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Working in War Zones

Dangers Abound Yet the Work Satisfies the Soul

War leaves countries in ruins. To make matters worse, many countries, like Afghanistan, are in trouble before war breaks out. The international community often comes to the rescue, and, fortunately for Americans looking for adventurous and meaningful work abroad, American organizations make up much of that community.

Have you done any volunteer work? Military service? Foreign travel? Do you speak another language? Anything helps, and the more you can put on your resume, the better your chances.

The United Nations should be the first place a potential war zone worker looks for a job. Currently there are over 34,000 UN military, police, and civilian personnel working in 15 different war zones. The application process can be slow, but the personal and financial rewards are worth the effort it takes to get hired. Many UN war zone workers make over $100,000 tax-free per year. United Nations, Personnel Management and Support Services, Field Administration and Logistics Division, Department of Peacekeeping Operations, Room S-2280, New York, NY 10017.

The Operation for Security in Central Europe (OSCE) is probably the second largest war zone employer. It employs most human rights and elections supervision workers and most of the American attorneys working in war zones. The U.S. State Department oversees official war zone employment for Americans working for OSCE. OSCE Secretariat, Kärntner Ring 5-7, 4th Fl., 1010 Vienna, Austria; 011-43-1-514-36 180, fax 011-43-1-514-36-105;, You can find additional information on OCEA at

The International Rescue Committee was founded during WWII to help those who were displaced because of the war. It provides medical services, food, shelter, and refugee assistance among other things. Visit International Rescue Committee (IRC) for more info. The IRC also offers intern and volunteer positions if you need to strengthen your resume before you apply for your desired war zone job.

While you’re checking out these organizations’ websites, also check search engines like Yahoo, Google, and job search engines like for overseas employment. Fill out as many online resumes and applications as possible; new war zone positions open up every week.

Life in a War Zone

The lack of electricity, water, food, supplies, or telephones can make the simplest things difficult. Imagine trying, with no telephone, to find housing for a family of 11 before the rapidly approaching winter hits. But then imagine how you’ll feel after you find those 11 people a warm place to live.

War zone workers’ work schedules include a 4- to 8-day break at the end of the month, and many of the world’s top travel destinations are often an inexpensive plane or train ride away. Even if you don’t take off for Amsterdam or Paris, you can immerse yourself in learning about local life. The average war zone assignment lasts from 9 to 12 months, leaving you plenty of time get to know the country you work in as well as nearby countries. People take you into their home, make you part of their family. You will not have a problem finding someone willing to trade language lessons.

There is of course a catch. The reason war zone workers are paid well is because of the dangers they face. There would not be war without hate, and to think that hate disappears after the war is a deadly mistake. Being in the wrong place at the wrong time has killed several war zone workers. By studying the war zone you plan to work in ahead of time and paying attention during orientation, you should be able to avoid this danger.

Then there’s the bad food and health conditions. Medical facilities may be limited and far away. Make sure you get a physical and dental exam prior to leaving; if there is something wrong, get it fixed.

Even if you don’t make a lifelong career in war zone work, when you return home from the most challenging and rewarding period in your life, you’ll be a stronger and wiser person.

JEFF MORRIS, a freelance writer from St. Petersburg, FL, recently spent two years working as a police officer for the United Nations in Kosovo. He is the author of Working in a War Zone—Cashing in Safely After the Shooting Stops, forthcoming from Paladin Press.

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