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Contractor Life: What’s it like working in Iraq?

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Former special forces soldiers are mostly engaged in private military companies doing jobs as PMCs (Private Military Contractors)

Interested in working for the U.S. government in Iraq? Though the dangers are obvious, the pay and perks can be pretty excellent.

Federal employees and contractors serving here face an almost-daily barrage of rocket attacks, the inability to travel freely, scorching hot temperatures and other cultural and linguistic limitations. But workers with the State Department, U.S. Agency for International Development and other federal agencies preserve on coming, especially as the U.S. presence here becomes more of a civilian affair.

Despite the violence, harsh temperatures and separation from family, serving the U.S. government in a war zone often guarantees promotions and ultimately can lead to assignments at the most coveted diplomatic outposts, according to current and former officials who’ve served time in Iraq.

So how much can a typical federal worker in Iraq anticipate earning?

Let’s use a current State Department job posting as an example: Foggy Bottom is seeking a modern “monitoring and evaluation advisor” to oversee Iraq-based projects of the Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs – the entity responsible for conducting high-level Iraqi police training (more on this in the coming weeks).

For our purposes, let’s say the eventual job winner (we’ll call him “Frank the Foreign Service Officer”) earns an annual salary of $100,000 plus traditional federal benefits (annual leave, sick leave, federal health and life insurance plans, 10 paid federal holidays and normal vacation accrual.)

Frank’s Iraq assignment includes danger pay and “post differential pay” (the global equivalent of locality pay), each equaling 35 percent of his base salary. This means Frank will earn an additional $70,000 for working in Iraq. ($100,000 base salary x .70 = $70,000 more.)

If Frank speaks Arabic, he can also earn a prorated language credit, ranging from 5 to 15 percent of base pay depending on his level of skill. ($100,000 x .15 = $15,000 more.)

Though the compensation can add up quick, no pay package in Iraq this year will exceed $227,300 annually, according to State Department rules.

Once hired, Frank is expected to work in Iraq for one year and isn’t officially guaranteed two-day weekends. (After all, diplomacy doesn’t stop on Saturdays and Sundays.) To make up for seven-day work weeks, less experienced Foreign Service officers earn overtime pay for working nights, holidays and Sundays, while senior FSOs earn a 20 percent pay bump over the course of the year (based on the assumption that they work at least 55 hours per week).

Once he’s ready to recharge his batteries, Frank will be eligible for “rest and recuperation breaks” back in the U.S., or “regional rest breaks” in other Middle Eastern countries.

Each “R&R” lasts 22 days, including travel to and from Baghdad (which the State Department pays for.) Depending on Frank’s orders, he might be required to visit headquarters in Washington during an R&R.

“RRBs” last for seven days, including travel time. The State Department pays for round-trip air travel to Amman or Kuwait, but Frank will have to pay to acquire to his final Mideast destination. (The Eye heartily recommends going north to Istanbul.)

Over the course of his year-long assignment, Frank can take either three “R&Rs” or a combination of two “R&Rs” and three “RRBs.”

Though the pay and benefits for working in Iraq seem nice, remember that unlike other diplomatic assignments, Frank’s family cannot come with him. And while the embassy in London or the consulate in Osaka might be located near choice pubs and hibachi tables, most meals in Baghdad come from the embassy cafeteria, the embassy coffee shop, or Subway and Pizza Hut.

Still, working in Iraq and Afghanistan comes with long-term career benefits. Employees who apply early enough in the process can sign up for “linked assignments” that require one year of service in a war zone followed by a guaranteed posting in the city of their choice.

So if Frank is willing to do time in Baghdad, his dream assignment in Rome could conceivably become a reality.

The scenario above is just one example of what Americans working in a war zone might expect. By no means will all of the State Department and USAID workers, contractors and private security guards assigned to Iraq in the coming months be paid the same way.

And, of course, no payment or perk could match the sacrifice made by workers who choose to serve in harm’s way and never make it home.

