Twenty years ago this month, the Battle of Mogadishu ensued between U.S. military forces and Somali militiamen aligned with Mohammed Farrah Adid. The account of that battle is captured in the book and movie “Black Hawk Down”.
Retired Army Col Tom Matthews was there those days, 3 and 4 October, 1993. Mostly, he was overhead in one of the command and control helicopters and witnessed many of the major events.
Matthews visited the Mount Vernon Composite Squadron of the Civil Air Patrol recently to speak to cadets and volunteer officers about his experience.
“The average American did not know at the time that we were basically at war in Somalia,” said Matthews. “Mr Adid had gone underground. Finding one person on a city of a million people is an interesting challenge.”
U.S. Special Forces troops entered the city that day to capture a number of Adid’s lieutenants in an effort to draw out Adid.
As is recounted in the book and movie, two UH-60 Black Hawk helicopters were shot down on the first day of fighting.
“We had already conducted 6 missions prior to the 3rd of October. We had been shot at; nobody killed; only a few injured; very few rocket-propelled grenades (RPGs),” explained Matthews. “But on that day, about 200 RPGs were shot at us.”
The initial rescue operation of the downed crew members was intended to be swift, but what followed was a firefight that lasted through the night. As a result, 18 U.S. servicemen killed, 80 wounded and one captured.
Matthews explains, “The book is the most accurate account of the battle. However, the majority of Americans that recall what happened that day are mainly drawing from the events depicted in the movie. “
In spite of the aftermath Matthews maintains, “We accomplished the mission. We fought, we won that battle, and we recovered our wounded.”
As he wrapped up his presentation, Matthews encouraged the cadets, “It’s important to know your emergency procedures; always take the time to practice them. And, you should talk to others about their experiences, learn from their mistakes, so you don’t make the same mistakes.”
Many cadets walked away with a new appreciation of the heroes that were a part of that battle.
“It was a great honor for our squadron to host Mr. Matthews. His tale of heroism left a lasting impression on the cadets in our squadron and serves as a source of inspiration for all of us,” said Cadet 1st Lt. James Hildebrand.
Mr. Matthews retired in 2001 after 28 years of military service. He is currently the Director of Special Operations Intelligence Integration in the office of the Deputy Under Secretary for Defense Warfighter Support.