Monday, October 03, 2005


Profile: The Analysts

Once upon a time, I had a job that consumed me, that occupied just somewhat less than everything I knew. My focus was constant, and unwavering.

My years as an Analyst were, by far, the most exciting, the most challenging, the most rewarding in my professional life. And I’m not allowed to talk about much of anything about it.

Oh, it’s not what you might think. Not even a fraction as dramatic or exciting as what you see in the movies. In fact, you’d pretty much have to be a practitioner to even find it mildly interesting. The vast majority of intelligence work is more library than military science. And those that do it best are more likely the sort that finds the Dewey Decimal System an interesting study in organization, rather than operational types that drive Italian sports cars or take a fancy to weaponry.

Patterns. Warnings and Indicators. Sifting through vast amounts of information, for mere whispers of hints of fading images of fleeting significance.

Someday, there may be a place for Cold War remembrances, and those of us that were these small cogs of the bigger picture tracking the Soviet Threat and its related tentacles can chat away about the things we watched, the things we thought, and the things we waited for that never came. Thank God for the things that never came.

That was then. It’s a much different world for the eyes and ears of the US Military today.

I discussed some of the ways in which Intelligence Analysts by necessity will share some similarities with journalists in Patterns of Analysis. That’s part of what’s different today.

I’ve been mulling over this most difficult of profiles to write. I’ve commented on the grave concerns about Operational Security (OPSEC) before in this space (here, here, and even earlier here), concerns I share and take seriously. Several Department of Defense Policy statements and public announcements, most recently one posted in our Saturday Stars and Stripes, forcefully remind us that “safety and security measures must be strictly observed.” That the US Military even needs to worry about immediate accessibility as demonstrated by email and blogs, is another difference with things today.

Given all that, how do I write a profile without discussing what it is these Analysts do?

I had an amusing few moments imagining some Saturday Night Live sketch (okay, maybe a really weak one in the years when the pickings were slim), with a frustrated Army spokesperson trying to say something meaningful without saying anything at all. “Well, I could tell you … no, wait, no that’s classified. We did find out that, um, something that I can’t identify exactly suggested something I can’t categorize caused an effect that I’m not at liberty to reveal, leading us to take action that must remain unspecified…”

We’ve had many great successes, but I can’t describe them. We have some of the military’s best analysts, and I can’t give you any background that would help convey the magnitude of their achievements.

I can’t identify results, those are secret. I can’t discuss methods and techniques, those are specially classified. I can’t mention operations, individuals, or specific events. I can’t, and won’t explain any shortcomings or lessons learned in our operations. Some of those are classified, but that’s not the only reason why I won’t; I won’t because any perceived fault or failing might be amplified and used against us and our efforts.

So what am I left with?

While I’m trying to figure that out, I’ll share a couple of stories about some of our analysts.

We have an extraordinary group of Soldiers who were assigned to us from the Puerto Rican Army National Guard. Over the years, some of us have occasionally worked with the Guard from Puerto Rico, on various War Fighter exercises or at Ground Zero. This time around, the Guard with Intel military occupational specialties (MOS) were assigned for our deployment to fill unit vacancies. And from the moment they first joined us at the Mobilization site, these Soldiers have made quite an impression.

Initially, some of our men and women found this population of Spanish-speaking Guardsmen unusual. They stuck close together, maintained a very high standard in appearance and discipline, and worked best when led by their informal leader, a certain SGT who apparently is their NCOIC back home. They’re all bilingual, but some of them have better command of English than others. They all speak and understand Army better than most anybody.

They stood out from the first. At our first Health and Welfare Inspection in the barracks, the PRARNG soldiers were completely squared away, but they did something most of us had never seen and certainly didn’t expect. They opened up one of the wall lockers and offered the Command Sergeant Major (CSM) a hot cup of coffee as he inspected their rooms. Part of it is a custom not unheard of in Active Duty units, the other is all cultural. The CSM was visiting their living areas, and was to be treated with hospitality.

Along the way, unit leaders discovered that the PRARNG Soldiers had tremendous discipline and motivation, and would do anything they were asked well, and without hesitation, question or complaint. I wish I could say that responsiveness was more in evidence throughout the unit, but my Soldiers from Puerto Rico were outstanding.

One young man stands out in my mind, for he made an indelible impression on me several weeks ago. He was in a section that essentially ties all the incoming intel from all the disciplines together. I asked him what he felt about the tour.

