The Pro’s and Con’s to Contracting Overseas
Story and photographs by Robert Spunga * Photographs by Danielle Breteau
Today, there are hundreds of thousands of men and women working overseas on various contracts and making good money, probably two to three times what they can make in the United States. On top of that, they may even be eligible for the foreign earned income exclusion, which in 2018 meant that the first $99,200 of their total income earned overseas was excluded from being taxed at the Federal level (it’s higher for 2019). However – and I can’t emphasize this enough – they are earning it!
While driving through town, even in an armored vehicle, there are many ways insurgents can hide IED’s or other types of explosives. This SUV was the victim of a dead donkey lying on the side of the road. The carcass was used to hide an IED which was detonated as the SUV passed by.
Naturally, the best-paying jobs are in high-threat environments such as Iraq, Afghanistan, Syria, etc. Yes, these places can be dangerous. Since 2001 over 3,300 civilian contractors have been killed, and almost 95,000 were injured in Iraq and Afghanistan alone. The vast majority were third-country nationals, or TCNs, from places like Peru, Colombia, Philippines, Fiji, Uganda, Kenya, Egypt, Pakistan and so on. There were thousands of casualties from the US as well. In reality, the odds are that you will not be injured, but you need to be aware that the possibility certainly does exist.
On the other hand, there are thousands of jobs in less risky places such as Kuwait, Qatar, India, Saudi Arabia, Africa, Antarctica (no kidding! – there are actually waiting lists) and South America. It all depends on your skills, your sense of adventure and what you are willing to put up with.
It is not uncommon to share a small space. Be prepared for this possibility.
As an overseas contractor you are often working in “austere environments.” This can range from living in a large tent with 15 other people and eating MREs (meal ready to eat) all the way up to enjoying individual rooms with a private bathroom, Internet, satellite television and access to gymnasiums, movie theaters, tennis courts and well-run dining facilities. It all depends on the company you are working for and where the contract is being performed.
Sometimes living conditions are clean and neat, while other may only offer tents, and holes dug in the ground for human waste. Each contract or job offers different benefits.
Let’s talk about the pay. Again, this is all dependent upon where you are working, what you are doing, how long you are expected to be away from home and the living conditions. Generally, as a contractor you can expect that your living accommodations and food will be included as part of the deal. Pay can be as low as $15 per hour for unskilled labor or simple administrative functions. But remember, this is usually based on a 12-hour day and six days per week. That works out to $1,080 per week, $5,400 per month. Not bad for those who have very few skills, plus there isn’t much in the way of expenses to pay either. At the other end of the spectrum, there are contracts currently paying more than $1,800 per day! Do the math and you can see that that is a butt-load of cash. However, you need very special skills and experience, plus there is probably a very high risk of being seriously injured, captured by bad guys and having to wear those unflattering orange jumpsuits, and/or killed. Is the risk worth it to you and your family?
This is an example of a food hall set up just for the American and european staff. These are often operated by area locals and with from the immediate area.
Getting a job and how much you can earn comes down to several things:
What documented skills you have?
Whether or not you have or can obtain a security clearance;
What you are willing to put up with?
Were you in the military? If so, what was your MOS or occupation specialty? If you were in combat arms, were you in special operations, a grunt infantryman, military police, sniper, artillery? What about military aviation – pilot, jet engine mechanic, helicopter crewman? How about a background in intelligence – analyst, collection specialist, interrogator, translator? There is also combat engineer – plumbers, machinists, surveyors, draftsman, masons, and carpenters. Similarly, logisticians are highly desired – warehouseman, inventory specialist, shipping, motor pool, etc. You get the picture. Almost anything you did while in the military is desired by contractors.
But what if you were never in the military? Not to worry. If you were in law enforcement (preferably some form of SWAT) and there is a verifiable record of that, there are many options, especially if you are looking for security positions.
The Kabul international airport in 2005.
