Armed Medic Work - What it is, and what it isn't.
Look at how cool these dudes are.
A very long overdue interview with an armed medic who spent a handful of years in war zones as a contractor. Take a look into what it is, what it isn't, and how you don't need to be a life long special operations medic to get into this line of work. For those unaware of the evolution of contracting, primarily in war zones, times have certainly changed. The early days of GWOT, often called 'The Golden Years', was the wild west. As the wars continued, roles changed, and scrutiny come down on some private contracting groups, they've gone through many changes. With that said, there are still, and always will be, a demand for medics who can also do 'shooter' things. For a better understanding, read a few of our other articles.
WR: So, you're a WPS medic... What does that mean?
D: It stands for Worldwide Protective Services. You work for the Department of State. There are several companies out right now. You're contracted as a W-2 employee or a 1099, and you can either be an Advanced EMT, or a Paramedic, and depending on that and a few other factors, you can fall into one of a couple of different positions.
WR: Okay. What is it you're actually doing? What's the role of a WPS medic?
D: Depending on what program you're on, you basically protect government property and personnel. So with Triple Canopy in Iraq, you are basically an Uber driver with a rifle and a pistol. And then for SOC, you're a firefighter, basically. You sit in a team room until something goes bad, and then you have to go out and react to it.
WR: So, do these different companies have different requirements to get on with them, or does somebody else specify these requirements?
D: The State Department specifies what they want, so State Department's the client, they tell you what they want, and then you just have to fill it. So it's on their website, and it's all the same. Unlike a ‘private’ contract that could possibly have wiggle room, it’s entirely dictated by the State Department. You either meet the requirements or you don’t.
WR: Do you need to have a military background to be a WPS Medic?
D: Absolutely not. So, for Advanced EMT, you don't need any shooter time. But for PSS/Advanced EMT, you need shooter time; basically, just need to work in a high-threat environment. And then for PSS/Paramedic, it's the same thing; just high-threat, but it's all how you word it. You submit a ‘bio’ to the company, which is basically your background and articulating that you are qualified. The company submits that the State Department and gets you approved, and it's all how you word the bio. So it's all how you articulate. That's it.
WR: What's your background?
D: I was Air Force; ended up getting out of the Air Force, and going into the Marine Corps as an 0311 (infantry), and then a reservist for the Army as a medic. I didn't use any of my Army time at all. That's not on my bio at all. Basically, what's on there is my Marine Corps time. And what got me into medic spot is the Combat Life Saver cert, and that I worked at a hospital for a little while, and that was my medical time. By all means, my military time was almost entirely as a "shooter", but I worked my way into qualifying to work as a medic.
WR: So you just found ways to word the experiences you already had to meet their definitions of doing that?
D: Yeah, I was applying for the PSS spot, and I had all my medic stuff. And they basically said I qualified, and they helped me word everything. But nowadays, you can just word it, as in what medical training that you did or what medical jobs that you had. So, it doesn't sound like it qualifies, but CLS (basic first aid taught in the military) qualifies, because that's basically what you're doing overseas; you’re putting tourniquets on someone.
WR: Did you work with guys, or did you see guys that never were in the military, never were a cop, just figured out what requirements they needed, work some armed security stateside, got their EMT, work some EMS time, and found their way over there?
D: I know of people. I don't know them personally. I heard of one guy who was on an ambulance in Detroit and somehow, it was back when WPS was more strict. He somehow got into a PSS/Paramedic job. So he probably just worded it as his high-threat time with the inner city transport or response.
WR: That’s wild. So, what's the schedule like? Do you live over there full time?
D: Yes. Each company is a little different, but basically expect to live over there for 3 months at a time and be home for a month in between.
WR: Okay. And so, the medic pay, I know it can kind of vary, but generally, what's the WPS medic pay right now?
D: For PSS/AEMT, it's about $780+ a day. And then PSS/Paramedic’s are going to be about $820+.
WR: That’s insane, when you really think about it, isn’t it?
D: Oh totally. Those are the higher end. Some of the lower end locations, like Irbil, is paying like “only” $715 for paramedic. So it depends on the location and company.
WR: Which is just funny to think that that's low.
D: That’s super low. Crazy isn’t it?
WR: When you talk about a job that doesn't require a college degree, doesn't require student loan debt, doesn’t really require anything out of reach for the average person. A handful of certs/licenses, a few years working in an EMS or ED setting, a year of armed security work, and bam. $700 a day.
D: Yeah. So the whole slogan for overseas, is you're “selling your time”. Because you're not with loved ones, you're not with family. There's no decompressing at night, although the job isn't super stressful at all.
WR: It has the potential to be.
