For All Nails #280: Sallah Bread
by Noel Maurer
Sebastián Quezadas was a happy man, sort of. He was back in California, working as an assistant professor at PMU. Lucia had divorced him while he was in New Granada, remarried, and moved to San Fernando FN1 with her new husband . . . and Quezadas' baby daughter. Ni modo. He had settled back in to his life as a professor with minimal disruption. He had gotten out several more articles -- although none made quite the impact of "What did Kramer's Men Really Do?" -- and his teaching was going fine. As in, it didn't take all that much of his time.
Coming back to Mexico, getting divorced, really becoming a (distant, unfortunately) father . . . as if enough hadn't changed in his life, he was also no longer in the Army. It hadn't been an easy decision. He had liked his years of not-war but not-peace in Cuba and New Granada. But he didn't think he would like years of peace in California as much. Managing a unit that did real work in the field was a challenge. Managing a reserve unit in California, waiting for something to happen . . . hueva.
But he didn't want to quit the military, although he had more than enough national service points to be able to. It had begun to define him, and he worried he would get bored if he became "just" an academic. Only he was getting bored of the Army anyway. He needed another option.
It was called the Navy.
On the recommendation of a fellow professor, he applied for a transfer to the NUSM Reserve Intelligence Program. Army reserve intelligence officers spent their days training for the tactical missions they would carry out in the field, or, worse yet, managing their units. Naval reserve officers spent their days -- and the occasional night -- engaging in real intelligence analysis unless and until they were "recalled." In which case they could find themselves serving with USMC (or even Army) units in the field --- and in Sebo's case, with his combat training and experience, he almost certainly would. So, more interesting work at home, more interesting work when, uh, "recalled." It was a no-brainer, although the application process was a huge pain in the ass, and the competition for positions surprisingly intense.
And so, Captain Quezadas became a "ship lieutenant," without being demoted and without ever having been on a ship, and traded in his beige for working blue. Ensigns FN2 became sublieutenants, lieutenants became corvette lieutenants, captains became ship lieutenants, and majors became lieutenant commanders. Warrant officers became rare instead of as common as cucarachas, and "technical" officers didn't exist. The surfeit of lieutenants could get confusing.
Anyway, after a year of part-time retraining, he was assigned to real work. Which is how he wound up spending two weekends a month at Roffe Air Station learning everything he never wanted to know about the Egyptian armed forces. Somebody had to do it, and a newly-appointed reserve intelligence officer was just the man for the job. Egypt was far away and not particularly important.
The report was supposed to be about the continuing insurgency in southern Egypt. The more information was passed to him, the more it became about something else. Which is why he wound up spending the last few minutes of a drill weekend talking to the section commander, Captain (bird coronel!) Algazi. FN3 Algazi was short and swarthy, a career Navy man, riding herd on a slew of reserve intelligence officers and technicians.
Quezadas entered the briefing room. Algazi was sitting at the conference table, alone, with a copy of Quezadas's report in front of him. It was closed.
"You think that Egypt is planning an attack?" Algazi was nothing if not direct.
"Uh . . . that's my conclusion, sir, yes," replied Quezadas.
"Well, it's a whole bunch of factors, sir," said Quezadas.
"Gimme 'em in order."
"Okay. The factors are military y political. On the military lado, German intelligence reports that the Egyptians have mobilized their forces right up to the banks of the canal no less than 22 times over the past eight months. That's strange in-and-of itself. Then you've got these changes to the normal training routine. Frex, sir, for a year some units have done nothing but train in passing a pipe across a water barrier. Others have done nothing but back up trucks to artificial water barriers and let these German-made folding pontoon puentes to slide by momentum into the water, before bolting together the two elements of the bridge and driving off. Eighty engineering units -- eighty, sir -- have been practicing blasting down sand ramparts twice a day. It's strange activity, sir, y doesn't seem to relate to the war against the southern insurgents, but it makes sense if you're practicing to cross the Victoria Canal."
"That's it? That's the basis of your suspicion? Cambios to Egyptian training schedules?"
"Yes, sir, mostly, sir."
