NEW YORK – While military families anxiously await news of a loved one serving in the U.S. armed forces in Iraq, Afghanistan and elsewhere, so do families of American contractors (search).
Contractor families — much like military families — deal with raising children, paying the bills, maintaining the household and worrying about their loved ones overseas. Many contractors are helping rebuild Iraq or serving as personal security details overseas to bring bigger paychecks home but also, in their eyes, as a way to serve their country.
[Editor's Note: This is the fourth in a series on tensions between American contractors working in Iraq and the U.S. military. To read part one of the series, click here. To read part two, click here. To read part three, click here.]
But the contractors' profile sometimes isn't seen as being as honorable. Many hold the view that contractors are only in Iraq to make a profit, often stepping on the toes of the military and causing more chaos in regions that already are on shaky ground. In the contractor corps, many civilian workers are former military personnel who say they're trying to make a difference while making a better living.
Some contractor families have said that unlike the military, they don't have the automatic built-in support group to keep them going every day. So they've had to create them.
Jana Crowder started an organization for contractors and their families, at AmericanContractorsInIraq.com, so that when incidents occur — for example, a wife who doesn't hear from her husband for days at a time — she calls them up and gives them moral support.
Contractors who participate in her group "tell me that they're part of it to get a piece of home," she said.
Most military personnel are deployed on yearlong missions and some have been deployed two to three times already. Many contractors, on the other hand, get more flexible rest and relaxation (R&R) time and often do get to see their families more often.
Crowder, of Johnson City, Tenn., considers herself lucky. Her husband was able to come home every nine months and she had a direct line to his office in Iraq. But getting along without her husband is still an ordeal, she said.
"I found that a majority of people don't have that, [and] they get to see their husbands maybe once or twice a year," she told FOXNews.com. "I did not know how to live on my own for months at a time."
Darla Russell of Illinois set up www.russellembroidery.com, a site where contractors and their families, as well as others, can order embroidered symbols and phrases of support for contractors as well as the troops. She also tries to network with other contractor families and has a Yahoo message group, Support American Contractors, "Warriors Without Weapons."
"I would be lost if I wasn't a part of it," she told FOXNews.com. "We have nothing here, we're left empty."
Among the other message boards are Civilian Contractor Vets of OIF, specifically for contractor veterans of Operation Iraqi Freedom, and Tales from the Sandbox, which is for truckers and soldiers in Iraq. There are other informal support groups created here at home for families of civilians in both Iraq and Afghanistan.
Meanwhile, organizations such as the American Red Cross can often help contractor families get information about their loved ones.
The American Red Cross provides emergency communications assistance both to the military, as well as Department of Defense civilian contractors working overseas. Most of these communications involve a death of a loved one at home, Rick Davis, director of emergency communications for preparedness and response for the American Red Cross, told FOXNews.com.
During the last fiscal year, however, only eight such emergency communications were provided to Defense contractor personnel in Iraq. That compares to the over 200,000 such communications provided to military men and women, including professional employees with the department.
"It's not something we do a lot of but when asked, we certainly try to be of assistance and we work closely with the companies involved," Davis said, noting that many companies who employ the contractors serve as the main source of information for families at home.
"Those who are contracted with DoD we help and always have since it's always been customary for contractors to serve alongside armed service members."
But the Red Cross can only assist in these efforts if the contractors are registered as official Pentagon contractors; many contractors in Iraq are not officially registered with the proper channels either in Iraq or the United States. The Red Cross doesn't have access to any type of master contractor database.
Companies such as Halliburton (search), however, provide orientation for contractor families, as well as other support services, for them.
"The companies themselves obviously take enormous pride in taking care of their employees and their families left behind," Davis said.
Check out FOXNews.com on Tuesday for reader response to our series on U.S. contractors in Iraq.