D: Yeah. You're institutionalized. You're on the inside of the prison. And a lot of guys get fixated on the money. They watch 10 years pass by. They do nothing to improve their situation while they're there. And then they come back to America, they're not marketable. They're so used to making six figures. They've done nothing with their time. And now they're stuck in an endless cycle of making great money but they never spend it on anything.
WR: Alternatively, don’t a lot of guys become accustomed to making that type of money?
D: They do. And they think when they come back to America, they are still worth that type of pay here in the US. But they didn't work on their degrees while they were there. They didn't try to get certs while they were there. They just watched Netflix and went out on a mission for two hours a day.
WR: So do you go to school? Or how do you pass your time when you're over there?
D: I go to full online school. You can get basically any cert under the NAEMT that you want. So I have my TECC, TCC, AMLS, PHTLS, ITLS—even though that's not a NAEMT—ACLS, BLS. I've every single cert you can get, and PALS. You just sit there and you can cert out, you do schoolwork. Some guys have businesses they own. You just try to be as productive as possible. A lot of it's killing time. No one's busy these days, no one is.
WR: So, weapon-wise, gear-wise, I know that's probably a question we're going to get about what you guys are using or carrying….Correct me if I'm wrong, but back in like the golden days of contracting, like 2004 to 2008, you didn't have a lot of guys getting out of the military with these skill sets. The guys that were got paid stupid well, and it really sounded like the Wild West. Whatever you can get your hands on you could roll with. I assume it’s not like that any more?
D: No, not at all. If you want to go to jail you should bring your own pistol. They give you body armor, they give you plates, helmets. You carry a Glock 19, M4, M249 SAW, and 240 machine guns were there.
WR: The days of TOW missiles are gone?
D: Gone. You have launchers, but it's non-lethal rounds. Yeah, the 240 is the biggest gun right now. So you have to qual on that. That's a big step that I've seen civilian paramedics or heard civilian paramedics failing out on is when they go to qual…
WR: Weapons qual?
WR: There's also a fitness test?
D: There is, it's super easy. It's a fast walk for a mile and a half. You get to do some push-ups and sit ups. It's basically a standard Army PT test, so you do push-ups sit ups, and a mile and a half run.
WR: So if you're moderately in halfway decent shape, you should be able to pass it, but the weapons qual for guy who’s never been around this type of stuff, could be an issue.
D: It's the biggest issue…
WR: Why is that?
D: Well, for medics, they kind of go out of their way to help them a bit more. It's known in the industry, medics are hard to come by, so they will go out of their way to give you as much benefit of the doubt. There's no way to fake it. You have to shoot a certain score.
WR: Okay. And so when you mentioned that medics are hard to come by, it sounds like it might even be easier to become a WPS medic than being a WPS shooter with no military experience, if you play it right?
D: Yeah, a hundred percent.
WR: And ironically, WPS medics get paid a couple hundred dollars more a day than shooters.
D: You make double what shooters make. Shooters right now, for the high side of the companies is about $500 a day. That same company has medics at almost $800 a day...
WR: Okay, so tell me about the shifts. What else should the people reading this know?
D: Yeah. So the important things are, I would say is a lot of gym time. You get in the best shape of your life. The food is what you make it, it's not good. Some places have, like, Baghdad has two swimming pools. You can go to Somalia right now – has a swimming pool. Some spots are better than others...WPS is like a division one athlete scholarship. They're going to pay you six figures to go work on school, get in shape, and shoot some guns.
WR: And ideally become proficient in what you do, because they got Certs up the ying-yang they’d be willing to give you it sounds like...
D: Yes, they give you all the Certs. It's just, I think the biggest takeaway that people should understand is people get this job and they go sit over there, and they don't improve their position in America.
WR: Correct me if I'm wrong, all it takes is one bureaucrat, signing some paperwork that changes the way we do WPS, the way the entire way WPS is run, the entire way security is given. There's nothing saying that they can't just have one bad experience, and all of a sudden, only DSS guys are going to do WPS work. Now, you’ve got to become a full-time employee in the Department of State and these contracts go away.
D: Yes. So they just did that with the dog handlers. So now the dog handlers will all be under the Department of State.
WR: So you could have been a dog handler for last eight years making great money, and your job just went away? There's no pension…
D: It's gone. That's why the pay is what it is because it's not the most stable job in the world, you're in a war zone, you're not with your family, etc. There’s no benefits.
D: There’s no benefits at all. There's no retirement. So people that have been cops for 15 years, would get out and go to WPS and they would throw away millions of dollars on the back end for retirement, just to go make some money up front. So they lost in the long run. Like, they lost a lot of money.
WR: But if you punch out for three years as a cop going into it with that in mind, that's not that bad of a deal.