“I used to feel that all the important things went on way way over my head. That we have no power as a lower enlisted soldier. What I learned is that we can have power and influence.” I had not heard anything quite like this before, so I pressed him on what he meant.

“It’s like, the powers above us make all the decisions, but here I see that even a Specialist, E4, can see something or identify something or make a suggestion and it becomes what gets done.” He explained about all the ways he saw that any one person can change his part of the world, and told me that this new awareness had changed his view of himself and what was possible.

“I had an epiphany,” he said today when I saw him again. Tracking all these bad guys, setting up all the possible targets for the unit that will follow us into our battle space, “to set them up so they have something to work with and go after.”

“I think when I go home, I want to be President someday. Anything is possible.”

He and his fellow soldiers have done some of the best work, with little attention or fanfare, and staying focused on their missions.

Similarly, I have two techies, an E4 Specialist and a SGT, who were the computer whizzes that all us leaders grabbed hold of trying to get everything to work. One ended up part of an obscure (and completely non-discussable) mission, but has done tremendous work relating directly to the security of near-in forces. The other became a SYSADMIN for all the computer systems, and makes sure all the million dollar technical stuff gives us what we need.

And that’s been the real story with my Analysts. Mostly all Specialists and buck Sergeants, these soldiers have outperformed their Active Duty counterparts. Not to take anything away from the unit we replaced, but nobody expected a National Guard unit to do as well as we did. And our junior enlisted soldiers are leading the way, exceeding all expectations for Soldiers of their experience level and rank.

At the very top of the list of remarkable Analysts, is a very petite young woman, a SGT, barely in her twenties. Mature for her age, a good leader and Soldier, during Mobilization, we frequently called upon her to help us deal with one of our chronic problem soldiers. What a study in contrasts. A typical teenager, but one who couldn’t understand that the Army wasn’t some game you drifted in and out of. He wanted out, he got himself enmeshed in some crazy relationships, finally glomming on to a disturbed young single mother, and claimed extreme hardship to get out of deployment.

Our stand-up SGT patiently walked him through a series of self-induced crises, and helped us do what needed to be done to get him out of our hair before deployment.

That was just the beginning of her outstanding capabilities. She taught herself and another Specialist a specialty area, new to all of our Analysts, and relatively new to Army Intelligence as a whole, at least in the current form of the mission. I wish I could explain the impact these Soldiers have had, but suffice it to say she is one of the very few lower enlisted Soldiers who was recommended for the Bronze Star for her efforts in the Intelligence fight. Her efforts have directly resulted in killing and capturing scores of targeted individuals, and doctrine is undergoing significant rewrite largely based on her efforts and the efforts of her team and Officer in Charge (OIC).

Not that she hasn’t had her share of frustrations. As an E5, she constantly struggles to make sure important information gets communicated to the General and his staff, and critical, time sensitive decisions are teed up. She is thinking about going for a Commission, which my CO and I enthusiastically support, because as she says, “that way I’ll have more of an influence.”

That’s one thing I have to disagree with her on. She’s had an incredible influence, not least of all as a shining example of Analytic excellence and NCO leadership she has demonstrated for all who are lucky enough to work with her.

All of my analysts have excelled, each in their own way and area. But I would be remiss if I didn’t remark on another remarkable young man who has sacrificed greatly in service to his country.

Many of us here may mistakenly think that only those of us who regularly do convoys, or go out on patrol, risk anything at all. And yet, thus far, the only casualty we’ve had, has been a Navy Analyst working in our midst. (Thank God for His cover and protection for the rest of us.) One evening he had the misfortune of being in the wrong place at the wrong time, and was hit by shrapnel from indirect fire, and suffered extensive injuries. He is now recovering, having lost the lower parts of both legs. God bless him, his family and friends, and may He honor this man and his commitment to his country.

The Analysts. They use their brains, their intellect, their wits and their computer skills. They sit for long hours on position. They have the longest shifts, the most mentally demanding jobs, and they take a lot of abuse from my other Platoons, either Staff or Maintenance soldiers.

But they are no less in this fight, they work in harm’s way, their sacrifice is every bit as great, and they serve just as selflessly as any of us on the FOB.

We can say very little about what they do, and they may never be able to tell the best stories outside of a secure compartmented intelligence facility (SCIF). But those of us who have been there with them, we know. And we salute them.

Other Profiles in the Series:
Supply Sergeants
Cooks & Contractors
The LT
The Motor Sergeant
The CO

Links: Basil's Blog, Outside the Beltway, Mudville Gazette, bRight & Early

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