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Ask Slashdot: Working As an IT Contractor In a War Zone? 352

Posted by timothy
from the not-just-a-hobby-any-more dept.
Capt. Picklepants writes "I have been feeling malaise about the IT and technical job market in the United States. I'm interested in doing some IT work for our government in Iraq, Afghanistan, and Africa. I've heard it pays very well. Got any advice, or pointers, aside from the usual combing corporate websites and social networking?"
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Ask Slashdot: Working As an IT Contractor In a War Zone?

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  • by InsightIn140Bytes (2522112) on Tuesday December 13, 2011 @12:42PM (#38356500)
    There's lots of world to see outside US and its war zones. Go to China, Thailand, Cambodia, Singapore or Philippines. It's extremely easy for a westerner to find jobs in Asia if they just know something, especially in IT. Life is generally more relaxing too. I've done just that, but I don't work for anyone, I work as freelancer over the internet.

    However, there's a huge amount of employers that can hire you, if you rather take a stable paycheck. This includes both westerners who have set up companies and moved there and also companies by locals. IT is huge in Asia. The funny thing is, it's also a job widely appreciated by local women, and often you find women working in IT. Really knowledgeable ones, too.

    On top of that you get great weather, nice people and relaxing lifestyle. You might get marginally lower wage, but then again the cost of living is insanely smaller too.
    • Is it common to request work in a warzone? Are those requests ever fulfilled? I'd expect some extreme security checks, since other than specifying exactly which warzone you want to go to, there's not much more of a spy-like activity you could take.

      If I were running a war, as a general policy, if someone wants to work somewhere, my answer would be, "No, and by the way, follow the nice man with the sunken knuckles into that extremely bare room." Either that, or "Oh yeah absolutely" and then bugging the everloving crap out of everything you do for the rest of your life.

      • by sureshot007 (1406703) on Tuesday December 13, 2011 @01:00PM (#38356718)
        What's wrong with wanting to work in a war zone? The pay is usually better, and some people like the daily excitement.
        • by goarilla (908067) on Tuesday December 13, 2011 @01:06PM (#38356800)
          A friend of mine was almost recruited to do this a few years ago (2005 iirc). The pay was 600 $/day in Iraq.
          • by jellomizer (103300) on Tuesday December 13, 2011 @01:12PM (#38356892)
            With your living expenses paid for too... If you are single, and willing to take the risk, that is good solid money, You can save up/invest a boat load of money. When the US picks up you can get a good job there too and with 200/300k saved up you will be on good standing.
        • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

          by Garybaldy (1233166)
          I have a friend who just got back this year from doing IT in Iraq. He loved it (well not the heat). He gave it up to be with his new baby. The money he made was stupidly high.
        • by jeffmeden (135043) on Tuesday December 13, 2011 @01:17PM (#38356942) Homepage Journal

          What's wrong with wanting to work in a war zone? The pay is usually better, and some people like the daily excitement.

          Because gleefully exclaiming that the money is worth the risk is probably an indicator of an unstable personality at best, if not a depressed/suicidal disorder. People are *supposed* to fear death, it's what makes them generally live longer and therefore be a more reliable employee. A competent manager would have the same reservations about hiring someone who drove a 1000cc sportbike to work every day with no helmet on because they were "a busy person".

          More deeply, by and large someone who has never worked in a "warzone" who says "i want to work in a warzone" should be directly enlisting in the military, as they have the resources to protect n00bs from killing themselves too easily. Someone who says "i want to freelance in a warzone for the kicks!" who has never done it before in all likelihood has NO idea what they are actually getting themselves into, and will be a risk to themselves and others until they have a significant amount of experience.

          • People drive sport bikes without helmets all the time in states that don't require it. Nothing unusual there.

            Just because you don't fear death, that doesn't mean you have a death wish, nor does it make you an less stable. If someone came to me and said, "I will pay off all your student loans and credit card debt, buy you a brand new house, a new car, and all you have to do is work in Iraq for a year"....well if I wasn't gainfully employed, I wouldn't be crazy for considering it.
            • by jeffmeden (135043)

              People drive sport bikes without helmets all the time in states that don't require it. Nothing unusual there.

              Just because you don't fear death, that doesn't mean you have a death wish, nor does it make you an less stable. If someone came to me and said, "I will pay off all your student loans and credit card debt, buy you a brand new house, a new car, and all you have to do is work in Iraq for a year"....well if I wasn't gainfully employed, I wouldn't be crazy for considering it.

              There is certainly room on the spectrum for risk-takers who don't want to die outright; but there is a big difference on that spectrum between contemplating a lucrative job offer that involves risk, and saying "i am hard up for money so give me the riskiest thing possible". The latter kind is probably prone to unaccountably risky behavior when it comes to carrying out their job functions as well.

