Civil affairs Soldier trades real estate for helping rebuild Iraq
July 15, 2009
BAGHDAD - One civil affairs Soldier serving in the Multi-National Division-Baghdad has traded selling homes in southern California for helping rebuild a country - a job he says motivates him to volunteer for future deployments.
Staff Sgt. Dionisio "Danny" Alcala, a civil affairs Soldier assigned to the 425th Civil Affairs Battalion, 364th Civil Affairs Brigade, 1st Cavalry Division, is approaching his 13th month in Iraq and says he hopes to stay here 18 months.
"Here I am, in my 12th month going on my 13th month and I still want to stay, because I truly believe in it," said Alcala.
Alcala, a resident of Los Angeles, served in the Army Reserve from 1994 to 2000 as an aviation mechanic. After his discharge from the Army, Alcala began working for his family's real estate business - a career he says he thought he would continue with through retirement. But he said he still missed being in uniform.
"I finished in 2000 and got out, but I always kind of missed it. You miss the camaraderie of having different Soldiers around," Alcala said.
After the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, Alcala said he was motivated to return to the Army. In retrospect, Alcala said he felt his six years in the Army Reserve was not enough and decided to enlist again after an 8-year break in service.
"I looked back and remembered being a Soldier and realized something was missing," Alcala said. "I didn't have a combat patch and I didn't deploy to serve my country."
Alcala said the move came as a surprise to his family.
"I gave up a pretty good life. I don't even think my parents really understood why I came in," Alcala said. "I went from full civilian to mobilizing Soldier in a manner of 60 days."
Alcala said another inspiration for joining and volunteering to deploy was his love for freedom and a democratic society.
"California has a lot of free-thinking people and there is a lot of freedom," Alcala said. "Both of my parents are immigrants so the American ideal means a lot to me."
For Alcala, the fulfillment and the excitement of Army Civil Affairs is derived from working with his fellow Soldiers and mingling with the Iraqi people.
"In a way, you're a liaison between the military force and the local provincial force," Alcala said. "The one other thing I love about this job is, you're engulfed in the culture."
A self-described "people person," Alcala said his job allows him to work on relationships with the Iraqis to help bring peace and stability to the country. He quoted a Marine Corps general's summation of counterinsurgency operations in Afghanistan.
"If we're not eating a lot of goat and drinking a lot of chai, we are not working hard enough," Alcala said.
Alcala said his work with the Iraqi people will hopefully bring security and peace to the country. Despite the long hours and the physical and mental exhaustion, Alcala said he is creating irreplaceable memories in Iraq.
"I tell you, there are many mornings I wake up and wish I was back in Los Angeles at the beaches," Alcala said. "But I can look back and be proud of what I did; I can be proud of serving in Iraq."
Alcala is an individual Soldier, part of a small team, but his efforts and dedication will help bring peace for the Iraqis and rewards that couldn't be earned in his civilian job back in California.