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IBEW members work to keep U.S. troops safe

The Stand

For Arne Bjorkelo of Seattle, “Support Our Troops” means a lot more than a bumper sticker. It means living and working in the most grueling, dangerous conditions to make sure American soldiers are as safe and comfortable as possible.

Bjorkelo, a member of International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local 46, and his fellow IBEW electricians from across the United States are doing electrical repair work at U.S. and NATO-occupied camps in Afghanistan.

Arne Bjorkelo, standing second from left, and fellow IBEW electricians are pictured at the Inglett and Stubbs compound at Kandahar Airfield. (Click to enlarge photo.)

“We are proud and grateful to support our troops, doing what we can to make their lives safer and more tolerable,” Bjorkelo told The Stand. (He is a regular reader.) “We ensure that electrical installations on the most remote locations are safe. Often, we are the difference between showers and no showers in this most harsh environment.”

Three years ago, military contractor KBR — a former Halliburton subsidiary — was called out for endangering U.S. troops in Iraq and Afghanistan with faulty electrical power systems installed by unqualified workers at U.S. bases. At least one military investigator believed KBR’s reckless endangerment of U.S. troops merited criminal changes.

At the time, Pentagon officials estimated that at least 18 troops had been electrocuted — many due to faulty wiring and improper grounding. The Defense Contract Management Agency documented 231 shock incidents from September 2006 through July 2008 alone and concluded that KBR “failed to meet the basic requirements to identify life-threatening conditions on tanks, water pumps, electrical outlets and electrical panels.”

It’s the job of Bjorkelo and other IBEW electricians — like Tony Johnson of Birmingham, Ala., Claude Brusseau of Burlington, Vt., Tovar Camp of Atlanta, and Bill Mlnarik of Green Bay, Wisc. — to clean that mess up. They do electrical inspection and repair of U.S. occupied camps throughout Afghanistan.

On Monday, a suicide car bomber at the gates of Jalalabad airport in eastern Afghanistan killed nine people. Also destroyed was much of what Bjorkelo and his colleagues had installed over the past month.

A data and communications structure installed by IBEW members. Arne Bjorkelo writes: "From zero volts to lightning bolts, courtesy of a full-service electrical contractor and IBEW members from all over the United States."

It’s dangerous and grueling work, but it’s being done with pride by union members eager to protect American soldiers.

“We are proud of our union affiliation and have an entire workforce in theater made up of IBEW members,” Bjorkelo said. “Members work in the most remote areas under grueling conditions, including knee-deep in snow and in 115-degree heat.”

He says the best way to ensure that qualified electricians are serving U.S. troops in the Middle East is to “require UNION affiliation” and to hire “tradesmen with the consistent training that the JATC provides. It is awesome to be recognized, IBEW and a NECA contractor working together!”

Check out the IBEW members’ work at Bjorkelo’s blog: Wireman in Afghanistan. Or better still, send him an email and thank these union electricians for supporting our troops!

CHECK OUT THE UNION DIFFERENCE in Washington: higher wages, affordable health and dental care, job and retirement security.

FIND OUT HOW TO JOIN TOGETHER with your co-workers to negotiate for better wages, benefits, and a voice at work. Or go ahead and contact a union organizer today!