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Jen and I sat down last night to watch this special on the History Channel (actually we had it in the DVR, the only thing we watch live is "24"). So Jen thought it was going to be the story of Scott O'Grady , so it was a total surprise for her. I had seen the movie " Black Hawk Down " years ago, so I was familiar with the story. The year before last SouthieBoy was taking a course that included reading about failing states. I was doing the reading along with him a) because it was interesting and b) because I wanted to be able to converse with SB in an intelligent manner. So I read quite a bit about Somalia. When I finished the reading on Operation Provide Relief , Operation Restore Hope and Operation Continue Hope , I remember thinking I wanted to go back and watch " Black Hawk Down " again.
So, we watched this special with Mark Bowden, the author of " Black Hawk Down: A Story of Modern War" and several vets who were there that day. I really got so much more out of this than I would have before I read about Somalia. It didn't hurt that I have picked up all this knowledge about the military since I have been surfing around the 'Net, either.
Anway, Jen was so horrified that we went in to help and it ended the way it did. "That's it!" she exclaimed. "We're not helping anyone else! No more. Let them starve. I don't want to hear another word about Darfur. Ever!" (I have been pushing the boots-on-the-ground-in-Darfur thing for a while). I asked "Will you write to me when I'm over there, handing out food?". The answer was an emphatic "NO!"
The Society for Military History
Ronald L. Spiller is an assistant professor of history at Edinboro University of Pennsylvania. He is a veteran of twenty-nine years active and reserve service in the Army service in the United States, Europe and Asia. His assignments include duty with both 7th and 4th Psychological Operations Groups and with the US contingent of the UN Protection Force in Croatia. His research specialty is leadership and command method in the US Army.
Black Hawk Down, directed by Ridley Scott, produced by Jerry Bruckheimer and Ridley Scott, 144 minutes, distributed by Sony Pictures
Ridley Scott's film version of Mark Bowden's Black Hawk Down is a good war movie. The good guys are good and the bad guys are bad. You cry when these Americans die and cheer when the last Rangers double time into friendly territory. It is a hell of a story, maybe the equal of Roark's Drift. That much, at least, of Scott's vision of the events of 3-4 October 1993 in Mogadishu, Somalia, is accurate. But Scott's Black Hawk is an MTV version of history. He simplifies the story and strips what has come to be called the "Battle of the Black Sea" of the cultural and institutional baggage that makes it an even more interesting and important event.
An outline of the background to the events of 3-4 October 1993 is fairly simple. The United Nations, in an attempt to alleviate human suffering in the political chaos of Somalia, established the "United Nations Organization in Somalia," UNOSOM, in April 1992. In the face of continuing chaos and violence targeted against the UN, the International Red Cross, and non-governmental relief agencies the UN expanded its mandate and presence. In November 1992 President George Bush committed US forces to security and relief operations in Somalia and the US-led Unified Task Force (UNITAF) came into being. By the spring of 1993 UNITAF strength had grown to 38,300 and included contingents from France, Canada, Italy, Morocco, Australia, Belgium, and Botswana. Two-thirds of UNITAF, however, were Americans, US Marines and elements of the Army's 10th Mountain Division. In March 1993 a reconstituted and re-organized UN structure began to replace UNITAF and in early May UNITAF Commander, Lt. Gen. Robert B. Johnson, USMC, turned over responsibility for humanitarian and peacekeeping operations in Somalia to UNOSOM II. By then the US presence in Somalia had dropped to a 2,800-man logistical support unit and a 1,200-man reaction force.
Although the UN operated with success in the Somali countryside, the situation in Mogadishu deteriorated. Somalis loyal to Mohammed Farah Aidid, a leader of the Habr Gidr clan, opposed UN activities and, on 5 June, Aidid supporters ambushed Pakistani peacekeepers, killing twenty-five and wounding fifty-four. As a result the UN essentially outlawed Aidid and his United Somali Congress/Somali National Alliance (USC/SNA). The level of violence in Mogadishu escalated as UN and US forces moved aggressively against Aidid and his supporters. In August the new Clinton administration authorized deployment of Task Force RANGER to help implement Security Council Resolution 837. This resolution authorized the Secretary General to take "all necessary measures against all those responsible for the armed attacks" of 5 June. The climax of these operations, the story told in print by Bowden and on screen by Scott, is succinctly described in US Central Command's official version of operations in Somalia.
"The most significant combat action took place on October 3, when Task Force Ranger captured six of Aideed's [sic] lieutenants and several militiamen in a daylight raid. During withdrawal operations, the Somalis shot down two UH-60 helicopters and U.S. forces remaining on the ground came under heavy fire as they attempted to carry out rescue operations and consolidate their positions. During the intense firefight that followed, approximately 300 Somalis were killed and hundreds more were wounded. A total of 16 Rangers were killed and 83 wounded before a relief column of quick reaction force soldiers, Pakistanis, and Malaysians was able to withdraw the forces to safety early on October 4."
