The road to Iraq

Theresa Montgomery

KSU student becomes civilian contractor

Craig Kramer, 38 poses with grandson Paul Kennedy, 3, before leaving for Iraq for civilian work with KBR. According to Kramer’s contract he will be in Iraq for a year. PHOTO COURTESY OF RUTH KRAMER

Credit: John Proppe

Craig Kramer, freshman operations management major, stopped coming to his U.S. Modern History class last semester after the second exam.

“I got a little concerned that maybe something had happened to him,” said Kate Kellner, associate professor of history. “He did very well on his exam, and then he wasn’t in class.”

She checked his course status and learned Kramer had withdrawn.

“I just e-mailed him to see what was going on, and he e-mailed me back and said, ‘I’m doing this adventure,’ as he called it,” Kellner said.

That was November. Today, Kramer, 38, is in Iraq as a civilian contractor.

Now in his final stage of training, he will be relocated to a permanent site in the next few days, where he will be a heavy truck driver assigned to a convoy.

Kramer said contractors, unlike military personnel, “don’t use heavy artillery,” though they do wear bullet-proof vests and helmets.

He said his decision to become a contractor was a financial one.

A truck driver for 12 years, he heard about contracting jobs from a coworker who left for Iraq.

“Patriotism is hard to define,” he said. “There’s all different ways you can express it. You have soldiers putting their lives on the front line, but then you also have people back home supporting those people. I guess I would have to say the pay is better,” he said of contractors.

Long-distance decision

Kramer applied online last March for a job with KBR, the engineering unit of Halliburton Corp., as a U.S. Department of Defense contractor. KBR provides personnel such as electricians, plumbers, launderers and warehouse workers to relieve the military of services that can be handled by civilians.


business of war

Under the LOGCAP III contract, KBR has:

• Prepared more than 490 million meals

• Washed more than 30 million bundles of laundry

• Produced 8.4 billion gallons of water

• Transported more than 675 million gallons of military fuel

• Hosted more than 80 million patrons at Moraled, Welfare and Recreation facilities

• Delivered more than 100 million miles driven in support of the troops, with nearly 700 trucks on the road on any given day

Source: Melissa Norcross, public relations manager for Halliburton in North America

In September, a recruiter’s assistant called and told him to expect a conference call from a recruiter within 24 hours.

The next night, Kramer’s cell phone rang again.

“It just happened to be at the break during my microeconomics class,” he said in a phone interview last week from Houston, where he was in training. “The KBR recruiter was calling me back.”

Several other job candidates also shared the conference call, Kramer said.

“I think there was at least a dozen of us on the line at one time,” he said. “And they read a speech about what it’s going to be like • what to expect, all the downfalls • basically, trying to get people to jump off, hang up or not want to go.”

When he returned to class, Kramer was excited it was finally getting underway, he said.

“It was a quick hesitation, but then again an opportunity like this does not come along often,” he said.

He began processing and training for his job as a contractor with Houston-based KBR in November, but came back to Kent over the holidays, he said.

“It’s almost like the training the government puts soldiers through, but on a very condensed scale,” Kramer said. “The training we receive is primarily for evacuation.”

Returning to Texas, Kramer said goodbye to his family on New Year’s Day.

“At the Cleveland airport you cannot wait with them until they leave,” said Ruth Kramer, his wife of 11 years. “It was drop, hugs and kisses, and off he goes.”

Adventurous spirit

On Jan. 11, Kramer left Houston for Iraq. His family is struggling in the wake of his absence.

“I love this man with all my heart and soul,” Ruth Kramer said. “I have two daughters at home with me while he is gone. The emotions are high. This is a very difficult time for all of us.”

Raised in North Royalton, Kramer lost both his parents as a teenager, his wife said.

Ruth Kramer said that when she met her husband, she was impressed by Kramer’s caring attitude and “courage to go on” despite his parents’ deaths.

“He always has to try a new adventure,” she said. “That’s the way Craig is.”

Contact features correspondent Theresa Montgomery at [email protected].