Op-Ed: Operation Gothic Serpent And The Battle of Mogadishu: A Personal Reflection
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October 3, 2016 marks the 23rd anniversary of Operation Gothic Serpent and the Battle of Mogadishu – a humanitarian operation that turned into a military operation where American troops would literally be in the fight of their lives while we all watched horror of it all in real time. This is my own personal tie to this and why I honor these men every year.
In 1993, I was stationed at Fort Campbell, Kentucky with the 50th Medical Company, Air Ambulance (AA) as a technical supply specialist – basically, I ordered the repair parts for our fleet of UH60 Black Hawk helicopters. Due to the nature of the mission of my unit, inoperable aircraft could not sit on the ground longer than 24 hours; that meant I had to rush an emergency request for parts for the downed aircraft, which also put my request to the front of the line in regards to the rest of the aviation fleet’s requests.
However, being that I was very good at my job, that also meant I had “stuff” I wasn’t supposed to have as a supply tech too; I always had a bit of mission-essential contraband on hand and in the aviation supply circles, this meant back door deals with other supply techs. One unit I did “business” with regularly was the 160th Special Operations Aviation Regiment (SOAR) – the Night Stalkers.
In 1992, President Bush sent 28,000 US troops to Somalia to assist the United Nations (UN) in Operation Restore Hope and by June 1993, only 4,000 US troops remained. It was also in June that 24 Pakistani UN peacekeepers were killed by Mohamed Farrah Aidid’s soldiers; this started a chain of events that would result in 18 killed and 73 wounded.
The 160th SOAR secure compound was just across from the rest of the aviation units and before you could enter, you needed to stop at the guard post first. The first time I went over to 160th SOAR, it was with my maintenance officer who knew the 160th’s maintenance officer. It was then I was introduced to a few of the pilots and crew who practically lived in that hangar as well as the supply techs who I would eventually do “business” with.
The 160th was a flurry of activity when I and my maintenance officer entered the building and I remember seeing some guys in what looked like brown shorts and tee shirts with full-grown beards – it never dawned on me at that time that these were the Delta guys and there was quite a few just down the hall from the logistics office.
As we talked to the 160th SOAR maintenance officer, Chief Durant came up to us and joined in the conversation where the topic was aircraft contraband, something I had quite a bit of and was quite proud of the fact I hadn’t got caught with it yet. I was introduced to Chief Durant, shook his hand and while I was shaking his hand, he said,
“So, I hear you have quite a stash, that’s very impressive. We should bring you over here!”
We all laughed at that and I was quick to thank him for the compliment as I was extremely flattered and humbled by his words.
We were being inundated with images of the carnage in Somalia and the violence was rapidly getting worse and by this time, President Bill Clinton was in office and we speculated as to whether we were going to be put on four-hour recall or not – we waited for the warning order to happen, after all, we were medevac and still had our troops on the ground in Somalia, but it never came. Activity on at 160th SOAR heightened and soon, I would no longer be able to enter the secure compound. 160th SOAR got their marching orders and in less than 24 hours, 160th went from a flurry of activity to zero.
The media at the time was still in its Desert Storm “honeymoon” stage of broadcasting live directly from where the action was, but this wasn’t the war in Iraq where for the most part, you knew who your enemy was and you weren’t fighting in an urban environment. While the media did bring to light the horror of what Somalis were going through, it also drew unwanted attention to our troops by compromising their positions and giving Aidid a “heads-up” as to where and when our troops would be – in December 1992, the media was notified that the US Navy SEALs would be coming ashore in the predawn hours; they were in fact met with the bright lights from the media crews as they came ashore; thankfully they didn’t meet any Somali resistance.
I remember walking by the flight crew lounge and seeing several of my comrades huddled around the TV with the volume turned way up; it was on October 3 and the Battle of Mogadishu just entered our lives via the media – I wasn’t prepared for what I was about to see. I was able to sneak in between a few of the pilots to get a glimpse of what was going on – the horror and shock of watching our own being hunted down and exploited left all of us in a state of shock; not a single word was spoken in that room for at least 30 minutes.
The Battle of Mogadishu during Operation Gothic Serpent was the single most deadliest firefight since the Vietnam War and we had front row seats and once the shock wore off, the anger came. Not a single member of my unit wanted to be here, we all wanted to get to Somalia and get our guys out of there ASAP – of course, that wasn’t going to happen, but nonetheless, it was how we all felt. Not to mention what we wanted to do to Aidid and his henchmen.
Then it happened – I caught out of the corner of my eye, an image of man who, according to CNN, was Chief Michael Durant who was captured by Aidid’s henchmen. I couldn’t believe it and I went back into the flight crew lounge and watched in utter disbelief that the Somalis were exploiting Chief Durant, the very man who said I should be working in their tech supply. I instantly got nauseated and just knew that bastard Aidid would kill him for just cause – I prayed and prayed like never before; hell, the whole unit was praying.
After 11 days in captivity, Chief Durant came home to Fort Campbell to a hero’s welcome. The 101st Airborne Division Commander, Major General Jack Keane said,
“This is your last stop. We’re going to take care of you. We’re going to get you on your feet and back in your cockpit. . . . We love you, and God bless you.”
We all watched as Chief Durant was being wheeled on a gurney into a waiting ambulance on Fort Campbell and just before he was transported, he signaled to all of us with a wave – as if to say, “I’m okay, no worries!” As tough as I tried to be, I couldn’t stop crying for a long time as I was so thankful to God for bringing Chief Durant home.
Every single year since Operation Gothic Serpent in the Battle of Mogadishu, I’ve made it a point to remember and honor the men who died on that fateful day.
Honor The Fallen:
1st Special Forces Detachment (Delta Force)
MSG Gary Gordon
SFC Randy Shughart
SSG Daniel D. Busch
SFC Earl Fillmore, Jr.
MSG Timothy “Griz” Martin
3rd Ranger Battalion, 75th Ranger Regiment
CPL James “Jamie” Smith
SPC James Cavaco
SGT James Joyce
CPL Richard “Alphabet” Kowalewski Jr.
SGT Dominick Pilla
SGT Lorenzo Ruiz
160th Special Operations Aviation Regiment
SSG William “Wild Bill” Cleveland, Jr.
SSG Thomas “Tommie” J. Field
CW4 Raymond “Ironman” Frank
CW3 Clifton “Elvis” Wolcott
CW3 Donovan “Bull” Briley
2nd Battalion, 14th Infantry Regiment, 2nd Brigade, 10th Mountain Division
SGT Cornell Lemont Houston, Sr. 41st Engr BN
PFC James Henry Martin, Jr.
Theresa Giarratano is a retired US Army NCO studying Middle Eastern affairs with special emphasis on global terrorism. Her current status is assisting the Kurdish people by disseminating information regarding the fight against ISIS via social media platforms.