Eileen Padberg was a Republican political consultant from Laguna Niguel until two years ago. That's when she dropped everything—on something like a lark, but more sober given that it involved moving from the relative tranquility of Orange County political infighting to a real, brutal killing zone—to help Iraqi businesswomen. It wasn't until she put on a gas mask for the first time that Padberg had second thoughts about the decision.
She was standing in an air-conditioned conference room at a Kellogg, Brown N Root office inside the Khalifa Hilton, located on a beach 40 miles south of Kuwait City. It was late May 2005 and blazingly hot outside. In two days, Padberg and her Iraqi-American associate were scheduled to fly to Baghdad on a lumbering U.S. Air Force C-130 cargo plane. An American military officer was patiently showing her and about 15 other American civilians how to attach the masks to their faces quickly enough to survive a biological weapon attack.
Along with the gas mask, Padberg had just been issued a 41-pound flak vest and a helmet. With the equipment came a briefing. “Don't walk anywhere alone,” the officer warned them. “Don't pick up anything on the street—there are improvised explosive devices, or IEDs, everywhere in Baghdad, and even a $100 bill can be rigged to explode.”
“That's when the reality of my decision to go to Iraq finally sank in,” Padberg says. “Before that, I really hadn't thought about how dangerous Iraq really was. I started asking myself, 'What have I done?' But by then it was too late to turn around.”
Padberg speaks about her experiences at Chapman University this Tuesday. Flak jackets and gas masks are optional.
Eileen Padberg, “From Baltimore to Baghdad: Women Need Opportunities,” at Beckman Hall, Bush Conference Center, Room 404, Chapman University, 1 University Dr., Orange, (714) 628-7369; www.chapman.edu. Tues., 4 p.m. Free.
Award-winning investigative journalist Nick Schou is Editor of OC Weekly. He is the author of Kill the Messenger: How the CIA’s Crack Cocaine Controversy Destroyed Journalist Gary Webb (Nation Books 2006), which provided the basis for the 2014 Focus Features release starring Jeremy Renner and the L.A. Times-bestseller Orange Sunshine: The Brotherhood of Eternal Love’s Quest to bring Peace, Love and Acid to the World, (Thomas Dunne 2009). He is also the author of The Weed Runners (2013) and Spooked: How the CIA Manipulates the Media and Hoodwinks Hollywood (2016).