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March 7th, 2007 JAMES PITKIN | News Stories
 

Happy Birthday, War!

As the Iraq conflict approaches its fourth anniversary, not everybody's a loser. Here are five of Oregon's hidden winners, even if most are reluctant ones.

     
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TOP: LORI LUCHAK shows off a Humbee repair kit she hopes to sell the military. BOTTOM: MERRIL MCPEAK at his home office.
IMAGE: BRIANLEEPHOTO.COM
Four years ago this month, President Bush and a team of neoconservative midwives gave birth to a spanking new baby. Born unformed and full of promise, that war infant is now a colicky tot on a rampage, smashing its toys and threatening the whole neighborhood.

Ask your friends who hate the Iraq war to nominate winners from the conflict, and their list might include national names such as Halliburton, Vice President Dick Cheney's old company that won an infamous $7 billion no-bid contract to repair Iraq's oil fields. Or it might include Fox News, which saw its ratings spike 300 percent at the start of the war.

But you'd need a big circle of friends before Lori Luchak's name would come up. She's never met Cheney or been on Fox News, but Luchak's family-owned company in Portland hopes to boost its business by millions selling repair kits for Humvees in Iraq.

To mark the upcoming fourth anniversary of the Iraq war March 20, WW talked to Luchak and four other Oregonians who have benefited from the conflict, even if unwittingly or with deep regrets.

They may not be as obvious as Halliburton or Fox News, or even have gained financially. The beneficiaries we profile are the less obvious kind, gaining from the war in ways not necessarily inappropriate.

And Portland being as reliably anti-Bush as it is, all of them except Luchak actually oppose the war. Yet a writer, a singer, a politician, a pundit and a businesswoman all have profited from the war, even if none of them wants to be seen that way.

The Businesswoman: Lori Luchak

Of all the problems the U.S. military faces in Iraq, cracked Humvee hoods may be one of the simplest to solve. And Luchak and her company are hoping to cash in with the answer.

Founded by Luchak's father, Lowell Miles, in 1963, Miles Fiberglass & Composites of Portland is set to produce a reinforcement kit for Humvee hoods that Luchak says could bring in more than $4 million a year from the military. That's a big chunk of change, given the company's annual sales are $13 million.

With about 100 people employed at two factories in Portland and Oregon City, the company is a relative newcomer to the world of defense contracts. It mostly makes parts for RVs, light-rail cars and trains, but it also sells engine covers to the Oregon National Guard.

As company president, Luchak recently joined the Pacific Northwest Defense Coalition to drum up more military contracts. Founded in 2005, the group includes more than 60 companies, from small tech firms to heavy industry in Oregon and Washington. Through the Defense Coalition she heard that about 40 percent of military Humvees have cracked hoods. The vehicles weren't made to stand on, but with extended combat duty in Iraq, they're showing wear as soldiers climb on them to attach camouflage and other gear.

So her company designed a fiberglass panel that fits to the bottom of the hood. At $350 a pop and 45 minutes to install, it will save the military time and money compared to replacing the whole hood, which otherwise takes 12 hours and costs up to $1,100, Luchak says.

The Army tested the kits in Michigan and approved them for purchase, and now Luchak is waiting for the government to make an offer. "We have great hope," she says, "with the need out there and the amount of money it would save."

With more than 20,000 Humvees in Iraq, the sales potential is huge.

A handful of Oregon companies have gained publicity for making products used in the war. They include FLIR Systems Inc. of Wilsonville for thermal imaging systems, HemCon Inc. of Tigard for bandages, and Scappoose-based Oregon Aero Inc. for helmet pads.

But the list of Oregon companies benefiting directly from the Iraq war is a short one after that. Oregon takes the second-smallest slice of the defense pie of any state in the country—only Idaho's is thinner, according to Department of Defense statistics. That's a testament to the lack of large companies here geared to the defense industry, and the absence of military bases in the state.

Most local companies doing defense work get money for high-tech research and development, rather than for supplying guns or combat boots. And since R&D spending gets cut in wartime to cover battlefield costs, some local contractors have actually lost business because of the war, says Chandra Brown, vice chairwoman of the Pacific Northwest Defense Coalition.