Almost any job you can think of can be found overseas, but companies are going to need proof that you can do what you say you can. This is mostly due to liability potentials, not to mention the company does not want to hire someone and pay for their travel, only to find out after a few weeks that they are not what they originally claimed to be. There are enough posers out there – don’t be one because you will be exposed eventually!
Security clearances are huge, especially with government contracts. At a minimum you will have to be able to pass a basic background check. One of the biggest disqualifiers is heavy debt. Why? The thinking goes, if you owe a great deal of money, you will be more likely to be tempted by bribes. Yes, it doesn’t make sense because you want to get the money to pay off those debts but then they won’t hire you. It has never been said that government logic makes any sense.
An arms dealer on Chicken Street in Kabul Afghanistan. This guy sells everything from historical replicas to AK47’s. Talk about freedom to bear arms! No laws. Anyone can buy one, have one and walk with one. These sites are common.
Now, pay attention because this one is important: Do not lie on the forms. Let me say it again: do not lie on the forms. Tell the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth. The investigators will find out. Don’t be embarrassed. The investigators have seen everything before. They also know that no one is perfect and that we humans all make bad decisions at some point in our lives. If you have a reasonable explanation of why you were arrested 15 years ago for indecent exposure/urinating in public, just tell them what happened. (“I was drunk, came out of a bar at 2 in the morning, and peed against the door of another car thinking it would be funny. Unfortunately, the officers sitting in that unmarked car failed to see the humor of the situation!”) We’ve all done stupid stuff.
A square in Baghdad, Iraq, which are common often highly ornate.
Of course, there is no guarantee that you will receive the clearance, but if they find out something that you didn’t disclose, that is an almost automatic disqualification. Even if the job doesn’t require a security clearance, any legitimate company is going to run a background check prior to employment.
Dead Foot Arms
The view from inside an armored personnel carrier. It’s embarrassing to think this sign was necessary.
It is also highly advisable to clean up your Facebook account and any other social media sites where you have posted pictures and information. Those hilarious photos of you passed out at a party next to the toilet in a pool of vomit may invoke wonderful warm memories for you, but your future employer isn’t going to look at them in exactly the same light. Or you could just put some strict privacy settings in place. However, in the long run, it is probably better to do a good scrub of your life on the Internet. You’d be amazed at how easy it is to dig up information about someone online.
What are you willing to put up with? Can you live in a tent with a bunch of other guys in a remote, hot, dusty location for weeks on end, peeing in bottles or sharing a drafty wooden outhouse, enduring occasional rocket and mortar attacks and eating only military rations or local food?
Can you work with people from foreign cultures who are very strange to you? How about personal space? Again, the idea of personal space is different in every culture. Some of these folks will stand right up next to you while they talk. If you keep backing away they are going to think something is wrong and be offended.
The hygiene conditions in Afghanistan and many other countries in southwest Asia and the Middle East, are often not the same as western civilizations. Even if the meat and vegetables are in good condition, a westerner may still need several months for their bodies to efficiently handle these foods.
Personal hygiene is also different. Many people around the world don’t bath nearly as often as Americans and have some pretty strong body odors. And even if they are clean, they may smell different due to the foods they eat. You also may or may not be allowed to talk to the local women. What is a common occurrence in America may be highly insulting to other cultures, such as exposing the bottom of your shoe when crossing your legs.
Do your homework about where you want to work and decide what you can and cannot tolerate. Remember, you are in other people’s country, and as the old saying goes, “when in Rome, do as the Romans do.”
A common site in downtown Kabul, Afghanistan. Sheep herders moving their flocks through traffic and across town to better grazing areas.
How about the hours? Many overseas contracts expect a 72-hour work week. Yes, you read correctly: a 72-hour work week, usually 12 hours per day, six days per week. Some might have you work every day of the week for 30 or more days before you are given a few days break. Contracts pay well, but they expect you to work hard. You will be away from home, meaning away from family and friends for months on end. Can your marriage survive that? What about your kids? Then again, some couples without children or who have an empty nest can double their income with both husbands and wives earning money by working on the same contract. This is an excellent way to quickly build a retirement nest egg.
