Manassas Journal Messenger | Area firefighters head to Iraq

Danny Ierley left for Iraq less than a month after he married his wife Rachel.

The money was too good to turn down.

The Ierleys were married March 1.

Danny Ierley shipped out March 21 out to be a contract firefighter at a U.S. military base in Tallil, Iraq.

Starting pay for a contract firefighter is between $90,000 and $100,000 for one year of service.

“I’m proud of him for the reason he’s doing it — to help our family,” said Rachel Ierley, who has a young son.

Still, separated is separated, and Rachel, a volunteer emergency medical technician and student, misses having her husband around.

“When he first went, it killed me,” the 24-year-old said.

She said she didn’t expect that she would be able to talk to her husband regularly.

“He gets to call me every day. I didn’t expect that,” she said. “It’s getting a little bit easier.”

Except for living in a tent and wearing body armor, life around a fire station in Iraq is similar to life at Company 18 where he’s a volunteer, Danny Ierley said in an e-mail interview.

Danny Ierley said firefighters in Iraq run training classes, conduct fire inspections and practice.

“The work here is generally the same as any paid or volunteer fire department,” the 21-year-old said.

Firefighters on bases in Iraq don’t get quite as many calls as Dale City volunteer firefighters, but that’s OK.

They’re short on equipment.

“Unlike in Dale City, we have to do our own dispatching which is presently what I do, due to the fact that getting gear here is an issue,” he said.

Danny Ierley expected lousy food, a lot of tents and bombs everywhere in addition to his “really nice paycheck.”

Though he lives in a tent, he hopes to move into a building before his year-long contract expires.

“Our firehouse is being built, the food is not all that bad, it’s an acquired taste. Where I am, bombs are not the usual thing,” said Ierely, who was a driver for a private ambulance company before he went to Iraq.

Though the money is tempting, Danny Ierley will probably quit Iraq after his year is up

“I do not think I will be coming back for more,” he said.

Kevin McGray, who has heard about Iraq from Ierely and other are firefighters who have gone, signed up about a month ago.

He leaves next Monday.

McGray, a volunteer at Company 13, said it took about a week to get hired to go to Iraq.

He filled out a Wackenhut LLC application online.

“They give you a phone interview and after the phone interview, they say ‘What day do you want to leave?’ ” McGray said.

McGray, a construction worker, said he’s been thinking about going to Iraq since October.

The job fits in with what he wanted to do anyway.

“I was either going to join the military or be a fireman. I guess this way I get a little of both,” the 21-year-old said.

He said he feels safe about going since there haven’t been many firefighters killed in Iraq, but he doesn’t know what to expect.

He’ll know where in Iraq he’s going when he arrives in country.

“I guess I’ll find out what fear is when I get there,” he said.

Like other Dale City volunteers, John Van Horn also recognized opportunity and went to Iraq, said his mother Jo Anne Ferguson.

Van Horn, 31, is also able to keep in regular touch with his wife Leslie and their two children, but misses them.

“He’s sad, but the way he looked at it was he was doing this for his future,” Ferguson said.

Van Horn, who is stationed at a base about 10 miles outside of Baghdad, keeps his mother in mind when thinks she might see something frightening on television.

“He calls me and lets me know it’s something I shouldn’t worry about,” she said.

Chief Chris Hool, Dale City Volunteer Fire Department, said he too worries about the firefighters who go to Iraq

“They’re going to a war zone, so you’ve got to worry about that,” the 29-year-old Hool said.

He also hates losing his experienced firefighters for a year at a time.

The volunteers, who are competing for scarce, full-time firefighting jobs in the area, see the work in Iraq as a way to boost their resumes in spite of the fear of war.

Rachel Ierely said she thinks her is in a safe part of Iraq, if there is a “safe part” of Iraq and she’s glad of that.

He also sends most of his money home.

He keeps a little back to go to Taco Bell and Pizza Hut on base, she said.

Staff writer Keith Walker can be reached at (703) 878-8063.

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