For veterans of the 10th Mountain Division (Light Infantry) who served 20 years ago this week in the Battle of Mogadishu, thoughts of bravery, sacrifice, and one of the most paramount tenets of their Soldier’s Creed: “I will never leave a fallen comrade,” sear their memories just as much as the stench, darkness and unmistakable bleakness of Somalia’s capital city.
Veterans of that vicious battle — some of them still in U.S. Army uniform — consider that experience in the Horn of Africa one of their greatest educations in life. On their Facebook profiles, some of them even describe themselves as 1993 graduates of the “University of Mogadishu.”
“I had the opportunity to serve in one of the best battalions in the Army during the most influential and developmental years of my career,” said Command Sgt. Maj. Clyde A. Glenn, who recently completed more than three years as 192nd Infantry Brigade command sergeant major at Fort Benning, Ga.
In Somalia, Glenn was a sergeant and 60mm mortar squad leader with Company A, 2nd Battalion, 14th Infantry Regiment, 10th Mtn. Div. More than a decade after the Battle of Mogadishu, he returned to the battalion — leading the “Golden Dragons” as the 2nd Bn., 14th Inf. Regt. command sergeant major during a 15-month deployment to Iraq.
“I have never served in a better organization in my 25 years,” said Glenn, adding that he aspired to be the kind of leader in Iraq that Command Sgt. Maj. Gerard “Jerry” Counts was for the Soldiers of the battalion in October 1993.
One Soldier who later served with other Army units, including while deployed to Iraq with the 82nd Airborne Div. in 2003 and 2004, said nothing ever matched the kind of respect he held for the battalion’s command team in Mogadishu.
“I would follow Lt. Col. David and Command Sgt. Maj. Counts through the gates of hell, as would most of the troops who served under them,” said Steven R. Whittredge, then a specialist who served as radio operator for Co. A’s 1st Platoon.
Col. Drew Meyerowich, now director of the U.S. Army’s Command and General Staff School in Fort Leavenworth, Kan., was the commander of Co. A during the brutal Oct. 3-4 battle.
“I am still in awe over the team that came together for what we had to accomplish in Somalia,” Meyerowich said. “Throughout my career, this team has been the standard for me as far as professionalism, dedication and excellence.”
A call for help
On the afternoon of Oct. 3, 1993, elite U.S Soldiers conducted a raid in downtown Mogadishu to capture top lieutenants of General Mohamed Farrah Aidid, a ruthless Somali warlord at the time.
The operation in the city’s dangerous Bakara Market area disintegrated into chaos after rocket-propelled grenades downed two of Task Force Ranger’s MH-60L Black
Hawks — the first one roughly four blocks north of the target location; the second some 10 blocks south of the target. As soon as the first helicopter went down, Rangers and other members of TFR fought a deadly battle, one block at a time, in an attempt to reach and secure the first crash site. They made it, just after an AH-6 Little Bird dropped in to secure it as well. At the second crash site, with hundreds of Somalis enclosing quickly, two volunteer snipers with TFR were inserted to stave off the incensed mob.
A call from TFR for outside assistance came around the time that the second Black Hawk was shot down, according to retired Brig. Gen. William C. David, then a lieutenant colonel who commanded 2nd Bn., 14th Inf. Regt. — the ground component of the 10th Mtn. Div.’s quick reaction force. David had assumed command of the “Golden Dragons” in December 1991. The battalion arrived in Mogadishu in August 1993 and was based at the University of Mogadishu compound by the U.S. Embassy.
Although attached to United Nations Operation in Somalia II, the QRF was under the operational control of Col. Lawrence Casper, 10th Aviation Brigade “Task Force Falcon” commander.
Internal to the battalion, David and Counts had set up all three rifle companies on rotating 72-hour shifts, from a mission cycle to a training cycle to a rest and refit cycle. In addition to mobile gun sections, each company consisted of M35 “deuce and a half” trucks and Humvees that included two turtlebacks, two .50-caliber machineguns and two MK-19 grenade launchers.
Before the first Black Hawk went down, Co. C had been put on alert and ordered to TFR headquarters at the Mogadishu Airport. Members of Co. C and David’s tactical command post were rolling when the second Black Hawk was shot down.
The QRF arrived at the airport after 4 p.m. David and his S-3, Maj. Mike Ellerbe, were quickly briefed inside the task force’s operations center.
A TFR contingent had just returned to the airport with wounded members of the task force’s assault team in tow. Minutes later, the TAC CP and Co. C, which was commanded by Capt. Mike Whetstone, were on their way to the second crash site.
At the K-4 Circle intersection, the column was ambushed.
Taking heavy direct fire, the convoy scattered and broke up, and the “Golden Dragons” returned fire.