              • There is certainly room on the spectrum for risk-takers who don't want to die outright; but there is a big difference on that spectrum between contemplating a lucrative job offer that involves risk, and saying "i am hard up for money so give me the riskiest thing possible". The latter kind is probably prone to unaccountably risky behavior when it comes to carrying out their job functions as well.

                There's also the case to be made for risk takers applying their attitude toward their work. You probably won't get awesome innovation if you're incapable of adapting or fear change. I don't think that someone who rides a motorcycle without a helmet should be summarily rejected... but at the same time, I'd have a backup plan in case the eventuality of an accident finally meets up with them.

          • by DrgnDancer (137700) on Tuesday December 13, 2011 @02:15PM (#38357792) Homepage

            Spoken like a person who has never been to warzone. There's a great number of things wrong with your post, so I'll enumerate them:

            1) Contractors are rarely killed in warzones. There've been a few high profile incidents, but it's a very uncommon event. Moreover, of the contractors that *are* killed, the vast majority are either trucking contractors or security contractors. People that spend a lot of time "outside the wire" (basically not on our bases). I'd be shocked to hear that the number of IT contractors killed in Iraq/Afghanistan goes above the single digits. You're probably as safe as you would be driving a half hour to work on the highway every day.

            2) Lots of people ride motorbikes to work without helmets in places that it's legal to so. People perform various other risky activities too. they have unprotected sex in non-monogamous relationships, they climb mountains, they go cave diving... There are an endless variety of things that people do, some of them explicitly because they are, or seem, dangerous.

            3) The pay in the military sucks by comparison to what contractors make. You also spend years in training, can't always guarantee that you'll be doing the job you signed up for (several of my "IT" soldiers spent their tour in Iraq on guard duty assigned to one of our line companies), and you can't quit if you decide you don't like it. On top of that, while it's true that soldiers are better trained than contractors, they are also often doing far more dangerous jobs. The number of contractors killed in action pales compared to the number of troops killed in action.

            4) IT contractors aren't breaking down doors and rushing into combat. They're doing IT. Usually on a base. The chance that they'll ever see an enemy combatant, let alone have a chance to be "a risk to themselves and others" is small. If they do see action it will be on a road traveling between bases, and likely the driver will be a soldier and know what to do. Contractor's job is: get low, stay low, don't freak out any more than you have too.

            There are thousands of contractors working on every base in every conflict zone. It's a perfectly normal and accepted part of the gig. Nobody thinks they're nuts, soldiers are mostly jealous that they make so much more than we do.

            I will caution the original poster on a few things though. Contracting work in a hot zone is not fun and games. The pay is good, but there are lots of downsides. You often work 12 hour days, 6-7 days a week. What leisure time you do have is constrained: you usually can't leave base, there are no movie theaters, no restaurants beyond a Burger King or Pizza Hut (and then only on larger bases), Internet connectivity is extremely chancy, and TV is limited to AFN (Armed Force Network, pretty good mix of programs but only a couple channels). While what i said earlier about it being fairly safe is true, it's not completely safe by any means, and even when they aren't aimed at you hearing explosions in the distance all the time can get... disconcerting. On the bright side, on any decent sized base you have cell service so your family is easy to stay in touch with, unlike in earlier wars.

          • IT worker means, I assume, never going over the wall (or berm, fence, what have you). For people stationed strictly on base a warzone can be safer than many parts of the US. Hell, it can be safer than a 45 minute commute every day. It's a calculated risk to earn 3-4x the money, often with significant tax breaks; if student loans and a home mortgage are the prison some slashdotters make them out to be, a year or two of this will earn you a get out of jail free card. Now maybe I'm wrong and the Poster is

          • by Synerg1y (2169962)

            You sound scared, do you realize that no matter what you do, you will die?

            There's a quote about a roller coaster somewhere in here...

            think about it, life is different with 6 figures saved up, money isn't everything, but it's certainly a propellant to get you places.

            My issue w the contractor pay is that doesn't it come out of taxpayer dollars?

          • by mlts (1038732) *

            I'd say there is an exception... Working in a war zone for very high pay for 6-12 months and knowingly taking the risk to life and limb... then banking the money and sitting back for 5-10 years in a semi-retired state working on stuff you would like to do.

            In this economy where for someone without a lot of IT experience has few options on jobs, working overseas in a combat area is very risky, but the payoff is big too. Take a $150,000 contract for six months (which for some things is at the low end of the p

          • Because gleefully exclaiming that the money is worth the risk is probably an indicator of an unstable personality at best, ...