Ridley Scott puts his version of events into its broader political context at the beginning of his film with text vaguely reminiscent of Star Wars. As the camera pans across a devastated landscape peopled by shambling, starving black ghosts and Black Hawk rotor blades thump on the sound track, one learns just enough about the external situation to explain the presence of the "good guys." The good guys, in this case, are B Company, 3rd Battalion, 75th Infantry (the Rangers), C Squadron of the Delta Force, elements of the 160th Special Operations Aviation Regiment (SOAR) and SEAL Team 6, and Air Force Combat Search and Rescue (CSAR) personnel. Scott moves on quickly to establish that the "bad guys" are, indeed, really bad. A Black Hawk circles over a UN food distribution site being raided by Aidid's men. US forces drop out of the sky and cleanly arrest Osman Otto, Aidid's finance chief, portrayed as a slick, sweating, cell phone carrying, Mr. Big. Otto offers Cuban cigars to Brigadier General William F. Garrison, the Task Force commander, played by Sam Shepard, who, of course, has his own Cuban cigars.
Scott moves on to introduce us to the good guys in more detail. The Rangers are young soldiers-very young-while the "D-boys" are older men, professionals certainly, but men who claim the right to operate outside the mundane regulations that afflict the Rangers. In the process Scott portrays the living conditions and professional environment of a deployed joint task force with some degree of impressionistic accuracy. The raucous atmosphere of a rusting hanger-turned-barracks, the seemingly detached calm of a good operations center, and the operational smoothness of confident men who understand their jobs are all portrayed reasonably well. The only fault one can find at this point is the flat, almost monochromatic quality of the cinematography, reminiscent of Saving Private Ryan. One would think the Mogadishu described by Bowden would have more color, or at least a lot more light.
Although a good war movie that remains superficially faithful to Bowden's descriptions of the basic actions of 3-4 October 1993, Black Hawk Down is a failure in terms of explaining some of the fundamental assumptions and conditions that underlay Task Force RANGER's operations. Scott's goal, obviously, was a commercially successful film, not a documentary. It is interesting to note the difference between Bowden's subtitle, A Story of Modern War, and the subtitle used in marketing the film, Leave No Man Behind. In a peculiar way Scott's oversimplification mirrors our own approach to operating in Mogadishu in 1993.
The great strength of Bowden's book and probably the reason it has been so well received by many military readers is his sympathetically objective portrayal of the men who conducted the operation. He describes the mistakes-the failure to take along night vision devices (NODs) and water, and the practice of removing the steel backplate from flack jackets. He discusses the Rangers' youth and inexperience. But he never strongly criticizes individual soldiers. Each reader draws his own conclusions based on his own agenda or set of prejudices. I am no exception. I am deeply irritated about aspects of Bowden's book that did not make it into Scott's version of the facts of 3-4 October. This was neither a botched military operation nor a manifestation of a sophomoric Clinton foreign policy. It was a tough, high-risk operation made more difficult by deeply held American visions of the world and an institutional culture that worships the concept of "elite" forces. Ridley Scott deals with little of this. His story is dramatic, appealing, and told very well. Scott presents this story in such a way that few members of the audience question the basic assumptions and operating principles behind the operation.
It takes little racial or ethnic sensitivity to recognize that an unconscious racism permeated the US presence in Mogadishu. In Bowden's account the Somalis are "Skinnies" or "Sammies." The Mogadishu stronghold of Aidid's clan is a neighborhood known as "The Black Sea." This is not a manifestation of overt racism, rather, a vision of cultural superiority little changed from the nineteenth century. This assumption of superiority is reinforced by a natural tendency of combat soldiers to demonize their adversary. Even Scott falls prey to this sort of stereotyping. The bad guys are almost universally portrayed as big, swaggering, sweating, (very) black men. Obviously in a country beset by a man-made famine the people might be characterized as skinny and the men in charge are well fed. Somalis are people of color and people do sweat in hot climates. The issue is not their accuracy but how these images are, and were, understood. It is not post-modernist cant or tired old anti-colonial rhetoric to ask this sort of question. This is a particularly important question when the men interpreting these images are "the cream, the most highly motivated soldiers of their generation, selected to fit the army's ideal," men who saw themselves as "predators, heavy metal avengers, unstoppable, invincible"-in the case of the Rangers, men whose average age was nineteen. Only twice in the film is there any indication that some of the Somali population was friendly to UN and US forces. In his operations briefing BG Garrison points out that part of the ground route will be through a friendly neighborhood and the troops are to adhere to the "rules of engagement." At the end of the film Somalis cheer the last Rangers as they make it home. I suspect that these provoke more ambivalence than understanding in an audience. Philosophically, "rules of engagement" are almost antithetical to the "American Way of War," and Somalis cheering for Americans is a completely incongruous image in the context of this film.
A particularly insidious undercurrent present within Task Force RANGER was the tension between the Rangers and the Delta Force soldiers. Bowden clearly describes the awestruck attitude of most of the young Rangers as well as some of the Delta soldiers' concern about the Rangers' lack of training. He also provides several examples of Delta Force soldiers' insubordination to orders from Ranger officers. Little of this tension makes it to the screen, however. What does is generally presented more as the sort of thing to which a "good" commander would turn a blind eye, or as part of the mystique of Delta, an organization too important to worry about routine rules and regulations.
