International Programs News & Views Volume 28
FAQs FOR 12-MONTH ASSIGNMENTS TO AFGHANISTAN AND IRAQ
How do I obtain the security and medical clearances? What if I take certain medications or have a disability that some might think limits my performance?
If selected for Afghanistan:
1) FAS will make travel arrangements for you to come to DC for the required medical tests. This will take approximately three (3) days at the State Dept. These examinations must be conducted in DC and not by your local physician.
2) NRCS initiate the process for obtaining your security clearance. When provided with requests for information, please complete at the earliest possible time. Delaying completion can delay obtaining the required clearance and thus delay your deployment.
If selected for Iraq – the State Dept. will process your clearances.
The medical staff will determine your classification upon your actual physical condition and not general speculation.
What are the incentives?
In addition to regular salary and benefits, you will receive approximately 75% of your normal salary plus overtime as an incentive. The incentive is comprised of three (3) elements: 35% is for danger pay, 35% for post pay, and 5% Sunday. Danger and post pay are for the normal 40-hr work week. You must be in-country at least four hours for danger to be in effect. Post pay starts at Day 43 and is retroactive to Day 1, i.e., you must stay at least 42 days for post pay to be in effect.
Overtime is anything over 8 hr per day.
During your consultative visits back to the States and regional training, danger, overtime, and Sunday pay is not counted. Post pay continues as long as you return to the PRT within 21 days.
Is the bonus pay non-taxable? Does it count toward my “high-3?”
Since you are a civilian on a detail assignment, salary and bonus are both taxable on your federal and state (if applicable) tax returns. The bonus also does not count towards calculating your high three years.
How will this assignment affect my annual leave ceiling?
Any unused leave during the TDY will be restored.
What are my return rights after this assignment?
You will return to your current position with salary (plus increases) and status equal to the position (salary and grade) you held before the assignment (GM 280 400.52). If the position has been abolished through reorganization or other restructuring, then you will be reassigned to a position anywhere in the United States.
Can I take leave during this assignment?
Consultative visits usually last nine (9) calendar days and travel fare is paid by FAS. During this time, you will spend 1 - 2 days in DC meeting with FAS and NRCS staff. For the remainder of this time, you may take annual leave to go back home.
Exactly what will I be expected to do on this detail?
Work will vary with each PRT depending upon the PRT’s director, the USDA advisor’s background and experience, mobility/security in the PRT, Provincial leadership, funding availability, prior Ag Advisors in the Province, etc. The Ag Advisor will assess natural resources throughout the Province, coordinate all activities with the PRT Civil Affairs unit and the Force Protection unit, provide direct mentoring and planning assistance to the Provincial Agriculture and Irrigation Director, as well as other Provincial leaders and District leaders. Projects will be developed in coordination with the Provincial Ag Director, the Provincial Development Council and the PRT Commander. Funding will be on a competitive basis, primarily through the US Army and USAID funding programs.
Some samples of projects completed in the past are: large retention dams, irrigation systems, extension service, microfinance, improved crop varieties, soil labs, artificial insemination, tree nurseries, reforestation projects, fruit and nut orchard management, chicken farms, honey bee projects, greenhouses, drip irrigation, windmills for water and electricity, micro-hydro dams, flood control, disaster relief for flooding, farmer cooperative support, processing facilities, marketing, pesticide use, veterinary projects, slaughterhouses, cold storage, raisin drying facilities, dried fruit processing, dairies…. The potential for projects is unlimited, but the time and factors listed above will inevitably determine the work that gets done.
There is great satisfaction in working with a people group that has many needs and limited resources, and enabling them to have a more stable livelihood in the future. The paperwork is low. The hours are long. Funding is limited. It is very much a cooperative effort to provide assistance that is both sustainable and “owned” by the people.
What about security?
A personal security training course is required before your deployment. You will be under military supervision at all times while in-country, except when you are in Baghdad/Kabul. If your PRT leader deems it unsafe for you to leave the compound then you will not be allowed to do so. You will be escorted by armed military/contractor personnel on all trips outside the PRT. You will be issued a flak jacket upon arrival in country.
What about computer access, Internet capability, e-mail, and calls to home?
FAS will provide you with a laptop before your deployment. While at the PRT, you will have access to the Internet and e-mail. Internet and phone access varies widely with PRT. All services are satellite based and are subject to weather and mechanical failures. Many FOB’s have TV lounges and soldiers/civilians can purchase TV’s and dish coverage in may PRT’s as well. VOI services like SKYPE are very affordable if good broadband service is available.
What about life insurance? Can I change my current coverage? What about a catastrophic event or death?
Federal Employee insurance will provide coverage while on a detail. Accidental death or dismemberment for non-combatants benefits will be decided on a case by case basis (http://www.opm.gov/insure/life/faq/faqs-16.asp). Rarely has a claim in a combat zone been denied.
Change in current coverage is permissible for certain life events. Contact your current human resources office about increasing coverage during this assignment.
For private policies, contact your insurance company to determine if coverage is still in effect.
In case of a catastrophic event or death, the USG has a process in place to assist your family in making the necessary arrangements.
Where will I be working?
FAS will try to match your skills and abilities with the needs of a PRT. Therefore, you could be assigned to any PRT. Even though you may be highly qualified, there is no guarantee that they will be able to do so.
What do I do about meals and lodging?
The PRT will provide lodging and meals. Some PRTs in Iraq are fairly new with team members living in tents. As the compound becomes more established, buildings are then constructed. Many PRT’s have heating and air units that usually work. All have large volumes of DUST! You may have to share a room with others, but not usually. Your office is often your room.
Meals are provided within the compound or through an adjacent facility.
You will be responsible for your own clothing. The FAS will provide some assistance in sending personal belongs to/from your destination.
Showers and toilets vary widely from outhouses and sporadic showers to heated toilets and daily showers. PRT’s may have communal showers and toilets. Meals also vary from MRE’s once or twice a day, to cooked meals three times a day. Overnight travel up to a week at the time is common in some PRT’s, depending upon security at the time. Some PRT’s are very hot and dry with temperatures up to 130 degrees. Others are high altitude with heavy snow and lows below zero degrees. Dress and overnight gear needs will vary considerably based on the Province assigned.
Can I take my family on this assignment? Can I take my sidearm?
This is an unaccompanied post due to the hazardous conditions. The military will provide security so no personal weapons are allowed.
Are there any specific guidelines for female advisors?
There have been female advisors in both countries and they have been very effective. It is advised that female advisors dress to local conditions. Just as with any advisor, one should not do anything to draw attention.
Can I leave early if it is too dangerous?
Afghanistan and Iraq are dangerous assignments. The USG will provide security to the best of its ability from the day you arrive until the day you depart. However, there can be no guarantees. Chances are that you will experience explosions nearby and hear gun shots. One should consider the possibilities before applying.
Close personal friendships may be established with military personnel in the PRT. They are there to accomplish the goals of the coalition forces and accept dangerous missions. You must realize that military personnel may experience severe personal injury or even death. During these times you will experience a sense of loss but must be able to complete your projects.
As was mentioned earlier, if it is too dangerous for you to leave the PRT, then you will not be allowed outside. While confined to the PRT you must be prepared for limited activities. Only when the threat has passed or been eliminated will you be able to travel.
If the situation warrants you may ask to be evacuated either to a more secure environment or out of the country. Your safety is paramount but you must realize that your request may jeopardize the lives of others to remove you. After evacuation, if FAS or NRCS deem that your request wasn’t necessary, then your application for future assignments, even to less hazardous countries, may not be permitted.