Contractor Rob O'Brien is an active-duty Marine. In August
2005, when he learned he was to be deployed to Iraq, he fully
expected to participate in some of the riskier support
operations his unit would be performing from its base in Al
Anbar Province. But during training, his commanding officer
found out he was a builder, and Staff Sgt. O'Brien received a
single assignment: Build housing for the senior staff members
on the base so that they could move out of the aircraft hangars
serving as their home.
O'Brien knew that finding supplies and tools would be a
challenge. Only a few basic materials — 1-inch, 3/4-inch,
and 3/8-inch plywood; 2x6x16s and 2x12x16s — are shipped
from the States and stored on base. Before departing, he
contacted a number of tool manufacturers for contributions;
DeWalt responded with some saws and cordless tools, and Paslode
sent a pallet of nails (though no nailers).
Once in Iraq, he salvaged 4x6 and 6x10 dunnage from shipping
containers found around the base. He borrowed other supplies
— or bartered for them — from nearby Army and Navy
units and from civilian contractors who worked on the base.
Sometimes he had to improvise; for example, since no roofing or
asphalt felt paper was available, he caulked the roof sheathing
joints, applied the thickest paint he could find, and hoped for
O'Brien was in Iraq for six months. During that time, he and
his helper, Lance Cpl. Brad Kucksdorf, a framer from Wisconsin,
built an 11-bedroom house, a workshop, several outbuildings,
and various pieces of furniture for barter. Not a bad tour of
duty for a builder, considering the desert's 120°F heat and
subfreezing cold, the occasional mortar round, and the IEDs
(improvised explosive devices) and hidden mines that
periodically detonated on the main road just outside the gate.