Monday, March 14, 2011

What Was It Worth?

From "This American Life" on Saturday: The story of a woman, nicknamed Sarah, who was an interpreter for the U.S. military during the surge, around 2007. She was a housewife whose husband was afraid to leave the house to work. As it happened, she spoke English, and when a U.S. soldier heard her son speaking English and asked where he learned it, his commanders recruited her to work as an interpreter.

It was a huge change for her, who hadn't ever worked outside her home, but she adapted and excelled, and that's what the story was about when I had to stop listening.

But the thing I can't get out of my mind is the terms of Sarah's employment.

She worked 27 days each month, staying at a base, away from her family, with just four days off. Being an interpreter -- and as time went by, even more importantly, an expert on pumping Iraqi sources for information -- was extremely dangerous, because "collaborators" like Sarah became targets for Al Qaeda in Iraq or other militant groups.

So what did she get paid for this hazardous duty, which far exceeded 40 hours of work per week?

$1,100–1,200 a month.

This is the same military that pays 18-year-old privates with no experience at least 50 percent more than that, and contractors with valuable skills up to 10 or 15 times as much. Sarah clearly had valuable skills, or they wouldn't have hired her, but they took advantage of the fact that $1,110 a month was a lot of money to her.

I've since learned that this isn't the only injustice Sarah suffered from the American military. She's currently trying to get a visa to come to the U.S. with her sons. We owe her a lot more than that.

1 comment:

paula devi said...

I never heard about "This American Life" and through your link went to their website. What a find. Thank you.

As for Sara, of course she deserves better. There's no question about that. But why are you surprised? I'm not. But American governmental ethics are a whole other conversation.