A contractor's life in the Green Zone

Last byte | A conversation with IT contractor Justin Porto in Iraq

Justin Porto in Iraq.

As an information technology contractor in Iraq, Justin Porto endures ambushes and mortar attacks as he works with the country's government to rebuild its communications and IT infrastructure.

An employee of MPRI, a division of L-3 Communications Inc., the retired lieutenant
colonel is about six months into a one-year stint under a State Department contract.

Porto, who served 28 years in the Army, shared some of his "Friends and Family"
e-mail messages with Washington Technology. Here are excerpts that give a glimpse of
one contractor's life in Iraq.

Cultural differences

Many of the things that are
accepted in America are not
good here, like using your left
hand to point or gesture (left is
evil in Iraq), or crossing your
legs when sitting (you do not
show the soles of your feet as it
is disrespectful) or touching
any woman even to shake
hands. I have violated these
rules many times, but I am trying.
If you smile, people know
you mean well, so I smile a lot.

Inside a palace

The weather is getting cooler
here, and yesterday, with a
small group, I was able to get
into the locked area of the
palace adjoining our compound,
which gives us great
protection from insurgent mortar
and rocket fire.

Inside the palace was incredible,
a feeling of vast emptiness
and hollowness amidst what
was once grandeur and
detailed workmanship. It was
like walking [on] the surface of
the moon, dust and debris
everywhere. [The palace was
bombed during the invasion
because coalition forces
believed Saddam Hussein was
in a bunker there.]

A sad story

A nice Iraqi general, when he
met me, told my interpreter
that I looked like an American
movie star. I asked who and he
said Tom Cruise. Go figure.
About a week later, an
American colonel told me that
[the Iraqi general had been]
assassinated by insurgents. He
was kidnapped by armed gunmen
on his way home from the
Iraqi Defense Ministry, where
we both work. He somehow
escaped from the trunk of the car.
He ran home to find that one
of his three daughters had
already been abducted. A call
came from the insurgents
telling him to turn himself
over, or his daughter would be
killed. He went; they released
his daughter and executed him.
He was a good and helpful

Outside the green zone

We traveled in a Rhino, a
type of armor-reinforced superbus,
with double-paned bulletproof
windows and rocketresistant
armor all over. Two
armored Humvees upfront and
two behind mounted with 50
cal. machine guns and SAWs
(Squad Automatic Weapons)
escorted us.

It was a relatively quiet trip,
except for a little excitement
when we were radioed that a
suspected VBIED (Vehicle
Borne Improvised Explosive
Device, a.k.a., car bomb) was
sitting up ahead.

Iraqi police went to investigate
as we gave it a wide berth.
We did not hear an explosion,
so we assumed it was a false
alarm, or they caught the
insurgents prior to detonation.

Soccer diplomacy

I get strange looks as I kick
my soccer ball off concrete barriers
and buildings [during]
my morning runs.

I have recently begun to pass
the ball to the Iraqi police,
building guards and even some
Iraqi citizens. I have found a
new way to win the hearts and
minds of the people: Soccer.
Just outside our compound a
pickup truck with three Iraqi
policemen is always stationed.
I give a long pass to a different
cop each time I complete a
loop on my run. They pass it
around and do some tricks
such as a rainbow pass over
their own heads.

Yesterday, they started passing
amongst themselves, laughing
and saying stuff I could not
understand. It became obvious
that they wanted me to try and
get the ball back from them. So
I became the defender as they
passed the ball amongst the
three of them in the classic soccer
warm-up game three versus

It took me about five minutes
of crazily running back and
forth until I was able to steal
the ball back from one of them.
We continued to play ... for 30
minutes as traffic buzzed by.
I was exhausted finally and
went home. But not before one
young Iraqi policeman patted
me heartily on the back and
shook my hand with [a] big
"Shukkran," thank you in

Reader Comments

Please post your comments here. Comments are moderated, so they may not appear immediately after submitting. We will not post comments that we consider abusive or off-topic.

Please type the letters/numbers you see above

What is your e-mail address?

My e-mail address is:

Do you have a password?

Forgot your password? Click here


contracts DB

Washington Technology Daily

Sign up for our newsletter.

Terms and Privacy Policy consent

I agree to this site's Privacy Policy.