Elite forces have always been a problem for the larger military community. By definition these men have a variety of qualities judged to be "better" that the "average" soldier. The problem is not that these men are better trained, more motivated, or in better physical shape than other soldiers. The problem is that much of the esprit of elite organizations is maintained at the cost of the image of the rest of the force-the "dirty legs" or whatever phrase is current at the time. Nevertheless, as long as elite forces formed only a small portion of the combat force and were used for narrowly defined missions they were manageable within the larger organization. But with the more highly specialized nature of US military operations in the post-Soviet world we see the proliferation of specialized-thus "elite"-forces. The US presence in Mogadishu presented the curious picture of elite forces stacked on top of each other. The UNOSOM II quick reaction force was composed of elements of the 10th Mountain Division, originally organized as one of the Army's elite, specialized World War II divisions. In the pecking order of today's specialized Army the 10th Mountain is almost special. It appears on US Special Operations Command's web page as a "related" Army unit. In the pecking order of "Mog" it was clearly not up to the task of eliminating Aidid. The Rangers, once the premier elite formation of the Army, were now, in turn, subordinate to the "D-boys." The Rangers were adolescent wannabes, in awe of the "real" professionals. None of this is woven into Scott's film. We see brave men fighting well in a situation they don't clearly understand and we see them survive and, in a sense, triumph.
As I said at the beginning this is a good war movie. But as a portrayal of history it reinforces some of the worst aspects of America's collective vision of the world and our understanding of military operations. We have been driven by these visions before. More than fifteen years ago Loren Baritz discussed these elements of American culture in Backfire: A History of How American Culture Led Us Into Vietnam and Made Us Fight the Way We Did. But in Black Hawk Down we celebrate ourselves and our ability to snatch victory from the jaws of confusion. For a target audience of males aged fifteen to thirty, Ridley Scott has produced a celebration of American courage and spirit without a serious explanation of why we were forced, in the end, to rely on those two very real American characteristics. Mark Bowden's complex tale of modern war has become a simple story about not leaving any man behind.
As I tried, with varying degrees of success, to sort through what I liked and disliked about this film, not always separating the film and the real event, one of my old students dropped by. This officer, just back from Afghanistan, did nothing to convince me that things are much different from our days in Mogadishu. Apparently we now call the Afghanis "Skinnies."
Black Hawk Down Deluxe Edition
The bullets, blood, and bravado fly so fast in Ridley Scott’s Black Hawk Down, a gritty portrayal of what’s referred to as the biggest firefight to ensnare U.S. troops since Vietnam, that it is hard to distinguish between the buzz-cut soldiers. But while Scott’s beautifully composed chronicle of the ill-fated October 1993 mission in Somalia that left 18 Americans dead sadly sacrifices actors (and character development) for action, the three-disc set breathes tangible life into the brave crew and their stories, lending resonance to a film sometimes criticized as shallow.
Ranger and Delta Force commandos emotionally recall their hellish 15-hour assault in one of the set’s three commentary tracks an episode of PBS’ 𠇟rontline” and the History Channel’s special ”True Story of Black Hawk Down” also detail the factors that contributed to the Somalians’ fierce anger and explore how the battle still echoes in the current geopolitical climate. Scott’s master craft can be witnessed through ”Ridleygrams” (the director’s hand-drawn storyboards), a production-design archive with more than 140 photos and sketches, and a 150-minute making-of doc (which details the actors’ transformation into soldiers — complete with haircuts). Though the overwhelming arsenal of extras might leave you shell-shocked, the comprehensiveness of this deluxe edition enriches Scott’s harrowing memorial to those who fell and those who fought when the Black Hawks went down.
The True Story of Blackhawk Down - HISTORY
From one of the Pilots
During the last few days many pilots have come up to me and asked me if I had seen the movie "Blackhawk Down." I don't mind talking about the movie, and I welcome the opportunity to talk about the heroism and valor of my friends. I just wanted to post some comments here about the movie and my impressions. Also I wanted to try to answer some frequently asked questions.
First of all, I and many of my friends that also flew on the mission thought that the movie was excellent! It is technically accurate and it is dramatically correct. In other words, the equipment, lingo and dialogue are all right on. By dramatically correct, I mean that it very effectively captured the emotions and tension that we all felt during the mission. It did this without being a cartoon, (like TOP GUN) or being over the top, (like FIREBIRDS). It's true that the screenwriters had to consolidate two
or three people into one, but this was necessary because otherwise there would have been too many principal characters to keep track of. Also in the actual mission we had nearly 20 aircraft in the air that day. In the movie they had 4 Blackhawks and 4 "Little Birds". The unit could not afford to commit the actual number to the filming of the movie. However, through the magic of the cinema, they were able to give the impression of the real number. Our force mixture was as follows:
Super 61 - Lead Blackhawk
Star 41-44 Little Bird Assault
Super 62 - Trail Blackhawk
These aircraft made up the assault force. Their mission was to go into the buildings and capture the individuals who were the target of the day. Super 61 was shotdown, killing both pilots. (They were CW4 Cliff Wolcott and CW3 Donovan Briley. The three of us shared a room at the airfield.) Star 41 landed at the crashsite and the pilot CW4 Keith Jones ran over and dragged two survivors to his aircraft and took off for the hospital. Keith re-enacted his actions in the movie. Super 62 was the Blackhawk that put in the two Delta snipers, Sergeant First Class Randy Shughart
and Master Sergeant Gary Gordon. They were inserted at crashsite #2. Shortly after Gary and Randy were put in Super 62 was struck in the fuselage by an antitank rocket. The whole right side of the aircraft was opened up and the sniper manning the right door gun had his leg blown off. The aircraft was able to make it out of the battle area to the port area where they made a controlled crash landing. (This is not depicted in the movie.)