            Your post did not deserve the "Insightful". Three things are wrong with it:

            1) You gamely attempt to play armchair psychologist without much working comprehension of psychology, and
            2) You have no idea at all what "warzone" like work for an IT worker is in a "warzone," and
            3) You appear entirely unacquainted with the market for IT workers supporting the front

            To wit" you had no "insight"

        • by gstoddart (321705) on Tuesday December 13, 2011 @01:21PM (#38356984) Homepage

          What's wrong with wanting to work in a war zone? The pay is usually better, and some people like the daily excitement.

          Yeah, a friend just got back from spending most of the last two years in Afghanistan.

          Apparently the rocket attacks and periodic deaths on the base were really exciting.

          He said pretty much after someone got killed 75 feet from where he was standing, if he heard the warning sirens he'd hit the deck even if he was in the latrine -- he figured crap washed off, but dead didn't. One of his co-workers rattled off the number of rocket attacks, suicide bombers, and other nasties that happened while he was there -- it didn't sound like a recruiting pitch to me.

          He did get well paid, but I think he's pretty glad it's over now. They call it 'danger pay' for a reason.

        • by vlm (69642) on Tuesday December 13, 2011 @01:36PM (#38357164)

          What's wrong with wanting to work in a war zone? The pay is usually better, and some people like the daily excitement.

          Start with taking a "great job" at an office in your local neighborhood inner city and see how you like it. That's where I am. Two shootings within the last 6 years within 200 feet of our lot although no one died (as far as I know), and they pulled a dead body out of the river just a couple months ago, just a couple feet from my window, theres a sight I didn't need to see. Smashed glass everywhere and riots after the annual street festival, which was finally cancelled after two years in a row of shootings (shootings not near my office). Anyone who leaves anything in a car can expect smashed windows... I park underneath a security cam, near the door, work in the daytime, never keep anything in the car, all good so far... Siege mentality gets tiring after awhile, but at least I only have to live it for about 40 hours a week, you'd be stuck there 24x7.

          There tends to be pretty intense "blame the victim" attitude in slums, maybe war zones too. She shouldn't have been wearing that outfit, walking in the parking lot after dark, he shouldn't have left anything to steal inside his car, they should have known there would be racial incidents after the street festival like every year, the victim is always to blame, that's why I personally have no reason to fear, right? Its a defense mechanism. An annoying one.

          My wife and kids are categorically denied to visit me at work under any circumstances except maybe during sunlight in the winter and even then watch your back at all times, and they would only live/work in a slum over my dead body. Speaking of which, you may find family members threatening to chain you up in the basement to prevent you from going to a warzone, hard to say.

      • by jmauro (32523)

        Is it common to request work in a warzone?

        Yes, mainly because it pays really, really well compaired to other jobs in the IT industry for the same level of work. Granted the hours are usually horrible (12 on/12 off for months at a time).

        • Yes, mainly because it pays really, really well compaired to other jobs in the IT industry for the same level of work. Granted the hours are usually horrible (12 on/12 off for months at a time).

          Before I really got into IT, I worked as a deckhand on an offshore oil exploration (seismic) crew. We worked 12 hrs/day 14 days straight, then 7 days off (including transport back to home base). The company put us up in motels every night, everything was paid for. The hourly rate didn't seem too great - but I got time and a half for 4 hours a day, and had nothing to spend money on but the beer after work. For a single guy it was great - you didn't really even need a place to live, just go on vacation ev

      • by cmholm (69081)

        There's obviously not a meeting of minds between you and the people who actually run a war. ;) If you surf through the jobs sites for the major defense contractors, they are advertising explicitly for locations in IQ and AF. The State Department and other civilian agencies generally have to twist arms to get people to work in theater, so as far as they're concerned, qualified individuals who want to go just make their job easier.

    • by Zedrick (764028)
      > I work as freelancer over the internet.

      Sounds very nice, but how do you find and get those jobs? I've been freelancing a bit too, but I only get local gigs through people I already know.
      • I work in SEO and webmastering, so I don't really need to find jobs from other people. Sometimes I do work for clients, but most of the time I run my own portfolio of websites that bring income from affiliate networks and advertiser deals. And signing up to those is much easier, as they aren't obligated to pay anything else than the commissions you generate based on your sales or leads.
    • by aaarrrgggh (9205)

      I've lived in Thailand for 3 years over my career. It's harder now than it used to be, but you can get legitimate work locally (although telecommuting is much easier and better paying). The last year, I made a US salary (plus a little), only needed to work 40 hours a week. Down-side was my hours were 9PM-midnight and 4AM-8AM six days a week, and I was back in the US at least once a month. (Not that bad, except it was 48-hours door-door from the island I was living on.)

