Route Clearance: Private First Class Brena (left), SGT Allen (middle), and Specialist Landis (right), had just come back from a 15-hour clearance mission in Taji, Iraq. SGT Allen was stationed at Camp Taji with the 84th engineers in the 3rd squadron of the 2nd Calvary Regiment.
By Joel Allen as told to L. R. Ames
I have a kind of unusual job—I get rid of fleas, termites, pill bugs, earwigs, bedbugs, and cockroaches. Those last three we call “specialty bugs.” You’d be surprised how many people call us with bedbugs, like stewardesses who have to travel to New York and stay in hotels, and then they bring them home. They have a bad problem with bedbugs, back there in New York.
Bedbugs hide not just in your mattress but behind light sockets, picture frames, in your car, and in your clothes. You could get them just by sitting next to someone on a bus. They can run on you, just that fast.
What do we do to get rid of them? They’re even harder to get rid of than termites. We may have to tent your house, but we have to use almost twice the amount of poison gas.
Doing the Hard Jobs
I guess I’m kind of used to doing jobs that are hard, and not asking myself, “Do I want to do that job or not?” I’m an Iraq war veteran, U.S. Army.
My job is to crawl under houses and up in attics to locate your problem. I also do some of the treatments. We don’t like having one employee being the salesman and the other one being the service person. It’s less personal when you do it that way.
Going into attics isn’t so bad, but crawling under houses can be scary. Sometimes you get stuck, and there’s no one you can call for help because you can’t bring your cellphone—at least, not if you value that $1,000 phone and don’t want it to get broken. The first thing you have to do is stay calm—don’t panic. I was stuck under a house once for thirty minutes doing a termite inspection, and no one heard me yelling. The fear sets in when you realize you can’t turn around. If you’re in the dirt, you can try to dig yourself out, but if it’s concrete, you just have to remember that you did get in somehow, so you should be able to back out.
Meeting Eyeballs in the Dark
The other thing is meeting critters. I’ve been face-to-face in someone’s crawl space with possums, which aren’t so bad, but also skunks and raccoons, which are bad. Raccoons want to fight—they’re vicious. And skunks—I once crawled under a house, and as I turned the corner, there, five feet away, were two eyeballs staring at me—a mother skunk with eight babies. I yelled for my partner, and he pulled me out backwards by my feet.
That’s when we call in Animal Trapping. The trapping people have to retrieve the skunk after it goes into the cage, and that means wearing a hazmat suit, goggles and a respirator.
You asked me about my time in the Army. …I did boot camp at Ft. Leonard Wood, Missouri. My job was to be a heavy equipment operator and combat engineer, and besides running 3-4 miles a day, I had to do “route clearance” for the troops—clearing the road of explosive devices so the men could safely go through.
Looking back, I loved the camaraderie. In the military you’re family. It doesn’t matter your race, your creed, your religion. You’re all in it together. But it’s a strange transition when you come home, because in combat, you’ve been living life at 100 mph the whole time, and when you come home, things drop down to 20 mph.
I was blown up twice in a military vehicle, and one of my buddies was sent 15 feet up into the air. Then when you get home, you get antsy in large crowds, because it reminds you of how it felt patrolling in a military vehicle through the city streets and never knowing if someone is going to launch a grenade at you or lay an explosive device down in front of your wheels. You had to be constantly on edge for your life. And the military “owns” you. You can’t just call in sick. It takes a toll on your body over the years.
But I feel a little uncomfortable talking about my time in Iraq. I don’t think anybody owes me for my military service.
For Love of Country
Why did I do it? I did it, you see, because I love America. It’s the best country in the world, and I wanted to serve it. My dad was an LA County Deputy Sheriff for 31 years, and he instilled that love of God and country in me. My grandfather did, too. He was a devoted man of faith and a hard worker who cared about his community.
My dad would say, “You can be whatever you want in America,” but “you’ll get out of it what you put into it.” He cared about this country and what it provides for us, and he told me to trust in God, do the right thing and help your fellow man.
My faith and my military service both correlate with how I operate my business. We give our employees 401(k)s and a good medical plan so they can provide for their families, and they tend to stay with us for a few years.
It hasn’t been easy adding new employees during COVID. A lot of people have decided not to look for work now but to stay on unemployment, so we have a smaller pool of applicants.
Also, a lot of young people now don’t want to get dirty and sweaty. Work ethic can be an issue. We like a man who comes to work on time, his shirt tucked in, clean, his work-truck spotless, who takes pride in the company he works for.
I like being part of a smaller-size company. Too small a company, and they may not be around to make good on your warranty. Too big, and they have so much overhead they have to price their jobs high. But running your own business means, of course, you are busy 24/7.
I want to close this story with some professional advice. Be sure you fumigate your house about every 8-10 years. One house we inspected had just been bought by a developer. He got it for cash, based on only a walk-through inspection, and it hadn’t been fumigated in 60 years. When we opened up the walls, we could grab the 2 x 4 studs, and they would just crumble into sawdust in our hands. The developer had to tear down all the walls and re-frame the house, and it must have added $100,000 to his cost.
That’s just some professional advice from someone who’s seen bedbugs, termites and skunks…a lot more of them than you have!