See the world, meet interesting people and -- providing that those fascinating folks don't kill you -- make crazy wampum while dodging bullets.
That was essentially the offer made last week by Halliburton, whose representatives came to Atlanta looking for a few good men and women brave or nutty enough to drive 18-wheelers through enemy fire or serve as medics in the middle of war-torn Iraq.
Oh, and you'll be sleeping on cots, sweating through 12-hour, 120-degree workdays and fighting off venomous sand vipers, the "death stalker scorpion" and camel spiders as large as a Gameboy with a taste for human feet, announced Chris Ward, senior recruiter for Kellogg Brown & Root, a subsidiary of Dick Cheney's old outfit.
Ward, speaking July 16 to a half-full conference room at the downtown Wyndham, was practicing the scare tactic as sales pitch. And for most people, it seemed to be working.
Herman Wright, 51, who drove from Suwanee, has been out of work since he was laid off from his job with Philips Electronics more than a year ago. Slightly built, wearing a suit and carrying a briefcase, he looked very much the part of the computer design engineer he professed to be.
Although Wright conceded he was having second thoughts about the heat and privations of the no-frills locale, he said he was intrigued by the opportunity KBR offered to "do something a little different."
About 150 would-be Halliburtonites showed up at two information sessions, resumes in hand, hoping for the chance to be shipped off to Iraq, Afghanistan or any of the other half-dozen exotic trouble spots where KBR has lucrative U.S. military contracts.
Although KBR has operations in several Middle Eastern, Central Asian and Balkan countries, Ward said nearly all new hires will be sent to work in Iraq or Afghanistan -- the company's choice -- for a year.
Ward's entire 100-minute presentation played like an exercise in reverse psychology. His slightly doughy physique, self-consciously goofy persona and frequent assertions that he'd never take any of the jobs he was looking to fill would seem calculated to annoy the gung-ho ex-military types who seem to make up the bulk of KBR's recruiting base. And yet, his candid descriptions of the workplace dangers and discomforts, combined with a sprinkling of soldier lingo, appeared to win over the crowd.
In fact, the warnings were clearly an effective come-on to those looking to be all that they can be -- or die trying.
The session began with a PowerPoint presentation showcasing the harsh living conditions that faced current KBR contractors upon arriving in Iraq: dusty tent villages erected within walled military compounds under the glare of the merciless Mesopotamian sun.
"We promise three meals a day," he said. Then, after a beat, he dropped the punch line as the picture of an MRE flashed on the screen overhead: "We just don't promise what they're gonna be."
And there was more bad news. In observance of Islamic law, there's no booze allowed on base.
Worst of all, Ward cited the deaths of 14 KBR employees (as well as more than 40 subcontractors) to enemy fire, land mines, car bombs and accidents since the Iraqi occupation began last year.
"It's a tough gig," he said. "That's why I'm not sugar-coating it."
Those selected to make the trip to the company's Houston headquarters for the final round of interviews and processing should "come packed and ready to rock and roll!" he said.
Every Sunday, about 800 or so people make the trip to Houston to pee in a cup, fill out a 125-question safety quiz and sit around a hotel room waiting to see if they're among the half or so applications weeded out during the processing phase, he explained. Those who make the cut will immediately board a plane bound for the Middle East.
In short, Ward intoned, while Rambo-types need not apply, KBR is looking for someone "who has the guts, who wants the adventure of going to the Middle East in a war zone."
It's a good thing they're not looking for Rambo, because Rambo likely wouldn't get all worked up about spending a year of his life dishing up Salisbury steak or plumbing temporary latrines, or many of the other actual jobs that await KBR contractors headed to Iraq. Since most of the company's contract work involves building huge Army bases and government office buildings, the majority of the company's openings are for truck drivers, construction workers, electricians, food-service personnel and other less-than-swashbuckling jobs.
So, apart from the chance to get one's head blown off, why would anyone sign up for a year in Baghdad? It's the economy, stupid.
The money is good -- at least $60,000 for the lowliest maintenance job and six figures for a truck driver, including hazard pay -- with the first $80,000 tax-free, Ward said. But it's not going to make anyone rich, and may not justify the risk, he warned, adding that death benefits to survivors typically total a mere $50,000.
Still, Ward said, there's no shortage of folks eager to, as the KBR advertising suggests, "Be part of something bigger."
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