      Singapore offers much better pay; e

    • Thailand? Cambodia? Philippines? Seriously???? Local rates of pay are around 800 USD per month are the average. There is no shortage of local talent. There are major language barriers. I've lived in Thailand for 20 years and I get asked the same question once a week by some hopeful who has come for a holiday and 'likes the lifestyle' (i.e. the women) Forget it unless you are sent on an ex-pat package by a company you are already working for, in which case it's great, but those postings are highly sort aft
    • by delinear (991444)
      Likely because the pay and infrastructure are better. It's difficult to relocate to a country where you don't know the language or the local customs. If there's a big military presence there, you have a handy home away from home environment built in (albeit with bullet dodging thrown into the mix); there will either be plenty of other contractors from your country there, or there will be support in the form of translators, etc that you wouldn't get elsewhere (not unless elsewhere was really serious about hi
    • I strongly agree with the recommendation to work internationally in non-war zones, doing work that either makes the world a better place or at least makes cheap consumer junk or entertainment but doesn't make the world worse. It's possible to see the world, meet interesting and exciting people, and not help kill them. I'm not just saying this as a peacenik hippie - I used to work for the military-industrial complex, security clearances and the whole bit, and it does mess with your head even though you ge

      • by marnues (906739)
        Some of us really are concerned with supporting our troops. For instance my best friend fought in Fallujah years ago. He is a soldier at heart but injured beyond picking up a weapon again. He's been in civilian networking since then and his heart breaks when he hears of poor contracting near the front lines. If you can't understand his desire to do engineering in a warzone, I find you closed-minded and heartless.

        Now I have aspirations to join him and my fancy degree and fully resume should help me out
    • by g0bshiTe (596213)
      I'd like to add less chance for being a target for some group looking for hostages. Civilian contractors usually make easy targets for those looking to take a hostage or two. With a technological background that may make you more attractive as both a hostage and possibly them being able to gather intelligence from interrogating you. "What type servers are they running, what version, what OS, how many users, what's the average server loads"
      Contractor Casualties [wordpress.com]
      Jobs in Danger Zones [dangerzonejobs.com]
      Google Doc Link to PDF [google.com]
  • She always advised you to wear clean underwear when you went out.

    In a war zone, don't bother -- the first time you hear a backfire you'll know what I mean.

    • by cayenne8 (626475)
      Get a good custom fit bullet proof vest, and keep your head down.

      Also, pretend to be from Canada, they might not kidnap you quite as readily.

      You also might not want to wear that crucifix...those peace loving muslims don't care much for other religious stuff in their towns.

      • by SoTerrified (660807) on Tuesday December 13, 2011 @01:52PM (#38357420)

        > Also, pretend to be from Canada, they might not kidnap you quite as readily.

        As a Canadian... STOP DOING THAT. Look, you Americans have messed things up, stop trading on our good name. Proudly proclaim that you're American so you can take the kidnapping/beating you deserve.

        It's just getting really annoying when I go abroad, mention I'm Canadian, then have people assume I'm American.

        • It's just getting really annoying when I go abroad, mention I'm Canadian, then have people assume I'm American.

          From my recollection, that's been true for a long time, before any recent wars - at least back to the 1950s. Folks elsewhere, especially uneducated ones, are a bit unclear on the geography. Kinda like folks here confusing various Asian countries. It's probably a bit over the top to use "Japan? Isn't that part of China?" as an example, but you get the idea. Big, white guy from North America == 'American' for lots of people. Sorry! :P

  • by geekoid (135745)

    start your own company.

  • by peter303 (12292) on Tuesday December 13, 2011 @12:50PM (#38356588)
    NBC showed a piece on this Monday night. Even lesser employees were getting tons of security. The employees seemed to welcome it out of nervousness. The NBC piece was part of a series on the official withdrawal from IRAQ. Even after that about 20,000 embassy employees and contractors remain in a Baghdad and Basara consulates for "diplomatic" reasons. There are several tens of thousands of troops on bases in the area that could move on short basis for an aided evacuation or such.
    • by v1 (525388)

      I was just thinking that - just another good example of the media only showing the extremes. 1 in 30,000 getting kidnapped or killed, and that's the 1 they'll show. You have worse odds of being involved in violent crime in a lot of big cities here in the states.

      I think I'd worry less about people with guns that may be interested in me when I'm surrounded by armed guards. You don't get that when walking to your car in the middle of a parking garage late at night after working some OT.

  • by Anonymous Coward

    You won't find many positions unless you have security clearance already. Companies do not want to pay for the cost of a background investigation, hence their preference for former government (military) employees.

  • If you like $$$$$$ and can deal with ~12 months in a shithole (but generally not on the FOB or at least far from action), its a good way to pay off a mortgage (on DoD money that is). I've known folks working help-desk style roles with basic A+/MSCE/Linux/Cisco knowledge paying easily north of 100K USD.
  • Malaise (Score:5, Insightful)

    by MarkvW (1037596) on Tuesday December 13, 2011 @12:54PM (#38356646)

    I'd consider that your "malaise" problem might be greater in a war zone. Your freedom of movement is constrained; you're limited to corporate-cartoon-kitsch America; and you're surrounded by an alien culture that (for safety reasons) you are unable to freely immerse yourself within.