Luchak feels no guilt in trying to profit from a defense contract. She says the war would continue with or without her company, and pointed out that Humvee hoods are not weapons.

"By not making them buy a new hood...they could put that money into research to save soldiers' lives," Luchak says. "You support the soldier. They're there doing a job, and we're there to support them."

The Pundit: Gen. Merrill McPeak

For retired Air Force Gen. Merrill McPeak, the Iraq war presented a chance to atone for what he calls an enormous mistake: campaigning for presidential candidate George W. Bush in 2000.

A 71-year-old retired Air Force chief of staff from Grants Pass who now lives in Lake Oswego, McPeak helped plan the first Gulf War as one of Bush I's top military advisers on the Joint Chiefs of Staff in 1990. But McPeak publicly opposed the current Iraq campaign from the start—"a dumb idea dumbly executed," he now calls it.

His outspoken views on the war vaulted him into the national klieg lights as an unpaid but highly sought-after talking head on PBS, CNN, Fox News and talk radio. Now McPeak is poised to channel his war opposition as an adviser to the 2008 presidential campaign of freshman Sen. Barack Obama (D-Ill.).

A Democratic Party operative who campaigned in the last presidential election first for Howard Dean and then John Kerry, McPeak says he contacted campaign staffers last month offering to advise Obama on national security. He says Obama called him Feb. 19 to invite him on board, and the two plan to meet March 13 in Obama's Senate office.

The Obama campaign did not return repeated phone calls to confirm McPeak's story.

Why Obama? "I liked the fact that he was honest, straightforward and opposed to the war, which was my motivation," McPeak says. "He is refreshingly intelligent after having the village idiot in the White House."

McPeak says he won't work for Obama as a paid adviser, and he'll join the campaign only if he meets Obama and likes him. McPeak says his mistake was backing Bush before he met him.

THE WAR IN NUMBERS

U.S. soldiers killed in Iraq: 3,173
Source: AP

Oregon deaths in Iraq: 70
Source: Governor's office

Iraq war funerals attended by Gov. Kulongoski: 69 (missed one for his son's graduation)
Source: Governor's office

Oregon cities with resolutions to end the war: 2 (Portland and Corvallis)
Source: Citiesforprogress.org

Oregon's state ranking in Iraq deaths per capita: 10
Source: AP

Oregon's state ranking in value of defense contracts received: 49
Source: Department of Defense

Besides Bush, McPeak has a habit of picking the losing horse in political races. After retiring from the Air Force in 1994, he was Oregon state chairman of Republican Bob Dole's failed 1996 bid against then-President Bill Clinton. In the 2000 race he was co-chairman of Oregon Veterans for Bush, who lost in Oregon but won the election.

Disenchanted by Bush's performance in office, McPeak declared himself an Independent, then a Democrat. He joined Dean's Democratic primary run in 2004, then backed Kerry in the general election, campaigning in eight battleground states.

The war made McPeak a regular on the talk-show circuit, but he says he doesn't make money from most TV appearances. His only paid gigs have been a regular spot on local KGW Channel 8 and writing op-eds for The New York Times and The Oregonian, he says. He wouldn't say how much he makes with those jobs, except that it's less than $1,000 a year.

He's director of about a dozen companies, he says, mostly high-tech, but only one is defense-related. Besides campaigning for others, he says he has no political ambitions of his own.

The Iraq debacle has raised McPeak's media profile, but he insists he hasn't benefited from the war: "I was right about this war from the beginning, and I wish I was wrong.... I've been trying to stop the bleeding."

The Politician: Brian Boquist

After failing twice to unseat U.S. Rep. Darlene Hooley (D-Ore.), Republican Brian Boquist came home to Polk County from Iraq in 2004 and was elected that same year to the state Legislature, representing conservative District 23.

True, he had to settle for a House seat in Salem instead of a congressional one in Washington, D.C., but the Republican from the Oregon town of Dallas, population 13,169, says there's no doubt his war credentials from seven and a half months of service in Iraq helped him win the primary race against a Republican incumbent and three other GOP contenders.

"Oh yeah, I'm sure it did," Boquist says, "Anybody that served in one form or another, it helps get elected."