Next was the Ranger Blocking Force. This consisted of 4 Blackhawks:
Super 64 (CW3 Mike Durant, CW4 Ray Frank)
Super 65 (Me, Cpt Richard Williams)
Super 66 (CW3 Stan Wood, CW4 Gary Fuller)
Super 67 (CW3 Jeff Niklaus, CW2 Sam Shamp)
The mission of the blocking force was to be inserted at the four corners of the objective building and to prevent any Somali reinforcements from getting through. In the movie there is a brief overhead shot of the assault. My aircraft is depicted in the lower left hand corner of the screen. This is the only part of the film where I come close to being mentioned. As the assault is completed, you hear the Blackhawks calling out of the objective area. When you hear, ". Super 65 is out, going to holding. " that's my big movie moment. There is also a quick shot of an RPG being shot at a hovering Blackhawk. I did have one maybe two fired at me, but I did not see them or the gunner. I only heard the explosions. We were not able to return fire, although some of the other aircraft did. Make no mistake. I am fully aware of my role in this mission. My job was the same as the landing boat drivers in "Saving Private Ryan." Get the troops in the right place in one piece. I am very proud of the fact that my crew and I were able to do that. After having done this in Grenada,
Panama and Somalia, I can identify with the bombardiers of World War Two. You have to ignore all of the chaos that is going on around and completely concentrate on the tasks at hand. That is holding the aircraft as steady as possible so the Rangers can slide down the ropes as quickly and safely as possible.
Okay, Okay, enough about me. Super 64 was shot down also with an RPG (Rocket Propelled Grenade). They tried to make it back to the airfield, but their tail rotor gave way about a mile out of the objective area. They went down in the worst part of bad guy territory. The dialogue for the movie appears to have been taken from the mission tapes as it is exactly as I remember it. (This was the hardest part of the movie for me to watch). The actions on the ground are as described by Mike Durant, as he was the only one from the crew to survive the crash and the gun battle. It was here the Gary and Randy won their Posthumous Medals of Honor.
Super 66 was called in at about 2000 hours to resupply the Rangers at the objective area. Some of the Rangers were completely out of ammunition and were fighting hand to hand with the Somali militia men. (Also not depicted in the movie). Stan and Gary brought their aircraft in so that they were hovering over the top of the Olympic Hotel with the cargo doors hanging out over the front door. In this way they were able to drop the ammo, water and medical supplies to the men inside. Stan's
left gunner fired 1600 rounds of minigun ammo in 30 seconds. He probably killed between 8 to 12 Somali militia men. As Stan pulled out of the objective area, he headed to the airfield because his right gunner had been wounded, as had the two Rangers in the back who were throwing out the supplies. Once he landed, he discovered that he'd been hit by about 40-50 rounds and his transmission leaking oil like a sieve. Super 66 was done for the night.
The final group of aircraft were the 4 MH6 gunships, and the command and control Blackhawk and the Search and Rescue 'Hawk'. They were:
Barber 51-54 MH6's
Super 63 C&C
Super 68 SAR
In the movie, the gunships are shown making only one attack. In fact, they were constantly engaged all night long. Each aircraft reloaded six times. It is estimated that they fired between 70 and 80,000 rounds of minigun ammo and fired a total 90 to 100 aerial rockets. They were the only thing that kept the Somalis from overrunning the objective area. All eight gunship pilots were awarded the Silver Star. Every one of them deserved it!
Next is Super 68. The actions of this crew were very accurately portrayed. The only difference was that they were actually hit in the rotor blades by an RPG. This blew a semicircle out of the main rotor spar, but the blade held together long enough for them to finish putting in the medics and Rangers at the first crashsite. It was then that they headed to the airfield. What they did not know, was that their main transmission and engine oil cooler had been destroyed by the blast. As they headed to the airfield all 7 gallons of oil from the main rotor gearbox, and all 7 quarts from each engine was pouring out. They got the aircraft on the ground just as all oil pressures went to zero. They then shutdown, ran to the spare aircraft and took off to rejoin the battle. They were in the air just in time to affect the MEDEVAC of Super 62, which had landed at the seaport. The pilots of this aircraft were CW3 Dan Jollota, and MAJ Herb Rodriguez. Both men were later awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross. Major Rodriguez is retired from the Army now and he teaches middle
school with my wife in Clarksville, Tennessee.
Finally there is the Command and Controll Blackhawk, Super 63. In the back of this aircraft was my battalion commander, LTC Matthews, and the overall ground commander, LTC Harrell.
In the movie, there is a scene where the men on the ground were begging for MEDEVAC. By this point in the battle we had 5 Blackhawks out of action, either shot down or shot up so much they couldn't fly anymore. Of the two assault force and four blocking force 'hawks', only myself and Super 67 were left. I fully expected LTC Harrell to send us in to try to get those men out. I jacked a round into the chamber of my pistol and my M16. I knew that the only way to do was to hover with one wheel balanced on the roof of the building. Then the Rangers would be able to throw the wounded in. I knew that we were going to take a lot of fire and I was trying to mentally prepare myself to do this while the aircraft was getting hit. My friends had all gone in and taken their licks and now I figured it was our turn. (Peer pressure is such a powerful tool if used properly.) Quite frankly, I really thought that we were at best
going to get shot down, at worst I figured we were going to be killed. The way I saw it we had already lost 5 aircraft, what was 2 more? I had accepted this because at least when this was all over General Garrison would be able to tell the families that we had tried everything to get their sons,fathers or husbands out. We were even willing to send in our last two helicopters. Fortunately for me LTC Harrell realized that the time for helicopters had passed. The decision was made to get the tanks and armored personnel carriers to punch through to the objective area. Once
again, the dialogue in the movie is verbatim. What you don't hear is me breathing a sigh of relief! I remembered thinking that maybe I was going to see the sunrise after all.
