Phil Nerges

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Welcome to the website of Phil Nerges.  That's me.  I began writing after returning from Iraq in 2007, having spent two years as a contractor there.  I began writing for reasons that many people do: I like to write, it's cathartic, at times, it's an obsession.  It's a way to make sense of things that don't make sense, like war.  

Nearly fifty thousand civilians worked in Iraq during the same time I did.  Multiply that number by nine, for nine years of war, and you get a rough estimate of the civilian participation in the war, hundreds of thousands.  The numbers for Afghanistan are  similar.  The number of contractor fatalities now exceed military fatalities there.  Considering their numbers, contractors are a quiet bunch.  Most of the books I’ve seen focus on private security contractors (who carry weapons) or war profiteers.  Blackwater and  Halliburton were by far the most popular subjects, or unpopular, depending on how you view those things.  But not much has been written describing daily life in the camps for those who weren’t “mercenaries” or “profiteers.”  So I did.  One friend asked, “America doesn’t care about the soldiers, what makes you think they’d care about you?” 

I read All for the Union: The Civil War Diary & Letters of Elisha Hunt Rhodes, years back.  Rhodes had a gift for describing what he saw, the horror of it, but also everyday things too, like loneliness, boredom and mud.  Somehow, that made it more real.  I read accounts by civilians too, Walt Whitman’s Memoranda During the War, and Marguerite Duras’ The War:A Memoir.  Together, they helped me realize the healing value of writing about the madness around us.

At some point, I realized a main reason for the virtual invisibility of contractors (I am referring to the employees of military contracting firms) results from their own silence.  I searched the internet looking for books by contractors about their experiences and found few.  I saw plenty of books about profiteers, mercenaries, and the waste of taxpayer dollars, but little about the positive side, the lives and contributions of the workers supporting our troops.    

So, in addition to writing myself, I encourage others to do the same: novels, short stories, songs poems, essays, everything.   If you worked as a contractor or have stories about relatives who did (any war), know of interesting books about contractors, I'd like to hear from you.  I would like to stay clear of political discussion or discussion about companies. 

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Iraq Journal is an in-depth and honest account of the experiences of a civilian contractor during the height of the Iraq War. It provides an inside look at those who support our military, the risks, the results, and the realities. The book is a straight-up narrative uncolored by popular conceptions about contractors. The reader follows the workers through vivid portraits of truck convoys and life in the camps along MSR Tampa. The author's experience is traced through twenty months in Iraq, the Gulf Coast devastation after Hurricanes Katrina and Wilma, and finally through a post-Iraq catharsis in a New Jersey artist house. The point of view is not from a political perspective, yet it raises questions about the long-term effects that war has on civilian workers. The transition of the author's thoughts and emotions is clear.

"Iraq Journal" provides the source material for the author's short stories and songs co-authored with musician/songwriter Vic Ruggiero. The sketches will interest a military and contractor audience, but also their families and anyone else curious about life in the war zone.

Listen to United Academics podcast with Elke Weesjes, editor-in-chief of the Journal of Social Sciences discussing Iraq Journal.

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