“The bad guys had a tendency to kind of close in around crash sites, because they knew we were going to come to them,” David said.
Standing on the back of a five-ton truck at the university compound, Soldiers with Co. A could see helicopter activity, tracer rounds and explosions about a mile away in the darkening skyline.
“I was getting very anxious to get on the ground and help,” Glenn recalled. “I never realized how serious the battle was that was taking place and how serious it would get for me soon.”
As the dismounted firefight intensified and the Soldiers at the K-4 Circle endured the storm of withering small-arms and rocket fire, David began to accept that his men were outgunned and outmanned. After at least an hour of fighting, he considered a different avenue of approach to the crash sites.
The QRF broke contact to reconsolidate with Co. A, which David had ordered on standby.
Meanwhile, Master Sgt. Gary Gordon and Sgt. 1st Class Randall Shughart, the two snipers dropped off near the second crash site, were overrun by the Somalis. All U.S. Soldiers at the second site were killed except “Super Six Four” pilot, then-Chief Warrant Officer 2 Michael Durant, whom they took prisoner. Shughart and Gordon posthumously received the Medal of Honor.
By the time Co. C pulled back and linked up with Co. A at the port, it was dark. Americans were wounded and vulnerable in one of the most dangerous areas of the city. Thousands of Somalis were in the streets now, and the situation continued to deteriorate.
It was assumed that the southern crash site had been overrun. At the northern crash site, nearly 100 Rangers had taken up defensive positions in buildings and in the growing shadows of nightfall. They treated their wounded and worked to free “Super Six One” MH-60L pilot Chief Warrant Officer Cliff Wolcott’s remains from the wreckage — all while holding off an onslaught of Somalis frantic to reach them.
Back at the airport, without mechanized vehicles, David began organizing multinational support. He wanted a rock-hard rescue convoy capable of punching through barricades, machinegun fire and the ever-thickening perimeter of kill zones that surrounded U.S. forces trapped in the Aidid stronghold.
In addition to a few other U.S. elements and the cover of attack helicopters, the convoy would need to integrate a Pakistani tank platoon and armored personnel carriers from two Malaysian infantry companies.
After scrambling to the port several miles up the road, the Americans met their Malaysian and Pakistani counterparts. The distressing sounds of battle in the pitch black not much more than a mile or two away raged on. David stood under a bunch of flashlights, plotted a hasty but synchronized plan, and then ensured it was disseminated to commanders, platoon leaders, noncommissioned officers and the handful of interpreters.
Integrating the coalition took time. Since arriving a little more than a month earlier, the “Golden Dragons” had never even trained with the foreign forces.
U.N. operations in Somalia had been mostly focused on nation-building since a civil war ravaged the countryside in the early 1990s, leaving most of the nation in agricultural ruin. As the situation worsened, UNOSOM I was established in the spring of 1992 to monitor a U.N.-brokered ceasefire while also spearheading emergency humanitarian relief.
But Somali clans — most prominently one led by Aidid — not only continued to fight, but they also thwarted international relief efforts, even hijacking shipments bound for people starving to death.
To deal with the lawlessness, the U.S. led a United Nations-sanctioned multinational force to Somalia in December 1992. The Unified Tasked Force, codenamed Operation Restore Hope, achieved some level of success through early 1993. Mass starvations that had claimed hundreds of thousands of Somalis stopped. By summer, the U.S.-controlled UNITAF transitioned leadership back to the United Nations. International efforts to help restore order were renamed United Nations Operation in Somalia II, codenamed Operation Continue Hope in the United Sates.
Shortly after thousands of U.S. Marines left the country, Aidid began attacking outside forces. In June 1993, two dozen Pakistani peacekeepers were killed by militia presumed to be associated with Aidid. On Sept. 25, three U.S. Soldiers were killed after an RPG took down their Black Hawk east of the port. One of the Soldiers, Sgt. Ferdinan C. Richardson, was an intelligence analyst with the 10th Mountain Div.’s 10th Aviation Bde.
Even though capturing or killing Aidid had become the mission of several elite U.S. units, UNOSOM II was still concentrated on continuing to restore order, provide relief efforts, rebuild infrastructure and construct some semblance of a government — not throwing together massive, multinational rescue operations on the fly.
No one vantage point in combat
Black Hawk Down, the book by Mark Bowden and the Hollywood movie that followed, well captured the intensity and bone-chilling dread of the Battle of Mogadishu, especially as it related to members of Task Force Ranger, according to 2nd Bn., 14th Inf. veterans.
But, as with any account of battle, viewpoints and perspectives are hopelessly imperfect.
David said all who have been in combat would probably agree that everything they experienced depended on their unique assignment, their individual actions and the battlefield’s many vantage points.