Danielle Breteau, former executive editor for the American Shooting Journal, spent 10 years in Iraq, Afghanistan, Kuwait and Jordan as high threat protection specialist, not only for the US Embassy but also other government and private agencies. She is just one example of the diversity you can find in these environments.
All high-threat protection personnel have to be proficient with a wide array of firearms. Here, Danielle Breteau helps a fellow teammate shoot the 249SAW.
You have to have thick skin and a high tolerance for huge egos, and general stupidity because you will run into a lot of that. You may have supervisors who you think are complete morons, and they may very well be. They may only be a supervisor because they have been there longer than you. However, they may also have some reason to enforce a policy, which, while not making any sense to anyone on the ground, makes perfect sense back at corporate headquarters, so the supervisor has no choice but to push it down. Hopefully, they argued the point, but most likely they just rolled over and implemented the new guidance from HQ without so much as a whimper because they want to keep their job. If you really don’t like working for a company, and especially if you think they are asking you to do something illegal or unsafe, start looking for another company to work for. Be fair warned, though: The grass may look greener on the other side, but when you jump that fence, you may find that’s only due to an overwhelming amount of BS.
Overseas contracting is not for everyone. However, it will give you the chance to make pretty good money, you will see and experience things and places you probably never would otherwise, make some great friends, probably meet some people who you will hate for the rest of your life, and give you some bragging rights with the folks back home. Like many things in our lives, it is all up to you and how you make the best of it. Take advantage of the opportunities, get some experience to put on your resume, and have a good time. Always keep a sense of humor. It will be an adventure. But remember the old saying: “Adventure is never fun while it is happening!”
Good luck! AmSJ
Posted in Editor's Blog Tagged with: afghanistan, High Threat Protection, Iraq, Kuwait, Middle East, Personal Protection, Protective Detail, Security
[su_heading size=”27″ margin=”0″]Bronze Medal Deputy – Nick Worthy[/su_heading]
Interview by Troy Taysom • Photographs provided by Nick Worthy
- Meet Nick Worthy, currently a road patrol deputy for the Brevard County Sheriff’s Department in Florida and also an Army Ranger. Worthy is a Bronze Medal of Valor recipient for his bravery and actions while on patrol in Afghanistan (above) in 2010. The American Shooting Journal is honored to have this exclusive interview.
[su_dropcap style=”light”]N[/su_dropcap]ick Worthy grew up in a child’s paradise; his hometown of Satellite Beach is located on Florida’s eastern shore on a strip of land a mile wide, bordered by the Banana River to the west and the Atlantic Ocean to the east. Worthy’s high school is literally across the street from the beach, making attendance difficult, especially when the waves were big. I know from personal experience, as I too lived in Satellite Beach during my formative years. Satellite Beach has the feel of a very small town and is a peaceful and fun place to grow up. Watersports abound, from surfing to scuba diving, water skiing to sailing and, of course, excellent fishing. The beach is never more than a 10-minute walk or five-minute drive.
Worthy, now a deputy sheriff in Brevard County (where Satellite Beach is located), grew up doing what kids in small beach towns do – surf. When Worthy wasn’t surfing, he was wrestling for his high school.
Immediately after graduation, Worthy enlisted in the United States Army on a Ranger track and was assigned to Charlie Company 1/75th Rangers. He attended Ranger School a year later. Ranger School consists of 60 days of sleep deprivation and stress-induced missions. Each mission forces the Ranger candidate to think critically under less-than-ideal situations. The school has three phases, each more difficult than the last. The beginning phase takes place at Camp Darby, Fort Benning, Ga., followed by mountain training at Camp Merrill in Dahlonega, Ga., and culminates in the Florida Phase at Camp Rudder and Eglin Air Force Base. The graduation rate hovers around 50 percent or lower, and most have to start over at least once during the course. Worthy completed the course the first time through.