    If you were a dude that liked to save money and read books in your spare time, then it might be a good thing. But if you've got malaise now, just imagine what you'd get in Afghanistan.

  • Good clothing (Score:5, Informative)

    by Strider- (39683) on Tuesday December 13, 2011 @12:57PM (#38356680)

    As someone who's been over there a number of times, my advice is to invest in some good clothing for there. As crazy as it seems, the best way to beat the heat in the desert is to cover up. Long, loose pants made from lightweight fabric and similar for shirts (along with silk-weight polypro undershirts) will keep you significantly more comfortable than your typical cotton t-shirt. Also, a good wide-brimmed boonie hat is worth it.

    Basically, the idea is to keep the sun off your skin, the air flowing, and wick the sweat away from your skin.

  • by hakioawa (127597) on Tuesday December 13, 2011 @01:00PM (#38356724)

    I worked in Qatar (not in IT), which is technically a war zone by USG standards. It is also the wealthiest country on the planet and obscenely safe. I didn't even bother to lock my door. The pay there was good, but not insanely good. I looked into IT work in Afghanistan and would have made ~$300K. That job would require two things. 1) A USG security clearance and 2)willingness to literally be on the front lines and get shot at. Not all war zone are created equal. Pay will reflect that.

    Now you will probably hear a lot of folks talking about the danger etc. Yes, it is a war zone, but your odds of being killed are very low. I'd say your two biggest concerns in a place like Iraq are: 1) dying in a traffic accident, which would be just as likely in India of SE asia. 2) Dying of boredom. THAT is the big issue. These places are boring. And the security you are forced to endure will piss off most geeks. You see it, it is designed to slow you and everyone else down. There is a lot of theater and it can get tedious.

    That said, If you spend all your free time indoors reading obscure tech blogs, then I say go for it.

    • by Zocalo (252965)
      +1 This.

      As others have noted if you jump straight into a hot warzone (i.e. Afghanistan) or even a warm/cooling one (i.e. Iraq) with no experience you are likely to get yourself or someone around you killed. If you really want to give it a go, then there are much better places to to dip your toes in the water and see if it really is for you - i.e. where people getting shot at or killed by IEDs is not a daily occurance.

      One way to get started would be to look for a position with a large international IT
  • by Wingsy (761354) on Tuesday December 13, 2011 @01:01PM (#38356736)
    I thought that working in IT was, by definition, working in a war zone.
  • This isn't the place to ask. Network around and be aware that you're going to need a security clearance. If you don't already have one, and you somehow do get the job, be prepared to sit on the bench from three to twelve months doing busy-work while you wait your clearance to be adjudicated.

  • Stay away (Score:4, Informative)

    by slasho81 (455509) on Tuesday December 13, 2011 @01:06PM (#38356802)

    Stay away from war zones.

    Jobs in these areas are glamorous - they seem exciting and adventurous, but in reality they are extremely boring and needlessly dangerous. If that's not enough, you'll feel socially excluded because you're not a soldier in a place where almost everyone else is and you're disconnected from "real life" where civilians like yourself thrive. On top of all that, working in rigid bureaucratic organizations like the armed forces can drive people up the wall. You'll feel like you're immersed in stupid. Watch Generation Kill for a very credible illustration of that.

    In summary, don't do it.

  • by drunkahol (143049) on Tuesday December 13, 2011 @01:06PM (#38356806)

    Works for me.

    Seriously. They have interwebs and everything out there. Leave the kidnappings to the oil engineers and charity workers.

  • Advice (Score:5, Informative)

    by strikethree (811449) on Tuesday December 13, 2011 @01:07PM (#38356830) Journal

    I worked in the Middle East as a contractor for six years. Two and a half of those years I was under fire in Iraq. Here is some advice:

    Be prepared to live well outside your comfort zone. If you are working in a nice place, you will have shower trailers and restroom trailers... but most places are not nice.

    Temperatures are extreme. I saw multiple thermometers claim a temp of 142F one day (July 2005 Baghdad). None of the official reports mention temps that high. Afghanistan is not so hot but it gets MUCH colder.

    Be prepared to keep your wits about you as the explosive devices start flying over barriers and blowing shit (and humans) up nearby. I was able to put up with it for two and half years at which point I knew that if I stayed longer, I was going to change (permanently?) mentally in ways that were not desirable. You can only ignore the possibility of getting shredded for only so long... One of my coworkers died in Fallujah in... 2006 I think. He was the only employee from my company to die. A mortar round essentially landed on his head. His coworkers had to clean his brains and bone fragments out of the equipment to get it operational again. Could you do that?