Quezadas had enjoyed doing the research on the Egyptians. It had involved mostly reading dozens of German and Numidian reports, and putting together his own picture. He had been assigned to the job mostly because he read German, more than anything else. But now, under this vaguely hostile questioning from his immediate superior, he was beginning to have his doubts.
"The Numidians captured a bunch of Egyptian reports assessing their performance against the southern rebels. The Egyptians' own conclusions were that their troops performed badly in mobile warfare, combined-arms operations, and whenever outflanked or encircled. They do badly in maneuver battles, like the ones in Darfur and El Sudán, because they require initiative, improvisation, and flexibility. In essence, sir, their own report concluded that Egyptian junior officers are afraid to take the initiative." Quezadas paused. He felt like he was repeating himself.
Captain Algazi nodded. "Go on."
Quezadas continued. "The report, however, also recognized that Egyptian troops have done very well when fighting defensively away from fixed defenses and that they have been very successful at keeping large armies in the field well-supplied. The conclusion is that the junior officer problem is based on deep-seated cultural traits, y not likely to go away. The report ended by stating that Egypt was fighting the wrong kind of war, the implication being that the right kind was a frontal assault in a geographically confined area."
Algazi nodded, although his face was impassive. "And the political factors?"
"Well, Ismael-Ali's regime is weak, to say the least, sir. His decision to use nerve gas on the rebels, besides having had little strategic value, made him look weaker. Politically, he's getting it from three lados: the Islamists, the Jeffersonistas, and the Sallahists. So he's been playing the Sinai card y bolstering his nationalist credentials."
"Who are the 'Sallahists'?"
Quezadas rubbed his chin. "I can't quite figure them out, sir. Seems to be a sort of Pan-Arab nationalism, with a bit of Jeffersonista ideology thrown in. Officially, all three movements are banned, but they've all got their proponents in Parliament."
That bit of intelligence had come from the Statist. Quezadas had said as much in the report, but he wasn't going to mention it out loud if the Captain didn't ask.
"What about the Germans?" asked Algazi.
"The Germans have two brigades in the area, sir, one in Port Saíd y the other in Victoria City. They are there mostly as a deterrent against a British maritime assault. The troops are not spread out along the canal, nor do they patrol its banks. In fact, most of the combat troops are shore and air defense units."
"Still. They're there," said the Captain.
"Yes, sir, y with the aid of the massive naval presence the Germans have nearby they could easily stop any fighting between their Arab 'allies.' Ismael-Ali is not afraid that the Germans would try and depose him, however, not after the events in Russia and América over the past decade. From his point of view, either he will retake the Sinai, or the Germans will stop him and he can blame European imperialism. Win-win, sir."
"Win win," repeated Algazi. He flipped through the pages. "Why is the Sinai such an issue?" he asked.
"Bruning transferred it to Arabia after the fall of Cairo, sir. I'm reluctant to try to peer into Bruning's head, but I suspect he thought that by fomenting a permanent antagonism between his new, uh, friends, he would insure their allegiance to Berlin. It's sort of worked, sir, up until now."
"So your conclusion is essentially based on changes to Egyptian training schedules, a single captured internal force review, and Ismael-Ali's recent rhetoric. Correct?"
"Well, yes sir. Perceived German weakness is also a factor."
"Right." He paused. "Any sign that the Germans are reacting to this data?"
"Not that I know of, sir."
"Why not, then?"
"I don't know, sir."
"Right." Algazi flipped the pages of the report together and laid it on the table. Then his expression softened, and he leaned back in his chair.
"Great job, Quezadas, really fine job. I can't say I agree with your conclusions, but this is a very good report. I gotta tell you, I'm glad to have you on the team. Welcome aboard." Algazi's entire demeanor seemed to have changed.
Quezadas relaxed. He'd had fun writing the report, but the quasi-hostile questioning had been getting him worried. He had been beginning to think that his transfer had been a huge mistake. "Thank you, sir."
"De nada. Dismissed."
(Forward to FAN #281: My Empire of Dirt.)
(Forward to 3 July 1981 (Sinai War): Red Sea Morning.)
(Return to For All Nails.)