Many IBEW Members
April 2005 IBEW Journal
Army Sgt. 1st Class Joe Clarkson, St. Louis, Missouri, Local 1, a 16-year member and journeyman wireman, didn’t put his unionism on hold when he was deployed to Iraq almost one year ago.
He stepped it up. "I tried to spread the word on how great it is to be union to all that would listen," he said." Brother Clarkson, who has returned home, maintained a sort of "welcome wagon" for other Brotherhood members in the war zone. He kept a list of them and hopes to stay in touch. Clarkson also expressed his concern about the welfare of electricians working for military contractors in Iraq.
Employees of KBR (a subsidiary of Halliburton), for instance, are working seven 12-hour shifts each week. They are paid $14.90 per hour, with a 55 percent "uplift" on the first 40 hours only. "Not nearly enough money for dodging all the mortars," Clarkson says. He says that one contractor paid as little as $12 per hour for a two-week job installing a sound system on one of the military bases.
A member of the 245th Army Maintenance Combat Support Company, Clarkson was deployed to Camp Seitz, outside of Abu Ghraib. His unit completed over 6,000 jobs, from installing air conditioners and generators and "add on armor" to military vehicles, to force protection and gun truck escorts.
While Clarkson is proud that his unit ended up being the "most productive in the theatre," he is upset that the Bush administration tried to cut hazardous duty and family separation pay for many of those who are sacrificing their lives in the Middle East. He says: "Thank God, Congress overcame his [Bush’s] intentions."
Clarkson’s wife is a full-time schoolteacher. Before his deployment, they shared many responsibilities for home and family. He says: "It is amazing, all the generosity of my brothers," praising one Local 2 member for cutting his lawn while he was gone and a retired member for sending $400 to help the family. When his 40th birthday rolled around, Joe received pictures of his co-workers wearing birthday hats. "I am most thankful for your prayers," he says. "Things could easily have been much more tragic."
Brother Clarkson’s new additions to his IBEW address book include: his platoon leader, Capt. Scott Ratliff, Kansas City, Missouri, Local 124; Greg Brodeur, Montpelier, Vermont, Local 300 and Mike Anderson, Muskegon, Michigan, Local 275, a civilian worker. Sgt. Chris Rosner, also from Local 1, is stationed in southern Iraq and due to come home about the same time as Clarkson.
Daniel G. Williamson, Akron, Ohio, Local 306, is reaching the end of his tour. In a Christmas letter to his local’s business manager, Dave Moran, Brother Williamson, a second-year residential apprentice, whose National Guard unit supplies gun truck support for convoys throughout Iraq, echoes the themes of many union members who have written from the war zone.
After thanking local members for sending packages of toiletries and other needed items, Sgt. 1st Class Williamson, 148th Transportation Company, said, "You may or may not realize it, but this Brotherhood is stronger than you could ever know." While he was once uncertain about the union because of "stories" that he had heard, now, he says, "I know that the IBEW is not just about meetings, training or jobs, but about ‘taking care of its own.’" He says, "I’ve met many individuals here in Iraq who are in the IBEW and it is really a special moment. We can relate more and have a wonderful conversation or talk shop. To meet a fellow union member is like a visitor from home. This is the feeling I get from the IBEW and all its members. Continue the good work, be who you are, but don’t forget where it all starts from: the IBEW."
Williamson, a Gulf War field artillery veteran—who has also served on Guard relief missions for flood victims in southern Ohio—is, like Clarkson, spreading the union message. He says, "I have a couple other soldiers who would like to fill out an application and get into the business."
Williamson says, "I’m hoping that we don’t get extended. I’m starting to get a little excited to be back home to my wife and two children, along with all my good friends."
Jonathan Flynn, a member of Trenton, New Jersey, Local 269, is a recent arrival in Iraq. A member of A Co. 1/111, a National Guard unit out of Philadelphia, Brother Flynn is assigned as a senior trainer for an Iraqi National Guard unit. He says: "It’s been interesting, so far. I’ve seen four or five improvised explosives go off, fortunately from a distance. I’ve also seen various small arms engagements and a couple mortar attacks."
