When Blackwater USA contractor Greg Krebs returned to Medford two years ago from providing security details to U.S. dignitaries in Iraq, the most challenging adjustment was remembering to obey traffic laws.
In their effort to safely convoy U.S. diplomats, Iraqi officials and others to their destinations in Iraq, Blackwater contractors ruled the road, often ramming through traffic, traveling at high speeds and shooting at vehicles whose drivers didn't heed their warnings to stop, Krebs said.
With its contractors sometimes seen as lawless mercenaries, Blackwater has fostered resentment among Iraqis, compounded Sunday when its security guards fired on civilians, killing at least 11 of them. Blackwater has insisted its contractors were responding to gunfire from insurgents.
Although Krebs has no details about that particular incident, he said aggressive driving and shooting at vehicles that ignore warnings to stop are the only means by which security contractors can do their jobs in Iraq and remain alive doing them.
"Some people will just shoot at us because we're American," Krebs said.
"We don't know who is the bad guy and who is the good guy in a car that doesn't stop, and we don't stop to find out."
A former Central Point police officer, Krebs, 44, of Medford, said he worked for Blackwater in Iraq from early 2004 to mid-2005 in Baghdad, Baqubah, Babylon and Hilla.
The Mail Tribune could not immediately corroborate the stories he shared.
When Krebs first arrived in Baghdad, he was met with the smell of burning rubber — an odor that permeated the country, he said.
Shooting was a part of daily life.
"The bullets hitting our armored vehicles sound like popcorn popping," he said.
Shortly after President Bush declared that the United States had won the war in Iraq, four Blackwater employees were killed in a grenade attack in Fallujah, and their charred bodies were hung from a Euphrates River bridge.
The Blackwater base where Krebs was working in Hilla was immediately put on alert after the killings in case the insurgents came their way.
Employees were cut off from phones and e-mail for four days as families of the victims were notified, he said.
"It was scary going around there," he said.
He said protocol calls for Blackwater security guards to give motorists a series of warnings before using deadly force to stop them.
They start by telling the motorist to stop in Arabic and using a hand gesture indicating him to stop, Krebs said. If the motorist still doesn't heed the command, the contractor shoots three warning rounds followed by three rounds into the grill.
"If we have a car that we give all the warning signs to, and they don't stop, we are authorized to shoot them," he said.
He said the majority of Iraqis are friendly.
"Some of the ones we got to know we took care of them," Krebs said. "We'd give them clothes and food."
Krebs and his colleagues fed one little Iraqi girl named Miska on a regular basis. He keeps photos of her smiling and wearing a sundress along with pictures of the violence he witnessed in Iraqi.
Contractors and Iraqis alike grew accustomed to the daily shooting.
"One day we were playing basketball at the base with some Iraqi teenagers," he said. "There was a police station across the street where a firefight broke out. The kids just kept on playing basketball like they didn't even notice it."
Blackwater has become an attractive destination for people getting out of the military, Krebs said.
"Instead of saying, 'I'm getting out,' they say they're 'going Blackwater,'" Krebs said.
The company pays significantly more than the military. Krebs earned between $500 to $800 a day in Iraq, depending on the assignment.
He said he opposes the term "mercenaries" being applied to Blackwater contractors.
"Mercenaries will work for any foreign government, and we don't," he said. "The military doesn't have enough people to go around, so they hire civilians. Even though we carry guns, it's not offensive; it's defensive."
He said he probably won't take another assignment with Blackwater, should the company continue to do business in Iraq.
"I'm getting too old to do the running and gunning anymore," Krebs said.
Reach reporter Paris Achen at 541-776-4459 or firstname.lastname@example.org.