I guess I got a little carried away. I really didn't mean to write this much. People ask me if this movie has given me 'flashbacks'. I don't think you can call them flashbacks if that day has never been out of my mind. I hope that when you do see the movie it will fill you with pride and awe for the Rangers that fought their hearts out that day. Believe me, they are made of the same stuff as those kids at Normandy Beach. When 1LT Tom DiTomasso, the Ranger platoon leader on my aircraft, told me that
we did a fantastic job, I couldn't imagine ever receiving higher praise than that. I love my wife and children, but the greatest thing I've ever done is to be a Nightstalker Pilot with Task Force Ranger on 3-4 Oct 1993.
Thank you for reading this. I look forward to answering any and all questions anyone may have about the movie or the actual battle. I just thought that this might fill in some of the blanks. Thank you again.
‘Black Hawk Down: The Untold Story’ recalls the soldiers the movies overlooked
The majority of Americans learned about how U.S. and United Nations forces came to the rescue of 99 ambushed U.S. Army Rangers trapped in the streets of Mogadishu through a Hollywood movie and book of the same name.
But filmmaker and retired Air Force Col. Randall Larsen says the soldiers from Fort Drum, who fought valiantly in a two-day battle in and above the streets of Mogadishu, never got the credit they deserved.
He&aposs directed and produced a new documentary that depicts the role 341 10th Mountain Division soldiers — from the 2nd Battalion of the 14th Infantry — played in saving the Rangers during the intense fighting on Oct. 3 and Oct. 4, 1993.
“It&aposs truly the untold story …” Col. Larsen said. “It was an incredible story.”
By the time it ended on Oct. 4, 18 soldiers were killed and 80 wounded, but the U.S. forces fought their way into Mogadishu to get the members of the Army&aposs premier infantry unit out, despite heavy gunfire. Two Fort Drum soldiers died during the rescue mission, then the bloodiest firefight since the Vietnam War.
Yet the 10th Mountain Division&aposs involvement is largely overlooked, even with the popular 2001 Ridley Scott “Black Hawk Down” film and the 1999 book by journalist Mark Bowden.
The new documentary, Black Hawk Down: The Untold Story, will make its debut during four showings at Fort Drum and Jefferson Community College on Oct. 4 and Oct. 5.
The Oct. 4 showings at Fort Drum will come on the 25th anniversary of the battle&aposs second day in 1993.
The retired colonel doesn&apost fault director Ridley Scott and his film for failing to tell the 2-14&aposs involvement in the battle. The film mentions Fort Drum but used composite characters to tell Hollywood&aposs version of the story.
“I&aposm not saying anything bad about Ridley Scott,” the colonel said. “It was entertainment.”
He also doesn&apost have any problems with Mr. Bowden&aposs book, which delved into the Fort Drum connection more.
He does have issues with an episode of History Channel&aposs series “The Real Story of,” which supposedly told the true story behind the film.
“But it never mentioned the 10th Mountain Division a single time,” Col. Larsen said.
His documentary is devoted to the story of soldiers of the 2-14. All the U.S. forces who fought in the Mogadishu streets were heroes, the colonel insisted.
They jumped into armored vehicles, Humvees and troop-transported trucks and drove off into the dark Somalian night into what was considered a do-or-die mission to save the lives of the Rangers who were surrounded by more than 1,000 well-armed hostile forces.
A year before, U.S. soldiers were deployed to Somalia to support a United Nations humanitarian mission to help with a devastating famine.
Without a government in place, militia and clans were fighting among themselves for power, so President George H.W. Bush sent the troops over to help with more than 1 million people starving from the famine.
For the documentary, Col. Larsen, who served in the Army and Air Force for 32 years, interviewed more than 30 soldiers involved in the battle, from enlisted men in the “Task Force 2-14″ to senior commanders.
The documentary also is based on numerous written accounts from those involved, command past logs and official after-action reports.
Ret. Lt. Col. Lee Van Arsdale, a technical adviser for Ridley Scott&aposs film, appears in &aposThe Untold Story.&apos A former squadron commander in 1st Special Forces Operational Detachment-Delta, he fought alongside the men of 2-14 during the rescue mission.
Col. Larsen, 70, has produced and directed several other documentaries, including “Operation Whitecoat,” which tells the story of 2,300 non-combat conscientious objectors who served the country during the Cold War.
He also has made documentaries about wounded warriors who served in Iraq and Afghanistan, a doctor&aposs experiences in the summer of 2014 when he worked in a Sierra Leone hospital during the Ebola outbreak and women pilots who served in the Second World War.
Col. Larsen, who began his military career as a 19-year-old Cobra helicopter pilot flying 400 combat missions in Vietnam, is also a Homeland Security expert, serving on several national organizations between 1998 and 2012. He retired from the military in 2000.
Col. Larsen got involved in the Black Hawk project after receiving a phone call last December from an old friend, retired Brig. Gen. William David, who was the commander of the 2-14 during the battle.
Previously, a couple of Southern Illinois University professors were working on a “Black Hawk Down” film project but had some issues getting it market-ready, Gen. David recalled, so he thought that his old friend could help them.