    You will not really be making that much money even if it seems like a lot compared to what you are used to. Do NOT spend all of your money. There will be some surprises down the road and you want the cash to be available.

    More about money: You will not be making that much money forever. I knew several people who bought $600,000+ houses and then were not offered to be recontracted (either due to the company losing the contract or that person was just not wanted). Live a lifestyle like you have now and when everything is done, you will be well off. If you choose to live the high life, expect a harsh period of ... ahem... "lifestyle readjustment".

    Take a durable laptop with you. If you do not play 3D video games, see if you can find one without a fan (dust buildup). Bring lots of large capacity laptop style external drives with you.

    I am sure there is more. If you want, I can even refer you if you send me your resume. I have done that with two people from Slashdot already. One died (statistically very very unlikely but the real world does not care about statistics). :(

  • I hear Zynga will be hiring soon.

  • Does anyone have a good source for IT work in places that would dictate high pay? I know a guy looking for a contractor for Afghanistan but it is a sub contract on a sub contract of a contract and everyone is guarding who they work for. I'd love a place that listed dangerous jobs that pay real well.

    • But it's hard to jump right on, get a clearance and go to a war zone.

      Better to find a local job that requires a SECRET clearance, get it and they get you your clearance. Then get another local job that requires upgrading to TS. Then put yourself in clearancejobs.com and go for the $$$.

      • by kriston (7886)

        War zone, yes, it is still great paying job.
        State-side, though, the differential between cleared jobs and regular jobs in the private sector isn't that great anymore. In the Washington DC area the extra pay a cleared job gets fell below 10% in 2008 and hovers around 5% today. For my current career situation it was no longer worth the extra headaches that come with working at cleared positions.

        Strictly speaking, in a war zone, you might considering comparing that pay with the expense and salary of simply m

        • Most of the war zone contractors want you to already have a clearance, so those jobs are hard to get without one.

          But it's a lot easier to have a contractor get you a clearance for a job in the US. So you work here for a few years getting your clearance, then go for one of the high-paying war zone jobs.

          But look carefully at the specifics. Some jobs have you sitting in a relatively safe compound the entire time, others have you in another country that's safe, but still gets paid war zone wages. Other jobs req

  • by IDtheTarget (1055608) on Tuesday December 13, 2011 @01:16PM (#38356926)

    I'm a Major in the National Guard, a Signal Officer currently deployed to Afghanistan. That whole thing about getting kidnapped is B.S. All of the contractors here fly on the same helicopters that we do, or drive in the same convoys that we do. They get the same security and eat in the same DFACs. The only real difference is that they don't go around armed, unless they're the Law Enforcement Professionals (LEPs) or security contractors.

    For the most part they stay on the Forward Operating Bases (FOBs) just like those of us not actually out on a mission. They work six months and go home on leave (I can't remember if it's 2 weeks or a month). It's all in their contract.

    When I finished my Iraq tour, I was offered $250k per year to take over managing the I.T. section at a major Iraqi FOB. I was bone-weary from the deployment and just wanted to go home, so I didn't take them up on it. One of my soldiers here was offered $125k to come back and work in the I.T. department at BAF after the tour. She's still thinking about it.

    Ignore most of the B.S. that's being posted here, they have zero idea what they're talking about. The pay is high, as is the security. The downside is the hours that you work. 12-18 hour days, with no days off is the norm. It gets to you after awhile.

    Believe it or not, one of the things that really gets to you over here is the lack of GREEN. At least the FOBs I've been to, I am SICK and TIRED of sand and gravel, tan and grey. My wife emails me pictures of our lawn so i have something green to look at...

  • I did IT work for the military during a war but not in a war zone and it was the worst job of my life. Military IT is a nightmare even without the possibility of being shot at. The bureaucracy will probably kill you first. Then there's the moral dilemma of the war itself. How 'patriotic' or mercenary are you?

    Finally, be warned that the Mil IT jobs are rarely as described. I was quite shocked at how different the reality was.
  • Jealousy (Score:5, Informative)

    by vlm (69642) on Tuesday December 13, 2011 @01:20PM (#38356978)

    Expect jealousy from the non-contractor types, like enlisted soldiers. I was in their boots (admittedly stateside) and we treated the contractors with exactly the required level of professionalism and otherwise not a droplet more as we hated them for doing our jobs for "ten times the pay" (actually it was probably only twice, but no reasoning with jealousy) ... Its a difficult workplace environment. If you make 10x what a grunt makes, expect them to really onload on you if you make a microscopic mistake. Also expect to listen politely and agreeably like a bartender, about how they are stuck there for years whereas you could theoretically stand up, walk out and leave; 19 year old soldiers don't understand the whole concept of "contract" and "having to pay the mortgage back home" and "having to pay for food and medical care" very well, so they really do think you can do that...