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Private Military Contractors

How To Become a Private Military Contractor

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private military contractors training - How To Become a Private Military Contractor

I have been contracting since 2005. I have worked for multiple companies over the years. I see all kinds of posts on this page regarding jobs…. the who, what, when, and where. So I am going to give you some advice.

First of all, you are not going to get a job by writing comments on social media. Period…end of story! You have to get off your ass and apply apply apply. In 2004 as a soldier, I wrote down every company name I came across while deployed.  After I got home I immediately applied to all of them. I mean all of them. Over 40 companies got an application from the ole Edmiester. It took time and persistence. You are not going to land a job and deploy the next day. Those days are long gone unless you have the background and connections. If this is your first time trying to get on the contract you are not “in-the-know”. It is going to take you 6 months to a year to complete the process.

Look at the job description and include lines from it on your resume. Some companies have programs to search out keywords or phrases. This could mean the difference between an actual person looking at your resume or a program filing it in the bin.

If you do not have a resume filled out and ready to go you need to stop what you are doing and get it done. Nobody wants to hear from you if you don’t even have step one accomplished. Have all your DD214’s and verifiable documentation on hand. Not….oh let me find it or let me write my old unit and try and get it etc…. You are applying for a professional job.  Act like a professional!

Read the damn requirements for the position you want to apply for. They are there for a reason. When you apply for a job you are not qualified for you to waste a recruiters time. They can get thousands of applications a day. They do not want to waste time on guys that don’t meet the “MINIMUM” requirements. It might just a black ball you from applying for a different job later on.

Keep track of every email and communication between you and the recruiter. They are going to lose half your shit. So plan ahead and be organized. Stay in constant communication with your recruiter. Email him at least every week and get an update on your application. If he asks for documents get them to him immediately.
Be prepared to spend money on medical exams etc. Some companies need medical forms from doctors. Some pay for it some do not. Plan ahead and set some money aside to do this if required.

Be ready to go to a training course at a moments notice. This might happen rather quickly or it might take 6 months to a year. Plan ahead and save some money. Have a valid drivers license and a “CLEAN RECORD”. Why is this so damn difficult?

Do not apply for a DOD or DOS contract if you have a DUI or a felony. This is going to get you denied. If you fucked up early in life now is when you kick yourself in the ass. If you are not a US citizen stop trying to get DOD and DOS jobs. You do not meet the requirements. You have to have a secret clearance for almost every one of these jobs be a DOS secret or DOD secret. I am sorry my foreign brothers but they cannot allow people to do close protection work for diplomats without a clearance.

If you are a foreign brother looking for contracts get your SIA license. Put out some money and enroll in a course. Seems every job out there requires this these days. Get ahead of other applicants and get the certificate. It will move you to the front of the line.

If you are on the border between meeting requirements and not meeting the requirements spend some money and take some close protection courses. You are not going to gain experience sitting at home writing comments on social media. Get off your ass and DO SOMETHING!

If you cannot gain experience from working then gain experience training. Many of the courses will help you with employment afterward. Stop asking for leads when you have done nothing to find leads yourself. You are a nobody in the land of social media. Nobody is going to miracle a job to you. You have to get hungry and go find it. You have to grab it by the balls and make it happen.

For US citizens here are a list of companies to check out:

  • Triple Canopy
  • IDS
  • SOC
  • Aegis/Garda World

Create a LinkedIn account and in the search block type in: Triple Canopy recruiter, Garda recruiter and so on! Magically they will appear. Send them an invite or a message. The rest is on you!

  • Triple Canopy- dropped pay and needs lots of guys
  • SOC- currently pretty solid with their numbers (needs SL’s)
  • IDS- dropped pay and needs guys
  • Garda- new hire pay dropped but will increase after 1 year BOG. Need guys.

Hope all of this helps and keeps a few of you from embarrassing yourselves! Remember this, guys… everyone from Shift Leaders to recruiters read these posts on these pages. Contracting is a very small world and your reputation will follow you around!

This post was written by Eddie Mullins, an experienced security professional with a lot of real-life experience on those jobs.

