Education and Transition

Retiring or departing military service? Check out the United Nations

The decision to retire did not come easily to me. I had begun my service in the Army over 25 years earlier as a young private of infantry fresh out of high school. I left the service as a lieutenant colonel of Special Forces over 20 years ago. For much of my career I felt blessed. I loved my chosen profession. Essentially, I had spent my early adult life in uniform — doing exactly what I wished to do. I knew nothing else. The prospect of retirement was more than a little frightening. What could I do? What could possibly fulfill me as much as uniformed service had?

Check out the U.N. It is not one but many largely independent agencies, funds, and programs. Each, for the most part, hires their own staff. So, the application process can be daunting. For example, there are the humanitarian agencies like the World Food Program, U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees, World Health Organization, and U.N. Children’s Fund. Then there are the departments within the Secretariat, Politics, Peacekeeping, Security, and many more. There are also the specialized agencies, World Bank, International Monetary Fund, International Civil Aviation Organization, International Maritime Organization, International Labor Organization, U.N. Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization, and well over a dozen more. Accomplish a Google search and examine the entire list.

What skill sets does the U.N. require? The U.N. needs specialists in logistics, transport, aviation, administration, accounting, security, IT, human resources, flight operations, law, and medicine, to name only a few. Mid- to senior-grade military often possess significant skills as “administrators.” Administrators in the U.N. have significant lateral as well as upward mobility because the job is commonplace in every U.N.-affiliated organization. U.N. administrators are always in demand.

What are the benefits connected to UN service? You become vested in the U.N. pension system in five years. I completed nearly 15 years with the UN Department of Safety and Security. My U.N. pension roughly equates to four-fifths of my U.S. military pension. I retired at the grade of O-5 with over 25 years of enlisted and officer service. So, I nearly doubled my retirement income with the U.N. No matter how you figure it, that qualifies as excellent.

If on peacekeeping duty or other like missions, you are paid Mission Subsistence Allowance (MSA) in addition to salary. MSA in remote areas is often generous. Danger pay, also generous, is paid in the most hazardous countries and regions.

Health coverage is terrific for you and your family around the globe while in active U.N. service. There is also an education grant for your children attending college, and life insurance is automatic. Then it gets better when you retire, and especially if you choose to live overseas. In addition to the generous pension, subsidized UN health coverage for retirees is inexpensive, equating to less than $200 per month. Moreover, global coverage for both me and my wife covers roughly 80% of full medical costs, and we get choose our own physicians. There is no HMO to deal with outside of the US. We usually pay upfront for health services, and then submit for reimbursement on-line. The system thus far has worked well for us.

If hired as a U.N. staff member, you will be issued a blue Laissez Passer (passport) that provides you functional immunities in the performance of your duties if posted outside of your home country. More senior staff receive full diplomatic immunity and a red Laissez Passer. G ranks are approximately equivalent to enlisted grades. P ranks and higher approximate officer grades and go from P-1 to P-5. P-5 is considered senior management. There are two director grades D-1 and D-2. Above those are the super-grades of assistant-secretary general and under-secretary general.

Your chances of being selected for a U.N. position are much improved if you speak a foreign language. For the P grades, a master’s degree is generally required. I retired as a P-5 level chief security advisor in 2014, while on duty in Indonesia. My previous tours were at U.N. Headquarters in New York, Israel/Palestine, Egypt, Ethiopia, Iraq, Yemen, and Sierra Leone in West Africa.

The U.N. is not for everyone. The organization is diverse. The U.N. Charter demands that persons be selected for posts, in part, based on nationality. Some of the U.N.’s overseas postings are non-family duty stations that can be dangerous. In addition, your new U.N. boss may not always share your values, which tend to be culture specific. In other words, you need to be flexible.

Even though the challenges may be great, the rewards can also be significant in terms of stretching you in ways you never anticipated, and sometimes beyond your comfort level. That, of course, is where personal growth most often occurs. In my experience, individuals with military backgrounds often serve the U.N. well.

Bottom line: If you are still feeling adventurous after departing military service; if you want to perhaps double your retirement income; if the idea of living and working overseas appeals to you; if you have kids coming of age where a U.N. education grant can help pay for their college education; if you like the idea of having inexpensive world-wide health care coverage for both you and your spouse in retirement; if a second act in service to humanity is attractive; consider the United Nations and its multitude of agencies, funds, and programs.

Robert Bruce Adolph is a retired U.S. Army Special Forces lieutenant colonel and U.N. chief security advisor. He has lived and worked in 15 countries, while visiting another 54. He also carries the unique distinction of having been twice fired and twice promoted by the U.N. Adolph is the author of a new book entitled “Surviving the United Nations: The Unexpected Challenge,” which will be released March 3, 2020.

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