As it turned out, Col. Larsen, who met Gen. David while the two were completing War College scholarships at the University of Pittsburgh several years before, bought the rights to the footage and took over the project.
He&aposs worked on the film full time for the past nine months.
A still from the trailer of &aposBlack Hawk Down: The Untold Story&apos(YouTube screenshot)
Former Fort Drum soldier Douglas W. Schmidt, a member of the 2-14 from 2000 to 2003, was brought in by Col. Larsen as an advisor to conduct research on the battle.
“I didn&apost know much about it,” he admitted, although he saw the Ridley Scott film several times. “I read every book on Somalia.”
Mr. Schmidt was chosen for his experience as an unofficial Fort Drum historian. He also completed his master&aposs degree thesis on the 10th Mountain Division&aposs involvement in Somalia.
He&aposs proud of the role he played in making sure that Fort Drum soldiers are finally getting their due.
Until he got that call from his friend, Col. Larsen knew little about the Mogadishu event, quickly forging ahead with as much research as he could before starting the project.
“The more I heard, the more I was impressed with their story,” he said.
A convoy of vehicles was sent to retrieve the Rangers after two Black Hawks were shot down. Before the battle began, the Rangers arrested 20 supporters of Mohamed Farrah Aidid, a Somali military commander and political leader, while they were conducting a raid in Mogadishu.
Besides being outnumbered and facing heavy fire, the U.S. soldiers called to help were forced to use Malaysian armed personnel carriers. They had never been inside the vehicles, were unaware how they operated and didn&apost even know how to open their doors, Col. Larsen said.
“They were white vehicles going into battle at night,” he said, making them easy targets.
While he helped indirectly to get the film made, Gen. David had no interest in “rewriting history” and wouldn&apost have minded “on a personal level” if the project didn&apost get off the ground.
“I&aposm very happy that the story will be told for all the soldiers under my command who were never recognized for the actions of what they&aposve done,” he said.
“It&aposll give them closure,” he added. “It&aposs for their benefit, not my benefit.”
Gilbert H. Pearsall Jr., human resources director for the Johnson Newspaper Corp. before retiring in 2014, has a connection to the Mogadishu battle.
A retired lieutenant colonel and former Fort Drum soldier, Mr. Pearsall served in Somalia for several months, working at the Quick Reaction Force under Col. Lawrence E. Casper as the liaison to the aviation brigade.
Mr. Pearsall was not directly involved in the fighting. Instead, he helped with the planning of the rescue mission, getting together some sketches of where the Rangers were ambushed. At first, the situation didn&apost look so bad for the Rangers, he recalled.
“We had no idea what was going on,” he said, adding they learned later that the Rangers needed help.
He remembered heading to New Port, near the Somalia coast, with then-Lt. Col. David and laying out some maps on a Humvee hood to try to figure out a plan.
Lt. Col. David came up with the route that the convoy should take and Mr. Pearsall went back to Quick Reaction Force headquarters, where he waited to hear more.
He stressed that the story should have been told long ago about the 2-14 and what it did during those two days.
Mr. Schmidt has only seen a rough draft of the documentary, but he believes it&aposs the film that the 2-14 deserves. Still tinkering with the final cut, Col. Larsen said he&aposs so happy with the outcome he won&apost pursue another film project.
“I couldn&apost make a better film,” he said.
Gen. David, who plans to attend all four showings, said he expects as many as 100 former Fort Drum soldiers will be there for the sneak previews.
Retired since 2003, he looks forward to seeing the men he led when they were in their 20s and will now get to find out what their lives are like 25 years later.
Some of them, at the time, might not have realized the significance of the role they played in saving the Rangers during those two days in Mogadishu.
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It was the first time a helicopter had been downed in Mogadishu, though not the first time one had been hit by hostile fire, according to contemporaneous news reports.
In a miniature version of the events that would play out roughly one week later, three more U.S. troops and three Pakistani soldiers were wounded as they worked to secure the crash site, news reports stated.
About a month prior to the shootdown, on Aug. 8, 1993, four U.S. soldiers were also killed when their vehicle struck a land mine remotely detonated by members of Aidid’s militia.
The warlord’s top lieutenant
Osman Ali Atto, a financier for Aidid, is depicted early in the film being spirited away by U.S. special operators who surgically disable the engine of his vehicle, which was traveling in a three-car convoy.
The reality, according to an interview Atto gave to the British Broadcasting Corporation, is that there was only one vehicle and he was in it.
“And when the helicopter attacked, people were hurt, people were killed,” Atto told the BBC from his Mogadishu residence in 2002. “The car we were travelling in, [and] I have got proof, it was hit at least 50 times. And my colleague Ahmed Ali was injured on both legs.”
Navy SEAL Howard Wasdin, who helped capture Atto, recalled in his book how the mission took place in an urban area, with militia appearing in the neighborhood to shoot up at the helicopters.
Atto, like other Somalis, said the film painted the country’s inhabitants in an unfair light.
How Somalis were depicted
Yusuf Hassan of the BBC’s Somali service said at the time of the movie’s release that many Somalis felt the film depicted them as fanatical caricatures rather than fully formed characters.
"They were not telling their story,” Hassan said in 2002. “At that time, I was covering the conflict as a journalist, and I know that the people who were fighting were not only supporters of Aidid. . Many of them were just people in the neighborhood who got caught up in this fire and were trying to defend their homes, as they thought they were under attack.”
