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Living and working in a war zone
Marquett Martin: Military contract career opens world
Marquett Martin of Martinsville (near driver’s seat) readies a truck to haul a water tank. They are outside the Air Force base at Kandahar, Afghanistan, and will bring the tank to supply water to “poor village people,” including the men helping him load the tank, he said.
A local man has found a job he loves — in a war zone.
Marquett Martin, 37, has been a civilian contractor with companies which provide services to the military since 2008.
For now he is between contracts, staying in Martinsville, where his parents, Mary and Karl Martin, live.
His main role has been a movement control lead. In Afghanistan, where he was most recently, he managed vehicles going between countries. In Kyrgyzstan, he drove military buses.
The vehicles he managed in Afghanistan were “military vehicles such as PS-13, tractor-trailers, fuel trucks (and) MTVs (Medium Tactile Vehicles, which) soldiers use when they go out to fight,” he said.
The vehicles “have to come home before the soldiers do,” he said. “They might send 60,000 soldiers home,” but first, Martin’s company coordinates the removal of the vehicles they were using.
One reason his role is important is to help prevent vehicles from being stolen and “ending up in the hands of al-Qaida,” he said.
Martin was a shift leader, and at times it was challenging to motivate his crew, he said. The work could be extremely demanding, especially in “freezing negative degree weather,” trying to “get these guys (soldiers) in position with these planes they needed to be flying.”
Employment contracts prohibit him from disclosing the names of the companies for which he has worked and many details of his work, he said.
Martin learned about military contract work from a police officer who “went to Iraq to be a dog handler,” he said. The officer “tried to get me to Iraq, but there were no openings.”
Six months after his initial interest, Martin was contacted by a recruiter. He was offered a salary of $69,000, and he accepted.
When his company lost its contract with the government, Martin had “the choice to go back where I was from or re-sign” for more military contract work. He was given “six figure” offers, he said.
“Hundreds of guys were just signing. I went on from there and kept working.”
Long days and rugged living
He was stationed at the Air Force base in Kandahar, Afghanistan. “The area holds 60,000 soldiers,” and “the contractors could be another 40,000 from all over the world.”
The lifestyle is rugged, but manageable, he said.
“It’s very extreme. All of it is tent-living ... very hot in the summer, very cold in the winter.” The bathrooms are porta-johns outside.
However, the tent-living is made to feel like “home as much as you could,” with amenities such as Internet service and access to television.
He and his crew “worked 12 hours per day, no day off (for) four straight months.” He would be entitled to an 18-day leave, then repeat that schedule.
Contractors and troops take their meals together in a cafeteria. The meals, like the living quarters, are at no cost to them.
Options for spare time included reading, using the Internet, taking college courses online, exercising, going to military dances, shopping or eating out, but “after that 12-hour day you’re so tired and exhausted,” most people are ready for bed.
The base is “a running military city,” with its own public transportation system and even businesses such as shops, beauty salons, massage parlors and restaurants such as TGIFridays, Popeye’s Chicken, KFC, Burger King and Pizza Hut.”
The base is surrounded by barbed wire, and there’s “no leaving. Not just that — you wouldn’t want to leave because the Taliban would catch you. ... It’s surrounded by Taliban.”
Martin does not talk about dangers he’s seen, other than to say, “Afghanistan is one of those places you can’t describe. The Taliban is probably (made up of) the most vicious guys I’ve ever seen. ... It takes a toll” on the solders.
“There are no safe zones,” he said, “so as contractors you want to be on the buddy system with one another and make sure everybody’s safe” and that “everybody can get to a safe haven if needed. That’s probably why your friendships are stronger than in the U.S.”
Though danger is always there, it’s not always felt, he said.
Being surrounded by all those soldiers made Martin feel “it was more safe in Afghanistan than you are in America,” he said. “You can go to a convenience store here in Martinsville and something bad can take place. I felt more safe in that war zone.”
Friends from all over the world
What’s interesting to Martin is working “with people from all over the world,” he said. “I have worked with a lot of Russians, Kosavians, Bosnians, Macedonians, Indians, Filipinos and people from Africa.”
The co-workers teach each other about their countries’ customs, food and traditions. “Everyone’s learning about each other from all over the world,” he said. “You make some really great friendships overseas.”
His work also gives plenty of opportunity for travel — both on the job and off.
“There’s not a nation I haven’t seen,” he said, listing the Phillipines, Thailand, China and Dubai as memorable sites. There have been times “I have been the only American traveling on a train” or plane.
He was most impressed by Dubai, he said.
“I never even heard about Dubai until 2008. We got off the plane in complete shock” over how beautiful and clean it was.
“It’s the richest place in the world. I’ve never seen a place that can compare to this place.” There is “no type of crime.”
Appreciating the military
“I love working (as a contractor) for the military,” he said. “The military appreciates you more than any job I’ve ever experienced in the U.S. They take the time to get back to you on (topics) and say ‘Thank you.’” They also grant “numerous awards” which are motivating.
Martin said he recommends “any guy” out of high school to think about “a future, the plans and goals” to move ahead in life.
People interested in becoming military contractors have to be “hands-on” types, he said. “You’ve got to have some kind of education, a built-up resume and be able to go in this war zone and work.”
Technical education, such as in electricity, HVAC (heating and air conditioning) and “things of that nature” are what the contractors are looking for, Martin said. It’s also good to use network sites on the Internet, he said, citing Linked In as the most beneficial to him.
“You don’t want to settle for $8 or $10 (an hour). You don’t want to get comfortable with that — being trapped. You don’t want to set yourself up for that.”
“Martinsville is a good place. Don’t get me wrong,” he said, “but it’s catered now for people to retire here.”
“If you know technical support, electricians, truck drivers, consider the military as an option. It really opens up doors.”