Flynn says that his family is being very supportive, but "it’s harder on them, me being here, than it is on me." They see something on the news, he says and instantly think it’s him. Meanwhile, he’s "a hundred miles away [from the incident] having a quiet day."
Flynn was initiated into the IBEW in 2000 as a telephone data technician after a successful organizing campaign at New Jersey Business Systems. He then applied to Local 269’s inside apprenticeship program, completing two years before his deployment to Iraq. Rick Aicher, assistant business manager of Local 269 praises Flynn and "all IBEW brothers and sisters who are risking their lives and have put their careers on hold in service to the United States."
Eric Elder, St. Joseph, Missouri, Local 695, returned from Iraq in October after serving with Naval Construction Batallion No. 3 (Seabees). A 26-year-old apprentice lineman at Aquila Power, Elder performed a wide range of electrical work—from wiring buildings to installing generators, air conditioning and electrical panels—in Baghdad, Mosul and Balad.
Elder originally joined the service in 1996 and served five years on active duty before entering the Reserves. He says: "Soldiers in Iraq are working very hard, but sometimes feel that they are not appreciated enough. We did a lot of good, useful stuff for the Army and Marines."
Elder’s local union brother, Staff Sgt. Scott Flint, an Aquila auxiliary operator, returned from Iraq in August. A member of the Army Reserve’s 459th Transportation Company, Flint drove tractor-trailers "in country" for 15 months and 10 days. He and his co-driver logged over 56,000 miles on over 80 missions.
Three apprentices from New Orleans, Louisiana, Local 130 are currently serving in Iraq. Keith Dykes, Stephan Gifford and Trahern Davis were recognized on the local’s Web site.
The Web site of Local 47 in Diamond Bar, California, reports that Southern California Edison lineman Allen Wildrige has been called to active duty in Iraq. Brother Wildrige is a sergeant with the 116th Calvary Brigade Combat Team, Army National Guard unit out of Idaho. Wildrige is in a medical company, (Charlie Med) with the 145th Forward Support Batallion.
Local 47 has joined others across the country, adopting a policy of returning membership dues to Brotherhood members who are called up from the reserves and put on active duty status.
Joseph P. Sandage, journeyman trimmer, member of West Frankford, Illinois, Local Union 702 since 2000, was welcomed home in late December and released from active duty on January 12, 2005. Brother Sandage is back with his family and has returned to work.
Richard Mathouser, Omaha, Nebraska, Local 22, has returned from service with the 129th Transportation Company to his job as an apprenticeship at Commonwealth Electric.
Mathouser’s company drove 4 million miles in Iraq, including missions transporting M1A1 Abrams tanks and Bradley fighting vehicles. He says: "I was almost killed in Baghdad last April by an improvised explosive device. By the luck of God, I survived."
Richard Brown, West Frankford, Illinois, Local 702, will be sent to Iraq in early May. Brown, a Verizon worker, is in California training for his mission.
Justin Clark, Local 702, employed by Frontier Communications, left for Iraq on October 31, 2004. He expects to be there for 18 months transporting supplies.
William Marty Degenhardt, Local 702, a residential wireman, has been on active duty since January 2003. He expects to be sent to Iraq for a 16-month stint.
The Electrical Workers’ Brotherhood News of Green Bay, Wisconsin, Local 158 carried a letter in January from Kurt Nimmer, a member serving in Iraq. He thanked the local for sending coloring books, pens, pencils and paper for Iraqi children. He said: "They absolutely love to draw and write over here! They don’t have pencils and paper like we do back home. So many times, I’ve stopped on a road and had children come up and ask for pens and pencils for school. I know we can’t help everyone, but for the ones that you decided to help, you really brought joy to their world."
Summing up his ten months in Iraq, Nimmer says: "It is very interesting to be in a different country with such a different culture. Don’t forget about the majority of the population over here. That is what [the insurgents] would like. Yes, they are frustrated with us being here. We are in the way. We drive down the middle of the roads because of roadside bombs. Most of the people here understand our reasoning in what we are doing. But just like at home, there are some really good people over here and there are some that aren’t so good. Hopefully, God willing, things will turn out O.K."