Hazard Pay

I went to work in war-torn Afghanistan to help support my family. I nearly gave up my life in the process.

by Suzanne Wheeler-Wallace

IN 2003 I WAS WORKING ON A PROJECT as a construction engineer in Houston at the Bush Intercontinental Airport, and my job function eventually played out. I was scrambling around looking for a job when a friend of mine, a headhunter in California, said, “Hey, how’d you like to go overseas, to Afghanistan?” I sent my résumé to the company he’d told me about, and they immediately put me on a flight to meet them in Washington. I think I was hired before I got off the plane.

There were financial reasons why I had to go. I have a husband, and we’re helping raise his twelve-year-old grandson. We’d been married less than a year, and we both still had separate houses to pay for. We also knew what the job market was like in Houston. And at that time, October 2003, the media coverage was showing everything under control in Afghanistan. My job, overseeing the construction of schools and clinics in rural areas, was to be in an office in Kabul rather than in the field. So I took it.

I wasn’t on the job two weeks before I realized that most of the projects were in terrible shape. When I visited these outbacks to find out what the hell was going on, I was amazed by the hospitality. Whenever our helicopter would land, the kids and everyone would come out to greet us, coming on foot, on horseback, on donkeys. They were just sweet and generous people. They would take the last bit of candy they had and offer it to

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