After earning his Ranger tab, Worthy went back to Charlie Company and began working his way through the ranks. He started out as a rifleman and advanced to grenadier, M249 Gunner, M240 Gunner and finished his enlistment as an E-5 sergeant team leader. Worthy found that his favorite weapon system was the MK 48, a light belt-fed machine gun chambered in the hard hitting 7.62x51mm. Worthy told me, “[The MK 48] is an amazingly lethal weapon that saved the lives of many fellow Rangers and prevented the enemy from advancing on us almost instantly.”
During his 2010 deployment to Afghanistan Worthy was involved in an operation that placed he and 30 fellow Rangers in harm’s way. Although the details remain classified it’s easy to surmise that Worthy and his fellow Rangers were doing what they do best – looking for and eliminating bad guys. As is usually the case with special ops units, they were deep in Taliban territory and undoubtedly being watched by the enemy as they made their way through the rugged countryside. Soon they found themselves surrounded by 100-plus Taliban fighters. Their squad leader dead, Worthy and his fellow Rangers fought their way out. Worthy told me that he didn’t do anything differently than any of the other Rangers, but his superiors didn’t see it that way and rewarded him with the Bronze Star Medal with a V for valor in combat. It’s a classification for heroism.
As Worthy’s enlistment came to an end he followed his father’s example and also became a road patrol deputy for the Brevard County Sheriff’s Office where his dad has been a deputy for some 30-odd years. The transition from service to his country to service to his community was a natural one for him.
As I spoke with Worthy it was apparent to me that he is a humble, quiet man who didn’t want to talk about himself more than he had to. When I asked him if there was a seminal moment when he knew he had made the correct choice in becoming an officer, he told me he couldn’t think of one, but promised to think on it and email me later. He did as he promised and emailed me a story. That he would rather email the story than say it out loud demonstrates his humility. Here’s the story in his own words:
“I responded to a trespass call at a local gas station. The clerks advised that a homeless male was loitering on the property and they wanted him to leave. When I arrived the man began to pack his things and said ‘You must be here for me. I didn’t mean to bother anyone; I was just trying to stay warm.’ I decided to stay there and talk to him about his situation. It turns out the man wasn’t asking for money. He only wanted to get into one of the local shelters; however, his ID card was stolen, and he stated that the shelter will not accept anyone without an ID. As the male looked down and proceeded to walk towards his bicycle I told him I had to go back to the precinct right quick but wanted him to meet me at the Subway [sandwich shop]. When I met back up with him I gave him an unofficial record of his ID card that was on record from a previous consensual encounter with another deputy. The man began to cry and told me that nobody has ever gone out of their way like that to help him, especially the police. Since he was too proud to accept any cash for a sandwich I gave the money to the cashier to make him one when he came inside. I wished him luck and told him the cashier wanted to ask him a question as I left in my patrol car.”
Singer Don Henley released a song in the 1980s entitled “Dirty Laundry.” The song is about how much the news media loves tragedy, pain and suffering. One line in the song says, “I make my living off the evening news, just give me something, something I can use. People love it when you lose … ”
- Most cops are humble protectors of our communities who perform daily acts of kindness, never expecting or wanting thanks or recognition. Here, Worthy (right) is on bike patrol by John Decossaux and Corey Bertini.
The song’s lyrics are almost prophetic in describing today’s news reporting. Stories of murder and mayhem abound, and the volume is cranked to 11 if the story involves a cop. There is no shortage of news stories casting cops in a bad light, but what you rarely see are stories like the one Worthy shared with me. My bet is that he hasn’t shared that story with anyone besides maybe his fiancee.
Worthy could have just as easily sent the homeless man on his way without trying to help him out. My experience has been that people who witness war and all its tragic occurrences like Worthy has usually end up one of two ways: 1) callous and uncaring about other people and their problems; or 2) they vow to alleviate as much suffering in the world as they can. It is obvious which path Worthy has taken.