To be sure, Boquist didn't rely solely on his veteran status to win the five-way House Republican primary in 2004 with 52 percent of the vote, then trounce Democrat Dick Reynolds in the general election with 64 percent. He had other big advantages, including name recognition and political savvy gained from the two failed congressional campaigns. The incumbent he defeated, Republican Jim Thompson of Dallas, had been appointed to the House seat just the year before.

Boquist says he didn't need to play up his military experience to win the race, but he felt no qualms about reminding voters of his war service. And he doesn't think he exploited the war for political gain.

"I got elected not because I went to war in Iraq. I got elected because I ran for Congress twice," he says. "If I hadn't done anything else, you could talk about exploiting [the war]."

Thompson says Boquist didn't play the war-hero card too heavily in the campaign. But then, he didn't have to. In staunchly conservative District 23—which includes rural Polk and Benton counties—Boquist's veteran status made him untouchable. "Patriotism and whatnot is everything there, and he had all the right credentials at the moment," Thompson says.

As an Army lieutenant colonel, Boquist, 48, was deputy commander for special operations in Iraq from 2003-04. But Boquist publicly opposed a ground war in Iraq from the start, telling the Salem Statesman-Journal in September 2002 that "chicken hawks" in Washington were starting a war with "no logical reason to it."

But he says he still came back a "war hero" in his district's eyes. His campaign brochure in 2004, a direct-mail bulletin, featured photos of him in uniform. Asked if it's hypocritical to campaign on a war he opposed, Boquist responds, "I think [that's] frankly a bullshit statement."

Boquist co-owns International Charter Inc. of Dallas, a private defense contractor that provides Russian helicopters and a team of former special-ops officers for what Boquist calls "humanitarian and peacekeeping support."

His company works for the State Department providing training and security in countries too dangerous or politically charged for U.S. troops to go, according to the Center for Public Integrity, a nonprofit group of investigative journalists in Washington, D.C. International Charter has run missions in Liberia, Haiti, Sudan and Sierra Leone.

Boquist, who was re-elected in 2006, may owe his political career in part to the war. But he says his company flew only a handful of diplomatic flights in Iraq, in 2003. "We're not into war profiteering," he says.

And those missions in other conflict zones? "That was for the State Department. We didn't ask to go there," he says. "Anyone that tells you the State Department and the Defense Department have the same philosophy is a bullshit liar."

The Author: Anthony Swofford

When former Marine sniper Anthony Swofford hunkered down in Portland in 2001 to write his first book, a memoir about his nine-month combat tour in Saudi Arabia and Kuwait during the Gulf War, his timing couldn't have been better.

Jarhead: A Marine's Chronicle of the Gulf War and Other Battles hit bookshelves March 4, 2003—two weeks before the son of the first President Bush unleashed a second war against Iraq.

Sales took off like a cruise missile, and Jarhead reached No. 3 on The New York Times Best Seller List at the height of the invasion. With the war still raging in November 2005, a big-budget film version by Universal Studios hit theaters.

The war made Swofford, 36, an overnight celebrity 11 years after he left the Marines to go to college and become a writer. Book critics compared him to Catch-22 author Joseph Heller, and movie audiences saw him played by a buff Jake Gyllenhaal.

The film got mixed reviews and grossed a disappointing $97 million worldwide-it cost $72 million to make. But the movie also pushed the paperback version of Jarhead to No. 2 on the Times Best Seller List.

Swofford declined to tell WW how much he made on the book or the movie, but he says he earned the money.

"I've actually given more than I've got [back]. If you choose to figure things in monetary terms, that might not be right. But I've given the world a book," he says. "I served in the Marine Corps and went to war, and there's an extreme personal cost to that."

Swofford followed his then-wife to Portland in 2001 and wrote most of Jarhead in a rented downtown office after he was turned down for a job at Powell's. He left the city in 2003 to teach at St. Mary's College in Moraga, Calif., and now lives in New York City.

He returned to Portland in 2005 on a nationwide promotional tour for the movie. He didn't write the script, but New York literary agent Jane Dystel—who does not represent Swofford—says an author can expect to pocket at least $10,000 and up to $2 million for movie rights on a book.

Swofford, who was making about $12,000 a year before he hit it big, says it's wrong to think he was cashing in on the war.