D: No, but... a lot of the cops that were short time cops, they had to resign early from something that happened or just didn't like it. They all said they wish they would have stayed in to retire if they could have. We have one cop that did retire and says one hundred percent, retirement as a cop is the way to go. And then there's guys who got out of the military that wish they'd done it. But then the guys that retired out of the military are happy. So, I mean, it's all what you make it, they're going to pay you six figures to go over and do as much or as little as you want. Yeah, get a degree, do something. Because you get burnout quick.
WR: Tell me about that...
D: You're basically institutionalized.
WR: So what are some things, if somebody is reading this, that they need to keep in mind? Let's say that they have one more year of EMS to check the box and they're maybe a year out from being able to check all the boxes.. What do they need to start worrying about now with backgrounds with bios, with references?
D: So, the State Department does not want to see debt. This job requires a clearance, and the clearance takes a long time, especially nowadays. So let's say you have $30,000 in debt, and you're on default, right now, what you want to start doing is paying $20 a month towards those loans. The State Department doesn't care if you are in debt, but they do care if you're negligent of the debt, and they want to see…
WR: That seems to be the standard approach…we're seeing fire departments, police departments, and others all doing credit checks now, and it seems like they don't give a shit if you're in debt, but that you're acknowledging it and dealing with it. So credit’s a big deal then, huh?
D: It’s huge, it's huge. You have guys that did bankruptcy and they still get in. So every situation is different, and I understand that. But they just want to see that, like you said, they acknowledge it. So debt is huge for the security clearance, that’s the number one shut down. And then the other shutdown for medics is shooting, so I would definitely take a pistol class and a rifle class or two from a legit training company. And once you learn the fundamentals of shooting, then the machine guns are a lot easier. But if you don't understand fundamentals, then you're not going to pass them at all.
WR: So if you're if you want to be competitive and not stress as much, you need to put some work in now?
D: The more you put in now, the easier it gets.
WR: So a couple firearms courses, maybe hitting the physical fitness just a little bit more, what all are we talking?
D: Workout. They like to see that. And start to pay down whatever debts you may have. Start grabbing certs too, as it goes a long way. They want to quantify your time, and that's how you do it with certs. TCCC is16 hours. You need ACLS and PLS, it's easy to get open book tests now.
WR: Nice... Do you have any idea how many people apply and how many people get accepted?
D: I have no idea.
WR: I'm sure it's competitive. I'm sure a lot of people apply that have no business applying, or don't come close to requirements. There are some parallels to fire departments it sounds like... Tons will apply. A percentage are qualified to be there, a handful or two will be picked up... Is it like that? Or is it more, you meet the quals, you're hired?
D: No, we're nowhere like that. I know a lot of people don't apply because they don't think they qualify. Or they don't sell themselves correctly. So, when you look at the definition of a high-threat, like you can sell that so easily.
WR: Tell me about the guy from Detroit.
D: So yeah, there's this one dude who had, I'm almost a hundred percent positive it was Detroit, that he was non-military, not a cop, he was a paramedic. And he'd been working overseas for a while, but when he first got into it, he got into it as a civilian. And he stated, his high-threat time was Detroit, which is the definition I gave you. But yeah, that's about that dude’s story.
WR: At the end of the day, they're paying you what they're paying you because there's not a surplus of medics out there that are able or willing to go. Supply vs demand yeah?
D: It's not because the job’s hard. It's because there's not a lot of people that qualify, or they don't think they qualify so they don’t put themselves out there. So the job isn't hard at all. It's not dangerous. It's safer than a lot of cities in America.
WR: Funny how that works huh?
D: Yeah, exactly. I mean, that's a perfect way to put it. I mean, you're roaming around theses streets where they're telling you everyone's a terrorist and shit. And it's just not true.
WR: Eating local restaurants.
D: Yeah, these people are more worried about where they're going to get drinking water tomorrow, than they are about killing you.
WR: Anything else you want to put out there?
D: That’s it. I think just use your time. wisely. You’re making six figures, take some risk. Start a business, learn a language, get in the best shape of your life, take online college courses... anything! You're selling your time for a great paycheck, but eventually it's over and guys have 8 years experience making 6 figures and nothing to show for it. They've become accustomed to the life style and come home thinking they should be able to walk into a 6 figure management job and they have no degree, no certs, no licenses, nothing of value besides being another dude who carried a gun for a living and did nothing more than that.
WR: So... It's the most money you'll ever make while doing the least amount of work?
D: A hundred percent. You are selling your time to the government and they're buying your time, business is great.
WR: Thanks for your time man. Always good hanging with you. I'm sure we will have a ton of comments and questions on this one, so hopefully we can do this again soon for a Part 2 if you're up for that...
D: I'm happy to help, thank you for having me help out on this.