Regrettably, not all calls end in a positive way. Monday, March 9, 2015, was a defining date in the young life of Deputy Worthy. At 9:08 p.m. a 911 call was fielded describing a man standing in the street firing a handgun at random cars and houses. The house from where the 911 call originated was occupied not only by adults but by children as well. The City of Cocoa was the primary agency responding to the call, with Deputy Worthy responding as back-up. It turned out that he was the closest officer and arrived first.
When he got within two blocks of where the shooter had last been seen he stopped to retrieve his Colt AR-15 patrol rifle and approached on foot. His time as a Ranger had taught him that the element of surprise was worth its weight in gold, but like all well thought-out plans his was subjected to Murphy’s Law. The original plan went by the wayside within seconds of his arrival.
Worthy’s car was blacked out, meaning no lights of any kind were on, when he saw a man standing in the street. Worthy turned on his headlights to get a better look at the man. The man, who turned out to be the active shooter, acted as if he was going to run, so Worthy activated his blue lights announcing that he was a deputy sheriff. As soon as the lights came on the suspect reached into his pocket, pulled out a handgun and began firing at him.
One of the first shots came through the patrol car’s windshield and embedded in the headrest, narrowly missing Worthy’s head. Worthy exited and sought better cover behind his car. The shooter, in a highly agitated state, pursued Worthy to the rear of the car, shooting the entire time. At one point the suspect, later identified as 30-year-old Cedrick Bishop, was running towards Worthy and it was at this time that Worthy confronted the suspect and killed him. Worthy’s experiences in Southwest Asia saved his life that night.
Worthy was fighting for more than the lives of the residents in that small Florida town; he was fighting for his future. His fiancée, who was nine months pregnant with their daughter, and her young son were at home. If it were not for his quick response you may very well have been reading his obituary and that of several citizens of Cocoa instead of this article.
As Worthy and I were talking about the shooting he told me that taking a life is never a good thing. I agree, but the decision to take a life that night had already been made and not by him. The active shooter had decided that someone was going to die and ultimately made the decision that it would be him.
- When Worthy isn’t on duty, he spends time with his stepson, newborn daughter and fiancée (left) Rachel Trexler. He takes his family camping and passes on some of his Ranger skills, such as knot tying, making a good shelter and finding food and water to his little buddy. He also likes to snowboarding in the mountains of North Carolina.
It was a privilege for me to interview Worthy. Something that struck me while speaking with him was his desire to deflect credit away from himself and give it to others. He did this when I asked him about his heroic efforts in Afghanistan, and on March 9, 2015. But isn’t this what real heroes do? This modesty is what confirmed it for me. As a father of three boys I can imagine how proud Worthy’s parents are of him. As a citizen I know how proud we are of him. As a son I know how proud his kids will be of him when they are old enough to know what their dad has done in the name of service.
In this age of overpaid, overindulged athletes, entertainers, and other public figures, it is refreshing to know that people of character are out there. These quiet men and women go about their jobs every day never seeking the limelight or fame. They go to work with the singular goal of protecting the citizens in their jurisdiction no matter the cost. These officers deserve our gratitude and support for their willingness to sacrifice all so that we can be safe.
Worthy said it best: “I did what any other law enforcement officer would have done; I just happened to get there first.” What Worthy doesn’t say is that when the shots first ring out, he and his fellow officers (and soldiers) run towards the danger, not away from it, all to protect their citizens. ASJ
- After completing basic training, AIT and jump school, Worthy attended Ranger Indoctrination. This is a tough course designed to weed out soldiers from the ranks of potential Rangers. Worthy passed the course and was assigned to Charlie Company 1/75th Rangers. A year later Worthy attended Ranger School.
Posted in Law Enforcement Tagged with: afghanistan, Army Ranger, Brevard county Sheriff, Bronze Medal of Valor, Deputy, Florida, Nick Worthy, Troy Taysom, Veteran