The exact number of Somali deaths, both civilian and militant, is unknown. Estimates range widely from several hundred to a thousand.
Months before the October 1993 raid, another U.S. attack had dealt a propaganda blow to the mission and potentially turned local Somalis against the Americans, according to observers who were there.
/>The wreckage of a jeep burns in a Mogadishu street, Oct. 3, 1993, after it was destroyed by a remote controlled bomb, injuring three U.S. service members. (STR/AFP/GettyImages)
On July 12, 1993, dubbed “Bloody Monday," U.S. forces seeking to kill Aidid were tipped off that he would be present at a meeting with various clan leaders in Mogadishu. In reality, the event was also attended by moderate clan leaders, “who were apparently meeting to discuss mediation between [the U.N.] and [Aidid],” reads a 1995 Human Rights Watch report.
Late in the morning, Cobra attack helicopters arrived and launched 16 anti-tank missiles and 20mm cannon fire into the house, killing more than 50 people. Bowden called Bloody Monday “a monumental misjudgment, to say the least.”
Others, like journalist Scott Peterson, called the event a war crime. Human Rights Watch said the attack “breached the rule of proportionality in humanitarian law even if it was conducted in good faith.”
More than Rangers and Delta
Two soldiers, Pfc. James Martin and Sgt. Cornell Houston, who died during the raid were from the 10th Mountain Division. They were part of 2nd Battalion, 14th Infantry Regiment, which had been tapped to rescue pinned-down members of Task Force Ranger. Martin was killed while providing cover for medics and Houston died fighting from the rescue convoy.
Pararescueman Tech. Sgt. Tim Wilkinson earned the Air Force Cross after fast-roping to a downed UH-60 helicopter to extract five wounded Rangers. Master Sgt. Scott Fales, who joined him, earned the Silver Star after he sustained a leg wound but continued to help treat those who Wilkinson brought to him.
Combat controller Tech. Sgt. Jeffrey Bray, who also received the Silver Star, was credited with using infrared strobe lights during the night to string together an “ingenious perimeter marking system" to call in “surgical fire support,” his citation reads. “On several occasions he expertly [called in] air support less than 15 meters from his position" near Mogadishu’s Olympic Hotel.
/>Army Master Sgt. Gary Gordon and Army Sgt. 1st Class Randall Shughart were both awarded posthumous Medals of Honor, after they volunteered to be inserted to protect four critically wounded helicopter crewmembers, despite being well aware of the growing number of enemy militia closing in on the site. (Army)
Five Navy SEALs were also present during the raid, each earning a Silver Star. Several of the SEALs were part of the initial assault force, according to award citations at the time, and helped fight in and out of the crash sites.
Wasdin, the SEAL who helped capture Atto, was wounded three times during the battle.
Other U.N. members were also present and helped Americans out of the melee following the botched raid. Malaysian coalition partners suffered two dead and seven wounded, and the Pakistanis suffered two wounded, as well, according to a U.S. Army history of the battle.
The disaster triggered a SECDEF resignation
Not depicted on film is the political fallout that occurred after the battle.
In the wake of congressional scrutiny, then-Secretary of Defense Les Aspin was forced to resign. He accepted blame for his role in denying requests by commanders in Somalia to send tanks and armored vehicles prior to the failed raid.
A Senate report also later faulted then-Chairman of the Joint Chiefs Gen. Colin Powell and his staff for rejecting a request to send AC-130 gunships.
The images of Americans killed and aircraft downed prompted President Bill Clinton to withdraw combat troops from Somalia. The disaster may have also influenced Clinton’s decision not to intervene in the Rwandan genocide in 1994.
'No Man Left Behind' - The Real Black Hawk Down
The National Geographic Channel launches No Man Left Behind on Tuesday with an episode called "The Real Black Hawk Down." You can watch the first 4:40 in the video below.
The six-episode series uses interview and reenactment to tell the stories of modern war heroes and special agents who overcame the odds to survive in some of the most hostile environments on earth.
The premiere episode tells the extraordinary true-life story of the downing of two Black Hawk helicopters during a deadly battle in Mogadishu between U.S. special forces and Somali militia, an incident that inspired a best-selling book and feature film. Reunited for the first time on camera, the pilot of the downed helicopter and two of the soldiers involved in the battle recount the intense details of one of the most horrific scenes in U.S. military history since the Vietnam War.
Former U.S. Ranger Randy Ramaglia, former U.S. Ranger Keni Thomas and former Black Hawk pilot Mike Durant describe their terrifying battle for life in the 1993 operation gone horribly wrong.
The show airs Tuesday 6/28 at 9/8c on the NatGeo Channel.
Check out descriptions of the other five episodes below.
Premieres Tuesday, July 5, at 9/8c
It’s 1982, and America’s war on drugs is in full swing. In Colombia, DEA agents Charlie Martinez and Kelley McCullough’s routine surveillance operation becomes a mission to stay alive when they are ordered to go after drug kingpin Rene Benetiz. Kidnapped from their hotel, they are driven into the jungle, where they are shot and separated while trying to escape. Martinez runs off to hide, assuming McCullough is dead. But in fact, McCullough manages to escape as well, and returns to the jungle to find his wounded partner. Martinez and McCullough reunite to recount the terrifying ordeal in heart-pounding detail.
