Soldiers of 2nd Battalion, 14th Infantry Regiment, 2nd Brigade Combat Team, 10th Mountain Division (LI), run the “Mogadishu Mile” on Oct. 5 at Fort Drum, New York, to recreate the actions taken by Golden Dragon veterans 25 years ago during the Battle of Mogadishu, Somalia. Some of those veterans gathered Oct. 3-5 at Fort Drum to observe the anniversary and reunite with their comrades. (U.S. Army photo by Capt. Matthew Pargett)
Soldiers, veterans of 2-14 Infantry recall
Battle of Mogadishu 25 years later
Staff Sgt. Paige Behringer
2nd Brigade Combat Team, 10th Mountain Division Public Affairs
FORT DRUM, N.Y. – The unrelenting passage of time carries each event from the immediate moment and continuously drives it deeper into history.
The same revolution shifting today into yesterday likewise transports old and new generations of Soldiers through the same organizations within the Army. While Soldiers come and go, the units and their history remain.
Some present-day “Golden Dragons” of the 2nd Battalion, 14th Infantry Regiment, were not yet born a quarter of a century ago when the unit was supporting Operation Restore Hope in Mogadishu, Somalia.
This 2nd Brigade Combat Team, 10th Mountain Division (LI) battalion was tasked to operate as the quick reaction force during what is considered the U.S. military’s costliest and longest sustained firefight since the Vietnam War. This year marks its 25th anniversary.
“They yelled ‘Get it on!’ I remember,” said retired Staff Sgt. Wesley Shivers, a former infantryman with C Company, 2-14 Infantry. “It was the person we had on (charge of quarters) that day. He came running down the hall and just yelled, ‘Get it on!’ … We knew what he meant, but we had no idea what was going on.”
Golden Dragons of today and yesterday gathered Oct. 3-5 at Fort Drum, New York, to transport their piece of history to the present as they remember the mission and honor the fallen.
“We are really welcomed here,” said former Cpl. Paul Hutta, an infantryman with A Company, 2-14 Infantry. “I think it’s important that we continue on with this tradition, with the history of this unit. It’s 25 years later. There’s still a lot of us around to tell the story, and we’re going to tell it as long as we can, for sure.”
Quick Reaction Force
The events of Oct. 3 and 4, 1993, were branded the “Battle of Mogadishu,” and later memorialized in the film “Black Hawk Down.” Although the movie focuses on a raid led by Task Force Ranger, the Golden Dragons kept QRF on standby and mobilized when the Rangers mission went awry.
“When we linked up with those guys, they were almost out of ammo, had no water, their mission planning was for a short duration and they had been stuck there for 16 hours,” said retired Staff Sgt. Ian Morrison, a former squad leader with A Company, 2-14. “If we hadn’t been there, they wouldn’t have made it out.”
Since 2-14 Infantry arrived in Somalia, each line company rotated duties through QRF, support and main supply route guard. At any given time, there were Golden Dragons ready to move.
“We had already had two big fire fights before that,” Shivers added. “We knew what to expect.”
Different Seasons and ‘The Call’
The initial Task Force Ranger mission began in Mogadishu’s Bakaara Market and went south after two of their MH-60L Black Hawk helicopters were downed by enemy fire. The Rangers were stuck in a bad position, and the Golden Dragons were called in shortly after the second crash.
Soldiers on QRF duty had to stay within a certain area close by, just in case.
“I was sitting on my cot reading a book,” Shivers recalled. “One of Stephen King’s books, ‘Different Seasons.’ We had some guys that were playing volleyball right outside.”
The call was a catalyst setting dominoes into motion. Golden Dragons grabbed their gear, loaded into the trucks and waited for further instructions.
“I remember sitting on the trucks saying to the Soldier across from me, ‘I bet you 20 bucks we don’t even go out today,’ even though we could see helicopters and stuff going crazy downtown,” said former Spc. Steven Whittredge, a radio operator with A Company, 2-14 Infantry.
Once they got moving, 2-14 Infantry took the newly altered main supply route around the city to begin staging at the Mogadishu Airport. The original 20-minute route through Mogadishu recently had been changed after an attack on American troops.
After loading up with extra ammunition, the Golden Dragons began moving toward both crash sites and quickly ran into trouble.
“We (were) in open air trucks, Black Hawks down, we knew we were going to get ambushed on the way out, and that’s exactly what happened,” Shivers remembered. “We had to fight our way back. They stopped us cold; there was nothing we could do. We had to fight our way back to the airfield and reconsolidate.”
Adapting to the challenge, Soldiers boarded armored personnel carriers driven by Malaysian troops, and they resumed the mission around 11 that night.
Houston and the Lost Platoon
Although the new method of transportation allowed a safer entry, the execution left a margin of error when the lead vehicle’s driver – unfamiliar with the city – made a wrong turn, and the second APC followed.
“We asked for mechanized support months, maybe weeks before, and then this (battle) happened and the stuff started coming in,” Hutta recalled. “We were prepared for it, because we had some great men. We were going to go in there and take care of it, and we did. If we would have had that mechanized support, we would have been better off.”
Hutta was in the displaced element or “lost platoon,” along with Sgt. Cornell Houston, a 41st Engineer Battalion Soldier attached to the Golden Dragons, who was killed in action.