    On the other hand, in a warzone, maybe there is more camaraderie?

    The most important thing you can do to make friends, is figure out what the grunts are not easily able to do and then "help them out" in a way that gets no one in trouble, untraceable, is more or less legal or at least "blind eye" situation, and makes you friends. Back in the day, civilian contractors were "expected" to provide us with warez for our personal laptops in the pre-wide public availability of internet access (note personal laptop in Army speak, is like "personal weapons", things you own and paid for and use solely in your downtime, not personal as in merely army issued "work laptop", it would be dumb to mess with army issued hardware). Also they were expected to provide us with alcohol for all party reasons, not sure how well that works overseas in Islamic countries, but the "rich contractors" were expected to buy us rounds at the bar, not the other way around. On the other hand don't do anything stupid with serial number items or or using classified rated hardware to run unclassified level software. Also be aware of certain army traditions, like you'd share ammo with your buddy if he was out, or you'd share food if he had none, or you'd share medical supplies if he had a sucking chest wound, so expect near violent response if you don't share your mp3 files with anyone who asks, thats just kinda how it is in the Army. Same with pr0n jpegs and movie files. Also paperback books. If there is a paperback book in your possession, and you are not currently reading it, its a major social error to not instantly hand it to someone who wants to read it, so don't bring your signed 1st edition copy of LOTR or something and expect to hoard it until you return home, unless you do literally read it over and over the whole time.

    • Re:Jealousy (Score:4, Informative)

      by Strider- (39683) on Tuesday December 13, 2011 @01:38PM (#38357204)

      On the other hand, in a warzone, maybe there is more camaraderie?

      In my case, at least, that was my experience. Back in 2006, I spent 3 months bouncing around Iraq and Afghanistan fixing and upgrading satcoms gear for PAO shops all over the place. It really was an excellent experience for me, as the soldiers and marines I worked with really did seem to appreciate my presence. On more than a few occasions, I got invited out to unit barbecues etc... (and yes, I always made sure to bring something to the party, even if it was just a case of coke from the PX). The real key is that I was more or less immersed with the troops, living with them, and eating with them. I wasn't working for one of the big contracting firms, so I was living in the transient tents just like they were.

  • by danguyf (631016) on Tuesday December 13, 2011 @01:22PM (#38356994) Homepage

    Offers to work in combat zones initially look great. They'll back a dump truck full of money up to your house and all you have to do is go have an adventure overseas for 12-18 months. Woo!

    The reality is that you'll be working 7 days a week, 18 hours a day. It's expected of you, everyone is doing it, and if you did try to work 8 hour days you would quickly go nuts from boredom because there is nothing to do. There are only so many magazines and videos and games around. Your office will be hot like an oven from all the desktop machines. If you're lucky the server closets will be a little cooler. You will be working harder, in those 18 hours a day, then you've ever had to work before.

    If you want that kind of life, get an IT job on an oil rig. Or take a break from IT and go work on an Alaskan fishing boat. The hours, money, boredom, and stress levels are basically the same.

  • by Ponga (934481) on Tuesday December 13, 2011 @01:42PM (#38357280)
    I've worked in the defense sector and although I have not signed up for one of these gigs, I know plenty of people that have. It's true that if you are worth your salt (or look good on paper), can obtain a secret clearance and willing to sacrifice a year of your life working 15 hours a day, every day... you can make $250 in a year in Afghanistan. Good places to look are the company websites: L3, SRI and STG - there are many more. Also job fairs in military towns. HOWEVER, if you really want to do this, get on while the getting is good. As you may know, the US trying to fold up it's many operations in SWA and other combat theaters, plus while the government is going broke, it's going to be hard for the DoD to justify paying a quarter million a year for each contractor working in these places... knowing what I know from my days in the DoD, I suspect this gravy train will come to screeching halt... and soon.
  • I know this, because you're asking the question on slashdot.

  • by swilly (24960) on Tuesday December 13, 2011 @01:49PM (#38357388)

    Working in a war zone is not for everyone. The money is great, the weather is terrible, the hours are almost as bad as the weather, and not everyone can handle the stress of the occasional rocket hitting the FOB (Forward Operating Base). The good news is that you will probably never leave the FOB except to get in and out of country, so you are almost as safe as in the US. When I worked at Camp Victory, the joke was that it was safer there than Detroit, but I don't know if that was true. The biggest cause of death was traffic accidents, so it could have been true. Keep in mind that it's one thing to know that intellectually, but another thing to experience it.

    Iraq is being spun down, so you will get to miss out on 130F heat (only 110 at night!), the most bizarre rainy season I've ever seen (the mud is unbelievable), and dust storms must be experienced to be believed. I've only spent a few weeks total in Afghanistan, but my impression is that Khandahar was like Iraq but a little milder and with mountains. Bagram is even milder and seemed like a decent place to be.