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Private Military Contractors

Road rules for gunslingers: How military contractors use their vehicles to fight

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IMG 8065 - Road rules for gunslingers: How military contractors use their vehicles to fight

The Chevy Tahoe leaves a white, chalky trail of dust as it careens towards Shoot House 2. There are four heavily armed men wearing body armor seated inside the SUV, wielding automatic rifles, 9mm pistols, and a shotgun. These weapons are loaded – and not with blanks.

The driver directs the vehicle off the dirt road and skids to a halt in front of the building. Even before the doors open, the tactics that will decide the gunfight ahead are already being implemented. The driver parks the vehicle with the rear facing the targeted building, so the team inside can dismount facing the door they mean to breach. This position also protects the driver in case the team loses the element of surprise and needs to retreat in a hurry.

Three men pop out of the Tahoe, each wearing body armor, and helmets. The rear opens and the last members of the team leap out: a dog handler and security canine on a leash. The men knock down the door and loose the dog to latch onto a man inside wearing a padded suit. The team sweeps the building, storming each room quickly. The pistols cough, and paper targets sport fresh holes. The concrete mix used to construct the walls of the building absorbs bullets. The operators flow from room to room while covering each other’s blind spots, popping off shots in a controlled dance of fire and maneuver.

A mix of auto journalists and company staff observe the exercise from a catwalk above the roofless, one story building. Chevy brought us here to reinforce the link between its SUVs and toughest clients: military operators who use the rigs on overseas missions.

Although a small percentage of total Tahoe sales go to these customers, the luster of Special Operations can help sell vehicles to domestic law enforcement, who need proven vehicles. The general public is also not immune to military chic: Some tinted windows, black steel wheels and footage of live-fire demonstrations should also help sales.

It’s also a rare opportunity to discuss the relationship between special operations troops and the automobiles they use in combat. This is the place where advice isn’t based on a movie or video game.

The range and the talent are courtesy of TigerSwan International, a security firm that trains police, US military and civilians on tactical gunfighting. Part of the training they do here centers on smooth exits from vehicles to get to gunfights, as well as times they must shoot from moving cars and trucks. “What people get here is real-life experience, to see what is fact versus fiction,” says Jim Reese, co-founder of TigerSwan. “Most of what they think they know is total B.S.”

Reese is a retired Delta Force operator. He founded TigerSwan in 2005 to “provide business intelligence, crisis management and global stability services to governments and businesses.” The firm recently made headlines when documents leaked that identified them as part of the security brought in to guard the Dakota Access Pipeline against protesters. They perform risk analysis, protect company executives, and help design secure facilities in risky places.

Supporters call them contractors. Detractors call them mercenaries. Both sides agree: the firm is staffed with shooters with experience on elite military teams. The gunmen at this event are all former members of Delta Force, an elite unit formed to conduct counterterrorism missions.

Chevy hired TigerSwan to host this demo on its sprawling training range, located 17 miles from Fort Bragg in North Carolina. The Range Complex, as the company calls it, is spread over 1,900 acres, plenty of room for the intensive combat exercises conducted here. The practice spaces encompass just 100 acres; the rest of the area is needed to make sure that errant bullets land harmlessly, outside of what’s called the Surface Danger Zone.

“Your vehicle can be the most lethal weapon on the battlefield, if it’s used the right way.”

Not many Hollywood myths survive for very long when discussing the best uses of vehicles in shootouts with professionals. For example, ducking behind a car for cover during a gunfight is a bad idea. “Most vehicles don’t make good pieces of cover,” Reese says. “Bullets go right through.”

He is in a good position to know: As an operator with Delta, which they call “The Unit,” Reese once caught a bullet in the wrist while driving his commander through Baghdad.

Training is another word for experience. It’s not a good idea to try something for the first time when lives are at stake. For example, training here includes the best way to drive a car away from a roadside ambush by gunmen. The first priority is to get away, to nullify the advantage the attackers gained by choosing the location. And that usually means driving forward. To do this safely means shooting out of the car’s windshield, to hit or scare the gunmen outside.

