Editor’s Note: This is the first article in a two-part series about the 10th Mountain Division’s involvement 20 years ago in the Battle of Mogadishu, Oct. 3-4, 1993. To read part two, CLICK HERE.
For 10th Mountain Division (LI) veterans who served 20 years ago 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 memories as much as the stench, darkness and unmistakable bleakness of Somalia’s capital city.
Veterans of the vicious fight Oct. 3-4, 1993 — 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 Facebook profiles, some describe themselves as 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, 192nd Infantry Brigade senior enlisted adviser, referring to 2nd Battalion, 14th Infantry Regiment, 10th Mountain Division.
Another veteran of that battle, one who later served in Iraq with the 82nd Airborne Division, said nothing matches the kind of respect he still holds for the command team that led him in Mogadishu.
“I would follow (them) through the gates of hell, as would most of the troops who served under them,” said Steven R. Whittredge, an English teacher from the Boston area who served in Somalia as a radio operator for 1st Platoon, A Company, 2-14 Infantry.
“I am still in awe over the team that came together for what we had to accomplish in Somalia,” added Col. Drew Meyerowich, then A Company commander and now director of the U.S. Army’s Command and General Staff School at Fort Leavenworth, Kan. “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.
Rangers and other members of TFR immediately engaged in a deadly, block-by-block battle in an attempt to reach the first crash site and secure it.
When the second Black Hawk went down, hundreds of Somalis converged on the scene. Not long after, two volunteer TFR snipers were inserted to stave off the heavily armed mob.
By this time, commanders from TFR headquarters at the Mogadishu Airport had placed their call for outside assistance, according to retired Brig. Gen. William C. David, then a lieutenant colonel who commanded the “Golden Dragons” of 2-14 Infantry — the ground component of the 10th Mountain Division’s Quick Reaction Force.
The QRF arrived at the airport after 4 p.m., around the time that a TFR contingent was returning with wounded members of the assault team in tow.
David and his S-3, Maj. Mike Ellerbe, were briefed in the operations center. Within minutes, David’s tactical command post (TAC CP) and the Soldiers of C Company, commanded by Capt. Mike Whetstone, were on their way to the second crash site.
At the K-4 Circle intersection, the column was ambushed.
“The bad guys had a tendency to kind of close in around crash sites,” David said, “because they knew we were going to come to them.”
Taking heavy direct fire, the convoy scattered. The Golden Dragons returned fire.
At 2-14 Infantry headquarters about a mile away, Soldiers with A Company, standing on the back of five-ton trucks, could see helicopters, tracer rounds and explosions in the darkening skyline.
“I was getting very anxious to get on the ground and help,” recalled Glenn, a 60-mm mortar squad leader at the time.
The dismounted firefight intensified at K-4 Circle. U.S. Soldiers endured a storm of withering rocket, mortar and small-arms fire. At least an hour passed before David accepted that his men were outgunned and a different avenue of approach would have to be determined.
David and Whetstone had their men break contact. They reconsolidated and eventually linked up with Meyerowich and his company of Soldiers.
Meanwhile, Master Sgt. Gary Gordon and Sgt. 1st Class Randall Shughart, the two snipers dropped off near the second crash site, were eventually overrun. Somalis killed all U.S. Soldiers at the second site except for “Super Six Four” pilot, then-Chief Warrant Officer 3 Michael Durant, whom they took prisoner.
Shughart and Gordon posthumously received the Medal of Honor.
The Golden Dragons had arrived in Mogadishu in August 1993. Although attached to United Nations Operation in Somalia II (UNOSOM II), the QRF was under the operational control of Col. Lawrence Casper, 10th Aviation Brigade, “Task Force Falcon” commander.
Several smaller elements of the 10th Mountain Division fell under the QRF as well, including 1st Battalion, 87th Infantry Regiment; 46th Forward Support Battalion; 2nd Battalion, 25th Aviation Regiment; and 41st Engineer Battalion.
Internal to 2-14 Infantry, David and his senior enlisted adviser, Command Sgt. Maj. Gerard “Jerry” 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.
Each company consisted of mobile gun sections, M35 “deuce and a half” trucks and Humvees that included two turtlebacks, two .50-caliber machine guns and two MK-19 grenade launchers.
By the time C Company and A Company reached the new port, it was dark. Thousands of Somalis now filled the streets near the crash sites, pinning down the Americans in one of the most dangerous areas of the city.
As conditions continued deteriorating, nearly 100 Rangers took up defensive positions in buildings and in the growing shadows of nightfall at the northern crash site. 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.
