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'I just knew he was dead'

Contractors survive attack in Iraq


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Stacy Clark, left, and Stephen Heering

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(CNN) -- The promise of a big paycheck drew two Texas dads to Iraq and one says his son's voice helped him escape the violence and get back home alive.

Stephen Heering, 33, and Stacy Clark, 36, went to work in Iraq driving trucks for Halliburton in order to escape a "paycheck-to-paycheck job."

But then April 9 their convoy was attacked. Grenades hit Heering's truck, the first one setting his trailer ablaze.

"I heard the explosion. As soon as I looked in my rearview mirror, I thought it was somebody else that got hit," he recalled.

The next grenade exploded between the trailer and the cab.

"A second later the whole cab filled up with flames, the truck was burning. I just jumped out of the truck and took off running," Heering said.

"I came out of the smoke and there was gunfire going off, other explosions. Everything got silent and I heard my son say, 'Come home'."

That's the inspiration Heering needed to run for his life.

Clark was driving behind Heering's truck and when he saw the explosions and flames, he assumed the worst.

"I just knew he was dead. I didn't think he was alive at all," Clark remembers thinking as he drove his truck through the flames and smoke. "I didn't know what I was going tell his wife or his family."

But then Clark saw his friend running.

"I radioed back to the next driver to pick him up," he said.

Heering and Clark say the mood in Iraq started changing about three weeks ago. Rocks, roadside explosions and mortar fire were common.

Heering and Clark never drove another route. After four months working in Iraq, they quit.

Halliburton is the largest civilian contractor in Iraq and pays its workers high wages to work there. With overtime, it can pay as much as $100,000 a year tax-free.

Halliburton says 30 of its employees have been killed in Iraq and Kuwait. Civilian workers aren't allowed to carry weapons and many don't have military training.

A truck driver working for Halliburton subsidiary Kellog, Brown & Root who was reported killed last Friday in hostile action in Iraq has been identified as Steven Fisher of Virginia Beach, Virginia, a company spokeswoman confirmed late Wednesday.

The company did not say whether he was one of the six KBR employees unaccounted for after an April 9 attack on a fuel convoy near Baghdad or whether his remains were among the four mutilated bodies found in Iraq Tuesday.

Two U.S. soldiers are also missing from the convoy attack.

A seventh KBR employee, Thomas Hamill of Macon, Mississippi, was taken hostage by armed men and has been shown alive on videotape. Hamill's captors threatened to kill the former dairy farmer if U.S. troops don't withdraw from Fallujah but the Sunday deadline passed and no word has come of his fate.

Halliburton said Tuesday that KBR has made a joint decision with the U.S. Army to suspend some convoys until additional military security can be put in place.

Heering and Clark said they decided to take a chance on the big paycheck in Iraq because they were "minimum-wage people" back in Texas.

"We both have 16-year-old kids, a couple of years fixing to go to college," Heering said. "We had big plans to send our kids to good schools when they get out of high school."

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Heering is reunited with one of his children.

"It just sucks you in, you know, for an average person," he said of the big money. "That's what a lot of them are over there [for], just trying to better their lives and make some money and get away from a paycheck-to-paycheck job."

But after their harrowing escape, Clark said there's "no way I'd go back."

And Heering had a warning for other civilians considering going to work in Iraq.

"Before you go ... sit down and really think about it. Is the money really worth losing your life for, because once you're gone, nobody else is going to take care of your family."


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