Vicenza GIs guard as Iraqis finally get paid
May 8, 2003
KIRKUK, Iraq — It struck Spc. Jonathan Abraham as odd: Back home in California, it takes a few minutes to conduct a bank transaction.
At the Rasheed Bank in Kirkuk, it takes all day.
Abraham, of the Vicenza, Italy-based 2nd Battalion, 503rd Infantry Regiment, was helping secure the burned-out bank last week while North Oil Co. workers got paid.
After Kirkuk fell in early April, looters torched the building and an adjacent oil company structure. But they couldn’t get into the British-made vault, which contained upward of $1.2 million worth of Iraqi dinar.
Army engineers managed to get into the safe through the building’s roof and then blew open the door, said 1st Lt. Jason Cockman, officer in charge of the security detail. Engineers opened a vault containing payment records as well.
Since then, Army troops have stood watch while the workers got paid for the first time in months. Oil company mechanics, drillers and executives move in orderly lines through a gauntlet of concertina wire up to the bank gate. Local police search the workers before they head to the teller window.
Things haven’t always been so orderly.
On the first day of the Army security detail, workers fearing for their cash worked themselves into a frenzy. Some tried to scale the concertina wire, ending up cut and bloody.
Troops fired some warning shots, then they fired up the CD player, Cockman said.
“We started playing country music to calm the crowd,” said Cockman 30, of Matthews, N.C. “Pretty soon, people were snapping their fingers.”
Like Brinks guards in camouflage, the soldiers bring the cash to the bank every day in armored vehicles — either a Bradley or an M-113, Cockman said. At the end of the day, they take it with them to a secure location.
So far, troops have helped 6,000 North Oil Co. workers get paid, Cockman said. Troops will do the same for other companies when this detail is done.
“You kind of feel like you’re doing something nice, helping people get their money,” said Abraham, 24, of Redlands, Calif., “Maybe this will help the local economy.”