The Soldiers were itching to join the fight. “The anticipation of getting on the ground was killing me,” Glenn recalled. Meyerowich confirmed that there was a powerful and ever-present feeling among the Soldiers that they needed to hurry and move out.
The frantic planning and coordination continued at the port while Soldiers learned more about their new partners, such as the simple task of getting in and out of the Malaysian APCs.
Whittredge said he remembers hearing at the port that the Somalis were fighting back in numbers no one had seen before.
“We were going in,” he said.
By 11 p.m., a long rescue column of armored vehicles was ready to roll out. The order of movement was Co. A, TAC CP, Co. C.
David had ordered Co. B back from live-fire urban warfare training at an old Somali army site to gear up and be ready if called on. Gunships with Task Force Falcon and 160th Special Operations Aviation Regiment buzzed above and ahead of the column as it turned north toward National Street, a large east-west avenue in the center of the city.
Inside the APCs, Soldiers could barely make out the faces of those in front of them. In the darkness, and with no way to see outside, they listened hard for clues.
In time, small-arms and rocket fire broke the silence near the head of the convoy. Soon, rounds were pinging off the sides of the APCs. In Whittredge’s APC, the M-60 gunner opened up fire through one of the small gun ports.
“It was the loudest noise I had ever heard,” Whittredge said. “Everyone told him not to do it again.”
A few minutes passed and things seemed to quiet down. Lead elements continuously dismounted to clear obstacles in the road. Several blocks later, a much larger portion of the convoy came under heavy fire. The vehicles slowed. Mounted gunners returned fire. Under a steady barrage from the enemy, the column tried to move again.
Then, due to a breakdown in communications, two Malaysian APCs carrying elements of Co. A’s 2nd platoon turned off course and were ambushed. The lead Pakistani tank continued, and the rest of the convoy followed behind the tank.
Then Spc. J.T. Cooper, an M-60 gunner with 2nd platoon, said both APCs were destroyed. The ambush left several Pakistani troops and American Soldiers wounded, including Sgt. Cornell L. Houston, a combat engineer with 41st Engineer Bn. attached to 2nd Bn., 14th Inf. Regt.
Rendered combat ineffective and facing an enemy intent on killing them, the Soldiers knew they needed to dismount and seek cover.
“The most scared I’ve ever been in my life was hearing the AK-47 bullets rattling off the side of the vehicle and knowing I had to open the door and get out,” Cooper said.
Everyone in his APC ran out and huddled on one side of the street as combat engineers blew a hole in a wall. They took cover in a courtyard and intense fighting ensued. Members of the other APC found shelter on the other side of the street.
Cooper said the AH-6 Little Birds flying missions overhead was the only reason they survived to link up early the next morning with Co. C, which had fought an intense battle into the second crash site only to discover there was no trace of the Black Hawk crew.
More than half of the 14 Pakistani and American men ambushed in the incident were killed or wounded. Cooper, who was cross-trained as a combat medic, said despite working through the night on Houston, he would die a few days later in Germany.
Golden Dragons’ first KIA
The convoy reached its designated release point on National Street. Co. A turned right to the northern crash site, Co. C turned left to the southern crash site and David situated the TAC CP roughly in between the two crash sites.
Co. A dismounted roughly five blocks from the Olympic Hotel, near the Rangers’ original target location. With a destroyed U.S. five-ton truck burning in the road near them, the company organized and moved up the street in a line, with the leftover elements of 2nd platoon taking the lead, then 1st platoon and then 3rd platoon.
“The first 15 minutes on the ground was probably the most intense 15 minutes of my life,” Glenn said. “The enemy fire was so overwhelming.”
Whittredge said the moving gun battle got very intense, mostly up at the front of the column, but making its way to the middle.
At one point, a lieutenant came through saying 2nd platoon was hung up at the front. Whittredge heard chatter on his radio, asking for a medevac. It was for Pfc. James Henry Martin Jr. Whittredge told his platoon leader, who told him to keep it to himself.
Minutes later, the Soldiers were taking and returning considerable fire involving the Olympic Hotel, nearby buildings and alleyways. Some Soldiers stopped to render aid to casualties. An M-60 gunner began firing his weapon from the hip towards the hotel.
Whittredge said that after losing Martin, the company commander was in no mood for reckless behavior. He said Meyerowich grabbed the gunner and, in a flurry of expletives, explained that he should not do it again.
With the company severely pinned down, several Soldiers scrambled to employ the MK-19. With devastating effect, the grenade launcher was fired on the hotel.
“Soon after,” Whittredge recalled, “I remember seeing the entire facade of the hotel begin to explode, with clouds of smoke and chunks of concrete falling everywhere.”
The massive explosions and the din from small-arms fire caused several Soldiers to temporarily lose their hearing.
