Monday, January 11, 2010

Who Fights This War? Military Intelligence Sergeant


During late summer this year, Staff Sgt. Timothy Opinaldo was part of a joint operation of intelligence analysts from Task Force Diablo and 4th Brigade Combat Team, 1st Armored Division to train and integrate Iraqi analysts. Together, they provided intelligence support for a joint operation pursuing and detaining insurgents.

For Opinaldo and the other members of Task Force Diablo, this joint operation trained their Iraqi counterparts in the American method of intelligence work, which is very different from the Iraqi model. The analysts and their counterpart unit, the 10th Iraqi Infantry Division, are trained for nine weeks. American analysts are trained for 18 weeks.

“Their army is officer-centric. An individual Iraqi analyst works on just one piece of a large intelligence project,” Opinaldo said. “The officer in charge controls the flow of information. He creates the picture from the pieces the individual analysts provide. In the American model, analysts keep the larger picture in view when working on any individual piece.”

Opinaldo worked with Sgt. Bradley Dickey, Maj. Brett Feddersen, and 1st Lt. Carolina Kelley on the project in addition to analysts from 4-1 AD. While the Americans trained the Iraqis in their model of intelligence work, the Iraqis gave their counterparts some valuable lessons in Iraqi culture.

“The Iraqis gave us information that allowed us to better evaluate situations,” Opinaldo said. “They told us there are few weddings in the summer heat and none during Ramadan. Weddings are low-key and humble with minimal 20th Century influence. Iraqis don’t fire machine guns at weddings.”

“We also learned that every large group is not necessarily bad guys,” he said. “Three days of large feasts mark the end of Ramadan.”

Opinaldo had to re-adjust to eastern physical closeness during his month with his Iraqi counterparts. He previously deployed to Afghanistan and remembered how different eastern and western men are about touching, but he still had to adjust. “When you shake hands, you are not letting go for five minutes,” he said. “One guy held my hand during an entire meeting.”

Opinaldo also made clear that fussy eaters can’t do intelligence field work. “They share everything,” he said. “If they offer food, you have to eat it.” Opinaldo said tea is a past time with Iraqis and they drink both tea and coffee very strong. Despite all that caffeine, the Iraqis are much more concerned about relationships than time efficiency. “The first 60 minutes of every meeting includes about five minutes of work,” Opinaldo said.

By then end of the month, Opinaldo and other members of the team were making jokes, an important indicator of how close their relationship had grown. Many of the men they worked with were fathers and referred to each other as ‘Abu’ with their child’s name. Opinaldo was “Abu Alana” because his daughter’s name is Alana. In one of the jokes they shared, the Iraqis called Opinaldo “Abu Dickey” because he was Sgt. Dickey’s immediate supervisor. Dickey is also most of a foot taller than his “father.”

With a month of working face-to-face with his Iraqi counterparts, Opinaldo got a chance to really learn the culture. “It was the best month of the deployment,” he said. “No question

Real Frugality

Now that I am home from a year neck deep in socialism and spending way less money than is my usual habit, I have a better idea how much money I spend on life, the universe and everything. And I am already feeling guilty about how much I want to spend--not that it will slow me down much.

In Iraq I bought exactly two meals during the entire tour: two pizzas at Ciano's. The only money I spent was for phone cards, maybe $20 a month, Internet $88 per month, and one or two lattes each day at Green Beans, $150 per month, and books, maybe $15/month.

The standard by which I compare my profligate self is my frugal wife Annalisa who spends nearly nothing--except the occasional huge amount of money to be more energy efficient, like buying a Prius or renovating our house to insulate and air seal it, plus completely change how it looks. The house is beautiful and more energy efficient now.

During the year I was gone, our lovely new home had no TV in it. My son was already excited to see me then his sister pointed out Dad would be watching TV again and Nigel was ready to declare my arrival a national holiday. "Awesome, TV," was his response to the news.

But TV is not just TV. I want to watch the Tour de France and the Formula 1 World Championship. I had a TV when I left, but it is 27 years old and has sat in a corner for a year. Most like I need a TV. Even a modest one: $400. Dish Network is on sale for one year for $24.95/ month. I am sure there are taxes and fees that bring it over $30 and a DVR system will be another $5 per month. And Dish has French-language programming for another $7 per month.

Back at home, my favorite thing to eat is bread from a bakery. I eat a loaf almost every day. I miss Starbucks at Stonemill Plaza. In fact, I miss all that stuff. I had a moment when I thought I might try to be frugal, but that falls into the category of people who think about getting in shape and then don't ride, run or go to the gym when anything else conflicts.

I am already starting to suffer from the tyranny of choice. I want choice, but every choice has a moral dimension. Should I watch car racing? Should I drink lattes? should I eat fresh bread? This three weeks of confinement to the base makes the flavor of real life all the more sharp and desirable. I may feel worse about spending money later, for right now, I can't wait. I have spent the last eight months six thousand miles from home and can't wait to eat bakery bread, watch car racing and drink designer coffee any time I want to.