    The facilities will vary wildly depending on where you live. Major bases like Khandahar and Bagram have very good facilities, but smaller bases will be much more primitive. The food is surprisingly good but the internet even worse than you think it will be.

    Bring a durable laptop, preferable with a large screen. This will probably be your only computer. You will make good money, so don't focus on price and just get the best one you can. Not every place can have a TV, I had to use a USB TV-in to hook up my XBox to my laptop, which worked surprisingly well. Don't bring anything you truly care about, as the dust ruins everything. When I came back I opened up both my laptop and XBox and they were so caked with dust I'm surprised the 1st gen XBox survived (it had heat problems in the best of situations). Find the lightest, coolest shirts you can, cargo pants, good sturdy boots, and a good pair of sunglasses. I also found a large, floppy hat to be useful. I looked like a dork, but I was a cool dork whose head was always in the shade.

    If you have ever been in the military or worked for them, then you know a little of what to expect. If not, then be prepared for a very different office experience than exists anywhere else. Even if you are familiar with the military culture, a war zone is unlike anything else. Everyone is armed and there is a level of intensity that doesn't exist here in the states. It's very different, but I have found that people can get used to almost anything and even a war zone can become eventually become routine. The days will drag on forever, but the weeks will fly by.

    The money is great, but you only make it while over there. I suggest getting some investment advice, set up a plan, and follow it. That is what I did, but unfortunately 2007 wasn't the best year for throwing over a hundred thousand dollars at the stock market. Even the best plan can be sabotaged by poor timing. Even with the bad stock market, I'm still looking at cutting several years off my retirement age.

    Consider the tax benefits of staying a whole year. 330 days out of the US, and your first $85,000 (guess, I don't know what it currently is) is tax free. Less than 330 days, you don't get the tax break. Some shady or misinformed tax preparers have been known to try to pro-rate the break, but I've known a few people who got in trouble with the IRS for this.

    I mentioned the stress of constant attack, but it bears repeating. I still jump when I hear a dumpster lid shut (it sounds spookily like a mortar hitting), and I've been home for four years now. Just relax, and remind yourself that you are inside the wire, the bad guys are outside it, and treat those soldiers and marines who go out on patrol with the respect they deserve.

    Good luck! You are considering something that very, very few people will ever have the opportunity to do. I think of my time as an adventure and I'm very glad I went. If you have a security clearance, getting over there should be easy, but I'm not sure how things look if you don't.

  • The premise here is that somehow you will be happier with the job if it were a government job in a war zone. The US Government is actually the most depressing places I have ever worked (I actually had a pretty _cool_ job). With the exception of being in the military, it was not _the most_ depressing places. Malaise will not be resolved by a switch to the government, I would say it would get worse... Now if you simply want to do it for the money then more power to you, but make sure you know why you are
    • I had a civilian job in the DC area, and yeah, it drive me nuts. it was my 1st government job, and my first tiem working as many hours for wahtever employer...maybe I'd be more used to it the 2nd time around.

  • It is true that you can get a lot of extra danger pay and post differential working in 'war zones', however as has been stated, the US is pulling out of Iraq and Afghanistan (and they are shitholes). Pakistan is another country that receives a lot of American AID, one can receive 60% on top of their base salary if they work in country -- as noted though, Pakistan is not very safe anymore.[p] Forget working for the military, they pay peanuts. What you really want to do then is work for a consultant firm (s
  • If you consider "Africa" a warzone then it may be better to brush up on your geography before you look into moving. Africa is huge [tqn.com]. I live in Mozambique and just this country has a coastline 200 miles longer than the western coastline of the USA. Mozambique is an average size country for Africa.
  • In my experience it's not that easy to find a job overseas, at least not a conventional field.

    Let's consider local companies first... It's true that it's not that difficult to find English speakers, that's not always the case. And the thing is that in day to day business the ability to speak the local language is pretty much mandatory. Sometimes you'll luck out and find a company that's interested in hiring you as the token foreigner, but don't expect to be doing anything particularly fulfilling. Also expec

  • I would not recommend working in that environment as a newbie civilian. It would be one thing if you had a military background and knew what you were getting into. I will assume that is not the case given the questions you are asking.

    Rather, I suggest that if you really yearn to see another part of the globe (an educational and eye-opening experience for most Americans) go somewhere other than the countries you mentioned. While you are deciding where that might be, consider perusing the State Department Tra

  • by forkfail (228161) on Tuesday December 13, 2011 @04:34PM (#38360456)

    Honestly. It'll lower the chance of your getting shot somewhat.

Wernher von Braun settled for a V-2 when he coulda had a V-8.

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