3. To Hell and Back
Premieres Tuesday, July 12, at 9/8c
Six years into the Afghan War, a select group of U.S. Green Berets attempts a daring raid on a Taliban mountain stronghold in the infamous Shok Valley. Dropped into the bottom of the steep valley, they are lured into a deadly trap, ambushed and pinned down on a ledge by fire on all sides. Heavily outgunned and outnumbered, the Green Berets sustain serious casualties. Two of the soldiers involved in the battle share their unbelievable story of survival, recalling how, both severely wounded, they managed to hold off the enemy for seven hours until they finally evacuated the wounded and returned to safety.
4. The One That Got Away
Premieres Tuesday, July 19, at 9/8c
In a covert operation during the Gulf War, eight British Special Air Services soldiers are dropped 140 miles behind enemy lines to take out a network of Saddam Hussein’s Scud missile launchers. But the mission goes terribly wrong and within days, three men are dead and four are captured. Only one man escapes. British Special Forces operative and solider Chris Ryan shares his unimaginable and harrowing journey to freedom, walking 200 miles and surviving for eight days without supplies.
In A New Movie About ɻlack Hawk Down,' Troops Tell The Story Hollywood Missed
In 1993, Michael Wetstone was a company commander in the Army's 10th Mountain Division, stationed in Somalia. On the night of the notorious "Black Hawk Down" attack, when U.S. helicopters were shot down by Somali rebels, Wetstone led his soldiers through the streets of Mogadishu on a dangerous rescue mission.
So when he went to see the Hollywood movie about the mission, he thought it might mirror his experience.
"The first night that 'Black Hawk Down' came out in theaters I was sitting with my parents in Phoenix, Arizona," Wetstone recalled. "And when I was done, I was like, are you kidding me, or WTF?"
Suffice it to say the Hollywood movie didn't match his memory. It mentions the 10th Mountain Division, but it doesn't depict the rescue mission as it actually happened -- how soldiers started off in open-air trucks, came under heavy fire, and had to turn back. How they negotiated with Malaysian UN troops to use their trucks and their drivers instead.
The scene that really bothered Wetstone was the ending. He remembers soldiers running to a meeting place to get picked up and counting to make sure they didn't leave anyone behind. In the movie, soldiers who couldn't fit in the rescue vehicles have to run and fight their way back to safety.
"The way they portrayed it was just a heroic fight running back through the middle of the streets that just didn't happen," Wetstone said.
"Black Hawk Down," produced and directed by acclaimed filmmaker Ridley Scott, won two Academy Awards and was a box office smash.
"But it was Hollywood, there were all these composite characters," said Randall Larsen, a retired Air Force colonel and former professor at the National War College.
Larsen - a documentary filmmaker himself - said the more he learned about the 10th Mountain Division’s rescue effort, the more he realized that their story had gotten lost.
"When people do things to serve their country, they should get the credit for it," he said.
So Larsen decided to produce his own film about the mission. In his new documentary, "Black Hawk Down: The Untold Story," members of the 10th Mountain Division do get that credit. It’s a narrative play-by-play of how the rescue unfolded, with animated maps, historical footage, and documentary-style interviews.
Larsen hopes to share "Black Hawk Down: The Untold Story" with a much larger audience. He's partnered with a national media company and said he is in negotiations with potential distributors.
Retired Brigadier General Bill David led the 10th Mountain Division’s rescue effort. He said his soldiers have struggled for years to explain what happened to them during the mission.
"I mean it's one of these things like 'what did you do in the war, Daddy?'" David said. "It's hard to explain to your children and your other family members what really happened if it's not supported by some kind of independent means."
He hopes the film can change that.
"I think this documentary has the potential to give the soldiers who were involved in this chapter of American history some closure for the contribution they made that did not gain much public recognition," David said.
This story was produced by the American Homefront Project, a public media collaboration that reports on American military life and veterans. Funding comes from the Corporation for Public Broadcasting.
The Real Story of Black Hawk Down
You have likely seen the Oscar-winning Hollywood version of Black Hawk Down but what you may not know is that the 2001 film starring Josh Hartnett and Ewan McGregor is actually based on a very real and true story.
The film and book (of the same title) are based on an actual event which happened Oct. 3, 1993 called the Battle of Mogadishu. U.S. Army Best Ranger, Jeff Struecker, was one of the inspirations for the story being shared on screens across the globe. "A few months after returning, my commander instructed me to do an interview with a reporter to help with historical facts about it. That interview, with reporter Mark Bowden from the Philadelphia Inquirer, became the book and then the movie Black Hawk Down," he says.
In honor of the battle's 20th anniversary, Struecker returned to Mogadishu -- still one of the world's most dangerous cities. Why? To relive the battle, retrace their route and, hopefully, to inspire even more people. He brought a film crew on his journey so they could share an updated and genuine look at where both Mogadishu and Struecker are today. A brand new short film about his adventure, Return to Mogadishu: Remembering Black Hawk Down, is available starting this Friday, Sept. 13 at ReturntoMogadishu.com, YouTube and Vimeo.
The short film's producer Mary Beth Minnis and Director Matt Knighton created this film after learning the inspiring story about Struecker facing down potential death by leaning on his faith during the brutal fighting. This routine military mission that Struecker took twenty years ago went horribly awry, but changed his life forever for the better in the process of facing death head-on.
Visit ReturntoMogadishu.com for more information, to view the trailer and to see the world premiere of this special film this Friday.
Photo courtesy Mary Beth Minnis.
The views expressed do not necessarily reflect the opinion of Creative Visions Foundation. Personal opinion of the author only.