This is easier than it sounds. The ideal way to shoot out a front windshield is to make a hole with a few quick rounds, and then poke the barrel of the firearm through the hole to shoot back in earnest. But how many shots will it take to make that hole? Is the glass tempered? What’s the best body position inside a car to fire accurately?

Like anything, being a badass car gunman requires training so that your body acts without hesitation. “Practice, practice, practice,” Reese says. “Your vehicle can be the most lethal weapon on the battlefield, if it’s used the right way.”

Another lesson from the special ops world: Those behind the wheel don’t shoot. “The driver is the driver,” Reese sums up. They are responsible for watching everything ahead of the vehicle, scanning for upcoming threats and leery of any chokepoints. Others in the vehicle have their own sectors, areas they constantly watch for trouble. They call this “putting your head on a swivel.”

The hired guns of TigerSwan have been deployed across the world and have been subjected to nearly every threat to a vehicle you can imagine: roadside bombs, gunmen posted under overpasses, suicide bombers, motorcycle drive-bys. “They usually don’t even slow down,” says Rick, an operator with extensive experience in cartel-infested parts of South America, of motorcycle gunmen there. (Former operators ask that only their first names be used.)

Despite all of Chevy’s happy talk of delivering battle-ready SUVs, the first thing Delta Force does is tailor the vehicle for the conditions on the ground. That could mean using “bolt on” kits, supplied by third-party vendors. These vendors sometimes work with vehicle makers to ensure their solutions, like extra armor or weapons stations, will be easy to install.

Other enhancements are improvised on the spot. Two popular SUV mods in war zones emerge during separate conversations. One is cutting a hole in the roof to create a firing position. Rick says he first saw this in Beruit, where gunners wanted views above the tops of other vehicles. Others add that this became common in Iraq and Afghanistan as well. Delta operators even figured out a way to mount a heavy .50-caliber machine gun on top of the vehicle. Another popular modification: putting a seat in the rear, facing directly behind the SUV. This takes care of one of the few blind spots.

Eddie is a 23-year Army veteran with 17 years of service in Delta, and a recipient of two Bronze Stars and multiple Purple Hearts. He says any vehicle they receive in the field gets modified immediately. “We’ll do the tires, brakes, lights, everything,” he says. “In Afghanistan, we once replaced an SUV engine, and put in a diesel. Easier to get fuel.”

Special Operations troops such as Delta, the Navy SEALs, and the Air Force Special Tactics Squadron, are known for their specialized vehicles. But oftentimes it makes more sense to blend in, and that means using indigenous vehicles to get around. In some parts of the world that means pickup trucks, but in others the black SUV is common. “In Iraq, at first, these would stick out,” says Antek, who has 15 years of Delta experience. “But after a while they were common.”

After the sun sets, a handful of Z71 Midnight Edition Tahoes arrive. They’re marketed to look mean: a black mesh grill, dark painted DuraTrac tires and black bowties. The cross rails have an odd strip across the top, faintly glowing red. This is a reflector that glows like hot metal under night vision goggles, which amplifies what little light exists.

The TigerSwan operators load into Tahoe Z71s and drive into the night on a “ghost ride,” headlights extinguished and wearing night-vision headsets. In the lenses, the lightless dirt road is bathed in a green hue. Every insect becomes a brilliantly lit orb. Antek drives quickly but in control, gently drifting across turns and weaving in between heavy equipment and farm buildings.

He’s shot from moving vehicles before, at targets who shoot back. He has practical advice: Try not to do it unless you have a heavy machine gun mounted on the vehicle. “You won’t hit anything with a rifle or pistol, if you’ve got any speed,” he says.

The ghost ride, shoot house, and time on the gun ranges at the event are not very instructive when it comes to the merits of Chevy’s SUVs for this kind of work. They are popular, sold worldwide and common in US and foreign police units. But the real lesson is in the relationship between elite warriors and the mounts they ride.

“Of course we pay close attention to the vehicles we ride in,” Antek says. “They can save your life when you need them.”

This article originally appeared at Auto Blog. The author of the article is Joe Poppalardo.

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