Enemy fire from the hotel quieted to almost nothing. Soldiers of 1st platoon then took point. The lead element of the platoon linked up with the Rangers. Then, a company perimeter was set up around the Rangers.
The defensive position suppressed enemy fire throughout the night as U.S. forces, combined with the strafing close fire support of AH-1 Cobra and AH-6 Little Bird attack helicopters, fought until dawn to free Wolcott’s body from the wreckage.
By dawn, the casualties were loaded on APCs bound for a soccer stadium where the Pakistanis were based. With little room left, Soldiers who could still fight were forced to follow on foot with the APCs providing rolling cover.
Back at the airport, Co. B Soldiers had stayed awake through the night, receiving bits and pieces of information along the way, feeling helpless and sidelined. By morning, medical evacuation helicopters began appearing and the Soldiers would learn that a member of their battalion had been killed.
Jeffrey Kienlen, an M-60 gunner for Co. B’s 2nd Platoon, who knew Martin, said everyone was frustrated that they were not able to join the fight. “(And) we were now ashamed that our brothers were out there fighting, dying and getting wounded, while we did nothing,” he lamented.
Everybody was in various states of shock and confusion at the Pakistani stadium, Cooper said. On the ground, at least 100 litters were set out for triaging and sending casualties to hospitals on ships. “One thing that I will never forget will be that huge silence there,” Cooper said. “Out across that field of litters, and at one end of the soccer stadium, they got black bags lined up. You know that somewhere in those black bags is your best friend in the world. There’s no way to understand that feeling.”
Cooper and Martin had gone through training together at Fort Benning, Ga., before becoming roommates at Fort Drum.
While at Fort Benning, Cooper got a call that his little brother had died. The platoon took up a collection for Cooper, the platoon guide, and gathered enough for him to fly home. When he returned, after lights out at night, he said he would sit in the showers and cry.
“Martin came in and sat on the other side of the showers, just so I wouldn’t cry by myself,” Cooper said. “He never would say anything. He’d just come in there and sit.”
In Somalia, three days after the battle, Cooper wrote the eulogy for Martin during a ceremony at the university compound.
Into the valley we led the way. Fighting on we earned our pay. For the life we choose there’s no regret. And when winning the battles even better yet. Stories come and stories go. But the only ones who will ever know. Have walked the path and met a man. Then stolen their life from his dying hand. With each victory there is a cost. For something gained there’s something lost. Should this be my final breath. Lord may I die a Warrior’s Death.
The Right of the Line
Task Force Ranger lost 16 Soldiers and saw 57 wounded during the two-day battle. The 2nd Bn., 14th Inf. Regt. suffered two dead and 22 wounded. It would be the U.S. military’s costliest firefight since the Vietnam War until U.S. Marines fought in the Second Battle of Fallujah in 2004.
“We took some pretty tough shots that night,” David said. “But I would like to think that we gave better than we took.”
David said he was very proud of the hundreds of Soldiers he served with that night in Mogadishu. He said the battalion accomplished its mission with a minimum loss of life and minimum casualties.
“Tactically, we executed exactly as we had planned it, even though it was a very hasty plan,” he said. “There were no fratricides. We didn’t run out of ammo. We didn’t leave anybody behind.”
The battalion’s actions in the battle have significantly impacted not only the 10th Mtn. Div.’s proud history but also on those outside of the division.
Matthew P. Eversmann, then a chalk leader with Co. B, 3rd Bn., 75th Ranger Regt., said the 10th Mtn. Div. lived up to the Army’s warrior ethos of never leaving a fallen comrade.
“When I think back on the battle in Mogadishu 20 years ago, I am still amazed that any of us made it out of that city,” the former Ranger said. “The combined efforts of Task Force Ranger and the 2-14 Soldiers under fire were remarkable.
“(And) when I think about (the battalion’s) virtually ‘no notice’ mission to head out to support us, I am thankful that those warriors were there to answer the call,” Eversmann added. “God bless them always.”
Veterans of the battle say conditions on the ground tapped every instinct, innovation and reserve in Soldiers from private to commander.
The courage and perseverance to fight through to their objectives under the constant threat of death earned each “Golden Dragon” a place of honor at the “right of the line” — the 2nd Bn., 14th Inf. Regt.’s regimental motto that denotes the unit’s frontline bravery during the Civil War.
Meyerowich, writing just days after the Battle of Mogadishu, told the loved ones of Co. A that his men fought bravely in the city, for nearly eight hours, ensuring that nobody was left behind.
“Leaving American Soldiers to die behind enemy lines has never been (nor) ever will be acceptable to our armed forces,” Meyerowich wrote. “Your sons or husbands fought without question, just as they would expect the Rangers to do for us.
“You should be proud of your son or husband,” he said. “Almost 100 Rangers will forever be in their debt.”