"I was writing my book in May 2001, when most Americans had never heard of al Qaeda or were concerned with the possibility that we would ever be at war again," he says. "Frankly, your notion of profiting from it is kind of foolish."

He says the war brought Jarhead media attention, but his work stands on its own. "I wrote a book that people reacted to because it was honest and vivid about war and warfare," he says.

On the eve of the invasion, Swofford told Salon.com his "real fears are what happens after the war.... It might not be as easy as some people say. The idea that we step in and everything goes cleanly is ludicrous."

Now he says engaging Iran, Syria and other countries in the region is the only hope for long-term peace.

Swofford's first novel, Exit A, about growing up on an American military base in Japan, came out in January. But absent the war angle, Swofford's career may be sputtering. The book is ranked 119,081 for sales on Amazon.com.

Swofford says he isn't fazed.

"A career's not made by one book," he says. "A career is made by many books, and I have readers and I'll continue to write books."

The Singer: Kate Power

It was a landmine in Iraq that took Cpl. Travis John Bradach-Nall's life at age 21. It was a song by folk singer Kate Power that gave his death meaning for audiences around the country, and earned the 55-year-old Portland singer national renown.

When Power heard of Bradach-Nall's death in July 2003, it was a heavy blow for her and her husband, Steve Einhorn, whose son Eli graduated from Grant High School in the same class with Bradach-Nall in 2000.

"Travis John," the song she wrote on July 10, 2003—the day Bradach-Nall was buried in Portland—mourns the fallen soldier with the refrain:

I am a boy, full of promise,

Full of freedom

And now the joy

Is dead and done

I am gone...

At the 2006 Kerrville Folk Festival in Texas—one of the biggest folk gatherings in the country—"Travis John" won the Music to Life competition sponsored by Noel "Paul" Stookey of Peter, Paul & Mary.

Power and Einhorn's Kerrville performance got a standing ovation from the folk legends in the audience. The prize was a trophy and $1,000 to the charity of her choice. In memory of Bradach-Nall, she gave the money to Adopt-a-Minefield, which helps the U.N. remove landmines.

Stookey says singers who aggressively market a protest song may be guilty of exploiting the war. But he says with Power, that's clearly not the case.

"There was no doubt that this song came not of a decision to capitalize on the fact that there was pain in the world, but to offer some kind of solace in an otherwise unresolvable grief," Stookey says.

After being interviewed for this story, Power wrote WW an email saying she was concerned about being seen as exploiting the war.

"My writing of 'Travis John' and commercial distribution of it has been simply our way to connect with the issue and to share it with the community," she wrote. "It's about building community, not exploiting it."

Before earning national recognition from the festival, Power and Einhorn were at the center of Portland's folk scene for 13 years as co-owners of Artichoke Folk music shop, opened by Einhorn 25 years ago. They sold the shop on Southeast Hawthorne Boulevard at the end of last year.

Now the success of "Travis John" has brought their music to a wider audience. The tune was picked up on satellite radio and has been played at peace rallies, soldiers' funerals and veterans' events across the country. Peter Yarrow, also of Peter, Paul & Mary, even sent a copy to Bruce Springsteen's manager for the Boss to hear.

Power says her song, one of about 100 she's written in her 40-year career, speaks to people on both sides of the war debate. "It's a song of grief rather than yelling at people with a particular point of view," she says.

Pearls, the Power and Einhorn album that features the song, has sold just under 2,000 copies, Power says—not even enough to cover for the cost of the recording studio.

"We haven't made any money on the song, but we have grown closer to the community, both locally and globally, for having sung it," Power wrote.

The damage done in the first four years by the Iraq war is stunning. At least 57,000 civilians have been killed, and America's claim as the world's moral arbiter is long gone. And acts of terrorism are up sevenfold worldwide since the war began, according to a new study by the New York University Center on Law and Security.

So the list of losers is obviously long. But to say there are no winners in such a debacle is both clichéd and false, even in an antiwar town like ours.


Lake Oswego police arrested McPeak for drunken driving Nov. 18 of last year. Because his wife, Ellie McPeak, is a Lake Oswego city councilwoman, the city prosecutor sent the case to the Clackamas County DA's office. McPeak pleaded guilty Dec. 13 in Clackamas County Court and was ordered to attend an alcohol diversion program for one year.
 
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