“The door opened, we all jumped out,” said former Spc. Gary Blanton, a medic with A Company, 2-14 Infantry, who rode in the convoy’s third APC. “I remember looking ahead, and the other APCs weren’t in front of us.”
Blanton asked the noncommissioned officer in charge of him where everyone else was, but no one knew.
“He said basically to assume that they’re gone,” Blanton added. “Me being their medic, that’s not acceptable. Those are my men that are inside of there and I’m responsible for their health.”
After his moment of confusion, Blanton began to head out with the rest of his squad to clear a roadblock, but he didn’t get far.
“I remember that same (NCO) told me to stop, and he said ‘No Doc, not you,’” Blanton continued. “I said ‘Why?’ and he said, ‘You’re the medic, we may need you.’ He put me back in the APC with the door open.”
Blanton stayed in the APC with the Malaysian driver and gunner, tapping the gunner’s leg when he saw his squad shooting in a certain direction, to signal where the gunner should fire.
“The (M60 machine gun) jammed and Martin came over … as the assistant gunner to lay suppressive fire until the gun got back up,” Blanton said. “I saw Martin slump back against the steps, and I knew something was wrong.”
Blanton and another medic were trying to save Pfc. James “Jimmy” Martin when another Soldier was hit nearby.
“When he was guarding me, that round went through his weapon, then through his shoulder muscle, and I remember the instincts and the training kick in on me,” Blanton said. “I cut the weapon off Martin, and I give him Martin’s weapon. I made one mistake. I look back and see him wiping Martin’s blood off that weapon. I should never have handed him that weapon in that condition.”
Despite Blanton’s efforts, his friend Martin was killed in action on Oct. 3, 1993, during the battle of Mogadishu, bringing the Golden Dragons casualty count to two.
Fighting Out and the Mogadishu Mile
Daybreak arrived as the QRF finished recovering casualties from both crash sites, but their numbers were hurting from the long night of fighting. Every force in the battle – Golden Dragons, Rangers, and Malaysian troops – had sustained additional casualties throughout the mission.
“There wasn’t enough room,” Shivers said. “We didn’t have enough vehicles to push everybody out.”
The Golden Dragons needed to get from the crash sites to the rally point at a soccer stadium where Pakistani troops were staged, but the APCs were full of Soldiers wounded or killed in action.
Additional vehicles were waiting at National Street, but the Soldiers had to get there first.
So they just ran.
“We had to fight to get between the crash site and National Street,” Whittredge said. “There were sporadic breaks in contact with the lead elements of the company, and I remember you would have to stop and fight, and then you would have to run and catch up. That’s kind of how the whole Mogadishu Mile thing came about.”
Shivers was able to find a ride, and he laid across the back seats in a vehicle while firing his weapon out the window.
Whittredge and Blanton were both on foot, but they made slow progress, continuously crossing alleys along the way. Every Soldier on foot had to stop as another shot back at the enemy to suppress their fire. Once the Soldiers got across, they provided cover so the next Soldier could get across the open alley safely.
“We kept moving, but we really had to run to catch up, and at that point, everybody else was so far ahead we were pretty much running the whole way,” Whittredge said.
It was not easy, but they made it.
“It’s important that we don’t forget those things, because we lost a lot of guys that night,” Shivers said. “If we were to be put in that same situation then knowing what we … learned that night, there’s a good chance that it would have had a different outcome.”
A Quarter Century
Traditionally, the Golden Dragons invite veterans to their annual “Combat Olympics” and “Mogadishu Mile” run, which emulate actions their predecessors took before deploying and during the Battle of Mogadishu.
“I think it’s going to bring (the Soldiers) closer to the history of the unit,” said retired 1st Sgt. Larry Perrine, who was a squad leader with C Company, 2-14 Infantry. “It makes me proud knowing I was a part of that history. It’s kind of an honor to us.”
For today’s Golden Dragons, the events not only symbolize what the unit once did, but also their unity during that time. Many 2-14 Infantry Soldiers who deployed to Somalia had been together since the beginning, from basic combat training through advanced individual training as part of an Army COHORT, or Cohesive Operational Readiness Training, unit.
“I think when we were deployed, we were the most combat-ready unit in the Army in my opinion,” Perrine said. “We were peaking as a unit as far as readiness, and I think it all just kind of came together and gelled there, and that’s what made us successful. We had really strong leadership, we were very physically fit and we were very good at the basics. I think that’s what made us successful in Somalia as a whole. At the time of the deployment we were right at the two-year mark in our COHORT.”
Shivers said the battle felt like a culminating event after two years of teamwork.
“You knew what the person in front of you, exactly what he was going to do,” Shivers said. “I don’t remember … our squad leader having to give too many orders, because we knew exactly what to do.”
While some local veteran Golden Dragons return every year, reunions are held every five years. This year some veterans came back for the first time.
Although 25 years have passed, the Golden Dragons of yesterday and today still maintain the unit’s legacy.
“I come back because they can’t,” Blanton said. “We come back to honor them. … We sit and we tell stories, but sitting and telling those stories ensures that Jimmy never really dies. His memory lives. And the same thing for Houston.”