they have done here since the first Gulf War.
Mohammed Farook, also from Bombay, India, has worked for ITT Industries Inc. in Kuwait for nine years.
"When I got here it was totally new for me. I started as a driver and I became familiar with all the U.S. vehicles. I am licensed to drive tanks, trucks - everything," Farook explained.
Farook said because of his knowledge of vehicle systems, his supervisors wanted him to become a mechanic and work on Abrams tanks. Like many TCNs, Farook got his experience through on-the-job training.
ITT management said that equipment with classified technology is removed from vehicles by military members and American workers prior to TCNs working on them.
Farook returns to India every year to his wife and two children. Most TCNs get a paid trip home every two years with one month paid leave. Many go home more often and stay for several months before returning to Kuwait.
Farook, who has always wanted to visit the United States, said that his experience working on base gave him a taste of what American culture is like.
"When I started, I was not fluent in English, but once into the atmosphere, I picked it up. English is like my hobby; learning slang, accents - I really like it," Farook said. "Westerners are more broad-minded, not as concerned with small stuff. Asians are more traditional. America looks to the future, not back."
TCNs come from a wide variety of cultural and religious backgrounds. Watching a small group of construction workers work on a commander's conference room is a marvel of the human ability to adapt. Using a mixture of Arabic and English as a lingua franca, Filipino, Pakistani, Egyptian, and Indian workers work, talk and joke with each other as they install items to specification. Occasionally, an American employee with the Army Corps of Engineers will come by on his rounds and talk with the Indian foreman. Often, Muslim workers will roll out a small rug and pray on bended knees at various times during the day. Catholic Filipinos working in December talk about Christmas mass.
Most TCNs prefer not to think of their role as having any political implications, but few have anything good to say about the former Iraqi dictator that the coalition forces toppled, and often speak well of the coalition force's efforts. "I'm not Iraqi," said Shizaman, who was lonely willing to give part of his name. "I'm Pakistani, but Saddam was no good."
Farook, the tank mechanic, waxes philosophical about his role: "I'm working with an American company and the U.S. Army. I'm kind of like a soldier because I'm supporting them, but at the same time, I'm trying to make a living."
Interestingly, the home governments of many TCNs that currently do not send troops in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom, citing political reasons, are more willing to let civilian citizens earn wages - much of which is sent back home.
In the term TCN, "third country," for simplicity's sake, refers to countries other than the "first" country of Kuwait or "second," mostly Western countries. Personnel hired locally usually fill a "Western" position, said Fowler. Many such hires are from the Philippines. For administration purposes such local hires are not technically referred to as TCNs, although most originally came to work for Kuwaiti companies or families, often in the maid or service industries. Due to this, there are more females from the Philippines working on base than, say, India, which are almost exclusively male.
Eva Pluma, a Filipina who has been living with her aircraft mechanic husband in Kuwait for 13 years, works at the GNC health store near the Post Exchange. Pluma is brought to work by a GNC manager and works alone 15 days a month in the small store. For her, working on base has its benefits.
"I think working here is better than outside the base. Americans respect us," Pluma said.
Since most TCNs work with civilian contractors, one of the few places military personnel work with TCNs directly is in the camp dining facilities. Camp Arifjan is run by a contractor from Saudi Arabia, said head manager Raja Khurshid. Khurshid, originally from Pakistan, has been working with the U.S. Army since 1991, starting in Saudi Arabia. He came to Arifjan last spring to open his current DFAC, which has 75 TCNs working two shifts.
American soldiers trained in culinary arts work in the DFACs to ensure that Army standards are met.
"The staff likes to work with Americans," Khurshid said. "They work very well with us. We have good friendship. The Army cooks will ask us to do this or this. They help us and teach us."
It shouldn't be said that TCNs are all smiles with no complaints. Some mention the long lines and ever-changing rules at camp entry and exit points, sometimes taking an hour or more twice a day. Also mentioned is the large disparity between American and TCN salaries. But most TCNs, often having had the experience back home of very low, late or no pay from employers, say they enjoy American companies' dependability when it comes pay time, as well as the friendly and supportive work environment they provide.
Thus, by teaming up with TCNs, the American military through its contractors is able to bring diverse people together, provide them opportunities and save taxpayer money, as well as achieve its own beneficent goals in the rebuilding of Iraq.
(Editor's note: Staff Sgt. Nate Orme is Public Affairs specialist for the 3rd Personnel Command.)
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