Without mechanized vehicles, David began organizing multinational support. He wanted a rock-hard rescue convoy, capable of punching through barricades, machine-gun fire and the ever-thickening perimeter of kill zones that surrounded U.S. forces trapped in the Aidid stronghold.
David stood under a bunch of flashlights to hammer out a plan. In addition to a few other U.S. elements and the cover of attack helicopters, the convoy needed to integrate a Pakistani tank platoon and armored personnel carriers (APC) from two Malaysian infantry companies.
Putting together 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.
The U.S. led a United Nations-sanctioned multinational force to Somalia in December 1992. Unified Tasked Force (UNITAF), codenamed Operation Restore Hope, achieved some level of success through early 1993, and mass starvations that had claimed hundreds of thousands of Somalis stopped.
By summer, UNITAF transitioned leadership back to the United Nations. International efforts to help restore order were renamed UNOSOM II, codenamed Operation Continue Hope in the U.S.
Shortly after thousands of U.S. service members withdrew, however, Aidid became openly hostile.
In June 1993, militia presumed to be loyal to Aidid killed two dozen Pakistani peacekeepers.
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 Division’s 10th Aviation Brigade.
Even though stopping Aidid had become the focus of several elite U.S. units, U.N.-led efforts were still concentrated on restoring order, providing relief, rebuilding infrastructure and constructing some semblance of a government — not throwing together massive multinational rescue operations in the dark.
‘We were going in’
“Black Hawk Down,” the book by Mark Bowden and the Hollywood movie that followed, captured the intensity and chilling dread of the Battle of Mogadishu, especially as it related to members of Task Force Ranger, according to 2-14 Infantry 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.
By 11 p.m., a long rescue column of armored vehicles was ready to roll out. The order of movement was A Company, TAC CP, C Company.
Meanwhile, David had ordered B Company, which had been conducting live-fire urban warfare training at an old Somali army site, to stand ready.
At the port, Meyerowich said the sense of urgency was palpable leading up to departure.
Glenn said the Soldiers were itching to join the fight.
“The anticipation of getting on the ground was killing me,” he recalled.
Whittredge said he remembers overhearing that the Somalis were fighting back in numbers no one had seen before.
“We were going in,” he said.
Helicopter 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, 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. As rounds began pinging off the sides of Whittredge’s APC, he said the M-60 gunner opened up 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. Glenn said lead elements continuously dismounted to clear obstacles on the barricaded roads.
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 of fire from the enemy, the column tried to move again.
Then, due to a breakdown in communications, two Malaysian APCs carrying elements of 2nd Platoon, A Company, accidentally turned off course. The lead Pakistani tank continued, and the rest of the convoy followed behind the tank. The two APCs were immediately ambushed.
Spec. J.T. Cooper, an M-60 gunner with 2nd Platoon, said both APCs were destroyed and several Pakistani troops and American Soldiers were wounded, including Sgt. Cornell L. Houston, a combat engineer with 41st Engineer Battalion attached to 2-14 Infantry.
Combat ineffective and facing an enemy intent on killing them, the Soldiers got ready to dismount and seek cover.
“The most scared I’ve ever been in my life,” Cooper said, “was hearing the AK-47 bullets rattling off the side of the vehicle and knowing I had to open the door and get out.”
Everyone in the APC ran out and huddled on one side of the street. Combat engineers blew a hole in a wall. The Soldiers took cover in a courtyard.
Intense fighting ensued.
Members of the other APC found shelter on the other side of the street.
Cooper said if not for the presence of AH-6 Little Birds flying missions overhead, he would not have lived through the night. C Company, which had fought an intense battle into the second crash site only to find no trace of the Black Hawk crew, linked up with the stranded Soldiers by daybreak.
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.
The convoy reached its designated release point on National Street. A Company turned right to the northern crash site, C Company turned left to the southern crash site and David situated the TAC CP in between the two.
A Company dismounted roughly five blocks from the Olympic Hotel, near the Rangers’ original target location.
Enemy fire was so overwhelming that Glenn, who years later led 2-14 Infantry in Iraq as the battalion’s command sergeant major, called it “probably the most intense 15 minutes of my life.”
A destroyed U.S. five-ton truck burned in the road nearby as the Soldiers organized and moved up the street in a line.
The leftover elements of 2nd Platoon took lead, then 1st Platoon and then 3rd Platoon.
It was a moving gun battle, most intense 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 calling for a medevac.
It was for Pfc. James Henry Martin Jr.
Whittredge told his platoon leader; the lieutenant told him to keep it to himself for now.
(Read about the rest of the Battle of Mogadishu and its aftermath by CLICKING HERE