So maybe it wasn’t the safest route. But the road around Camp Anaconda, about 100 kilometers north of Baghdad, really was the quickest way to work. It was also a quick way to your karmaï»'. ”I was told not to drive on it, first time,” says Gerald Carden, a civilian project engineer with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. ”When a mortar hit 200 yards behind me, that was the last time I drove on that shortcut.”
In July, well into his second tour of duty, which ended last month, Carden was stationed at Camp Victory, adjoining Baghdad’s international airport. ”It’s an unusual day if there are only two mortar attacks,” he said then.
Like many of his colleagues, Carden was lured to the rebuilding efforts in Iraq and Afghanistan by a sense of purpose, the adventure, and a hefty paycheck. Combined with overtime and hazard pay, engineers can earn twice as much as for the same work stateside. Carden, with degrees in electrical and industrial engineering, was pulling in upward of US $220 000 a year for 12â''hour days and six-and-a-half-day weeks overseeing work on hospital construction and power distribution.
The U.S. Department of Defense and the Army Corps of Engineers are still looking for a few good civilian engineers (go to http://www.cpol.army.mil). Although many of the contracts with private industry are winding down in Iraq, building in Afghanistan is ramping up.
Washington Group International, an engineering, construction, and management firm in Boise, Idaho, is exploring possible projects in Afghanistan. The company has cut its employment in Iraq to 75 expatriate and 1000 Iraqi engineers from a high of 200 expats and 5000 Iraqis. (At press time, the San Francisco engineering firm URS was poised to purchase WGI.)
An engineer’s life in a war zone may be a little different from what you’d expect. First come a background check, a stringent physical exam, paperwork, safety training, and immunizations for diseases ranging from anthrax to tetanus. The process can take from two weeks to two months, depending on the employer. Then there’s insurance. The Defense Base Act requires companies to pay death, disability, and medical benefits to workers on military bases outside the United States. But with DBA coverage maxing out at $4200 per month, employees—particularly those with dependents—tend to pay for supplemental life insurance, which can pay out six to eight times their annual salaries. They’re also advised to draw up a will and set up a power of attorney.
Safety training and precautions vary by company and are the most important considerations when weighing job options. ”The most common mistake people make is not realizing how truly dangerous the situation is there,” says Paul Beat, director of project management for Control Risks, a risk assessment firm in London.