Sandhogs Tunneling Under Second Avenue

Veteran sandhogs are finishing tunnels for the future subway, right beneath your feet

Then there are the ex-servicemen. Local 147 can claim members from every branch and practically every American conflict over its century-long history. There's no telling how many veterans are in the union; no such records are kept. (Additionally, there are at least a couple of sandhogs still on active duty and awaiting redeployment.) They are a minority among the group; out of the approximately 100 sandhogs who worked on the finished segment of Second Avenue, Barr—himself a former Marine—estimates a dozen or so have military experience. But the two careers are strikingly similar, and these similarities have helped Tom Buzzell readjust to civilian life.

A few months into Buzzell's first tour in Iraq, throughout which he was stationed at Kirkuk Regional Air Base, a friend and fellow private first class was killed in a suicide attack. "I didn't see him, but I saw the Humvee he was brought back to base in," he says. "I just remember all the blood pouring out, like in that Mel Gibson movie When We Were Soldiers." During that same tour, an Iraqi government official was gunned down in a taxi. Buzzell was one of the first troops on the scene. "I opened the door, and the guy's brains fell out all over my boots."

Buzzell began his second tour at a forward operating base in northern Baghdad. "The place didn't even have a name," he says. Buzzell had been promoted to staff sergeant, and one night about two months in, his platoon was traveling down a dirt road in three Strykers. As vehicle squad leader, he was driving the first Stryker. It was raining. The road got muddy. The eight-wheeled transport vehicles kept getting stuck. Finally, Buzzell ordered that they turn back. A day or two later, once the rain had stopped and the road had dried, another platoon set out on the same route. A hundred or so yards from where he had turned back was an IED. There were nine men in the Stryker. Six were so severely wounded they never returned to combat. The other three were killed. Two had their spines crushed when they were slammed into the roof. The vehicle squad leader was blown out of the Stryker. "I heard he was just a pile of mush," Buzzell says. "He had a brand-new baby at home. He was always talking about that baby."

Pat Barr is the third in four generations of sandhogs.
Brad DeCecco
Pat Barr is the third in four generations of sandhogs.
To get his union book, Paul Salamone slept more than a few nights in the hog house.
Brad DeCecco
To get his union book, Paul Salamone slept more than a few nights in the hog house.

Toward the end of that second tour, Buzzell's platoon and three others were sent to reinforce an FOB that had been under increasing attack located just outside Sadr City. Its walls were only 15 feet tall, and the high buildings of Sadr City offered snipers unobstructed shots. Jerry-rigged ramps were propped outside the base walls, and pickup trucks and Jeeps loaded with homemade bombs of concertina, barbed wire, nails, and other miscellaneous shrapnel were launched over. Platter charges tore apart Bradley transmissions and sliced clean through the barrels of Abrams tanks. The living conditions didn't help morale. When the four platoons first arrived, there were no beds; they slept in the Strykers. They only got one hot meal a week; the rest of the time they ate MREs. There were no showers for the first month; they rinsed one another down with bottled water.

Somehow, during Buzzell's three months there, none of the four platoons' members were killed. Relative order was restored, and the platoons earned much renown. Once they were brought to a camp 30 minutes from the FOB so that they could shower and call loved ones. "You could hear all the whispers, see people pointing," he says. "'That's them.' 'Look, there they are.'" The adulation was all but lost on Buzzell and his fellow soldiers. "You hear about that 'thousand-yard stare.' We were sitting in this waiting area, and I looked around, and everyone had it." Buzzell, meanwhile, had removed a piece of cardboard from the packaging of an MRE and started writing down his personality traits. For the rest of his time at the FOB, he kept the list in his pants pocket. "I wanted my son to know what kind of man I was if I didn't make it back."

Once Buzzell returned home, it didn't take his wife, Roni, long to notice he had changed. "As soon as he got off the plane," she says. "He had no patience. He got agitated at every little thing."

"I told her it was normal," Buzzell says, "that it was bound to take us some time to get comfortable with each other again after being apart for so long. But even when I was by myself, I acted different. It was really noticeable when I was driving. In a Stryker, if anybody was in your way, you just knocked them out of it. Being in a car and having to obey traffic signals and watch out for other people was scary. My road rage was really bad. Before, if somebody cut me off, I'd just let it go—they're idiots. Now, I'd be trying to chase them down." Eventually, Buzzell sought therapy and was diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder. He began taking antidepressants. This helped. But so did becoming a sandhog. "The biggest thing was the financial aspect," Roni says. "He started making better money, and that made him feel like he was more of a provider for the family than when he was at Avis. It helped give him that sense of purpose he'd been missing."

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17 comments
wemsdb
wemsdb

Hello to Pat Barr my Marine Corps Brother. Bill Johnson Local 103 IBEW Boston, MA.

Amgems
Amgems

You've obviously never done any physical labor, or you'd understand these "guts" earn every penny they make.

Reykjavik
Reykjavik

$100/hr for miners anywhere else in the country who make less than half that? And that doesn't even count the Byzantine work rules and manning levels that permit many sandhogs to earn more than $200K/yr. And because they have a lock on that sort of labor (as do crane operators), there's no chance of price competition. You wonder why subway and train projects cost many billions and there's been only token system expansions over the past half century? Look no further. Taxpayers of course end up getting victimized. Yeah, it's a grimy, dangerous job that I wouldn't want, but that's no reason to pay these guts obscene amounts.

Sean Ghazala
Sean Ghazala

Great article - one correction

the fulton street transit center is being built in lower manhattan at the corner of Broadway and Fulton st - not downtown brooklyn' fulton st

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JamesM
JamesM

Gr8 article re the rebuilding of NYC & all of those 'non-outsource-able' jobs performed by the hardworking sandhog community led by leaders & Patriots such as Pat Barr......jmch.

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BLUE PILL  RED PILL
BLUE PILL RED PILL

pandemics already let out,,,are these sources for real or fake ?benjamin fulford on sars...let out to target asians.....martial law....this is how they plan to kill us..george green...,bush if true talked about how dissedents will go to camps! oh and nuclear attacks on us,warned by illumanti in movies,sum of all fears film...man wears serpent on arm logo of higher mason serpent brotherhoods,5000 years old.... film KABOOM 2011 black project nuclear sites sit beside known military sites for nuclear launching.... russian nuclear things are in u.s ready...,russian submarines of coast of u.s ? or how about submarines manned with anyone off streets then go back to life's....after BOOM LAUNCH...,or people working for these gons leave bombs in cities....corrupted government.... submarine stuff is conjecture..but who knows...they could boom us any day....

BLUE PILL  RED PILL
BLUE PILL RED PILL

obama and george bush have done mason signs.....with hands used in lodges....obama ia an ethiopan jew too...past 52 presidents are all related........obama is 7th cousin to bush...,oh and nazi's from ww2 run intell,project paper clip...and an ex general of army headed cia as a satanist.....busy evil bee's ! they own all things on this planet,food companies,drink...banks,media ect.....law.....

BLUE PILL  RED PILL
BLUE PILL RED PILL

good sand hogs but we have evil one ruling us some of them..from day zero to today.....evil kings and evil leaders in there bloodlines.............,i read SAALM O1 scribd document too the annuki bloodline..albino with red eyes....im sure its not fake,check it out...........,also masonic jews....rule earth too....,george washington sits with neptune,mercury,saturn as satan is part of this family......its painted or was on congress ceiling......

 
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