The Bayonet

Wednesday, Feb. 19, 2014

Retiree reflects on Mogadishu

Former Ranger shares lessons learned during ‘Black Hawk Down’

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A group of students from various programs of instruction heard a firsthand account of one of the most famous battles of the last 25 years Feb. 10, when retired Lt. Col. Jim Lechner visited Fort Benning.

Lechner was a member of Task Force Ranger, a unit comprised of Rangers and Delta Force Soldiers that deployed to Mogadishu, Somalia, in August 1993. He fought and was wounded during the October 1993 Battle of Mogadishu. He was shot in the leg while attempting to reach the crash site of one of two Black Hawk helicopters that were downed during the battle.

The battle has been the focus of numerous books, including Black Hawk Down, which inspired a 2001 film by the same name.

Lechner said the battle’s notoriety stems in large part from the intensity of the firefight.

“It became the standard for combat since Vietnam,” he said. “That’s what is usually applied to it — it’s the most intense firefight since Vietnam. There were really good and interesting operations in Panama and Grenada, but this was the first time we’d really been in a ground combat operation to that level of intensity. Even though there were only a couple hundred U.S. Soldiers, there were thousands of the enemy, so it was the first time since Vietnam that we’d really had Infantry combat. I can say that because on the first six missions there, we made contact and we took casualties, but we were always kind of talking amongst ourselves trying to figure out if we were combat veterans. But, the moment we got into that fight … we were absolutely certain. … For whatever the truth of it is, it remains the standard that things get measured against.”

One advantage of the battle’s fame, he said, is that he continues to learn more about it from different perspectives even 20 years later.

“I think another dynamic of that battle is that there were so many moving parts and so many aspects to it,” he said. “There’s things that I thought I remembered clearly and I’ve since watched on video tape, and my memory was wrong. It’s an ongoing process of understanding what happened out there. Over the course of 20 years, every time I meet someone who was in that battle and we trade stories, I learn something different.”

The battle resulted in 18 U.S. casualties, with more than 75 wounded. Despite the harrowing events in Mogadishu, Lechner said he saw firsthand the bonds between American Soldiers that day.

“Never underestimate the fact that no matter what you think about the guy next to you or what you think about the ties of being American, when you’re in a situation like that and it’s Americans and your allies against an enemy, there’s really nothing that you and your fellow Americans won’t do for each other,” he said. “It supersedes all other problems that we have in society.”

Two Soldiers, Master Sgt. Gary Gordon and Sgt. 1st Class Randy Shughart, posthumously received the Medal of Honor for their actions during the battle.

Lechner’s later military career included tours in Iraq and Afghanistan, including time served as the deputy commander of an armored brigade in Ramadi, Iraq, during which time he participated in operations to retake the city. He also helped build the Anbar Awakening, a group comprised of Iraqi tribes that helped to push al-Qaida insurgents from Ramadi.

He said his experiences in Mogadishu helped to prepare him for the challenges he faced while serving in Iraq.

“I got to make the mistakes and have those experiences early in my career in Mogadishu and take those experiences to prepare me for even greater challenges,” he said. “As big a hallmark in my career as Task Force Ranger and Black Hawk Down was, I really was able to put a lot of that to use to affect campaigns and participate in huge events in Iraq and Afghanistan, so it was a good first experience.”

Specifically, Lechner said that his experiences in Mogadishu helped him to understand the importance of cultural awareness.

“We learned that U.S. combat power is very effective tactically, but in a lot of different circumstances, that’s not going to be enough to win the campaign,” he said. “Some mistakes that we made tactically in terms of not dealing with the culture properly really exacerbated the situation, and I was able to transcribe that to Iraq and later, Afghanistan. We were able to not only have very effective tactical operations, but also see the big picture and try to leverage some important factors to have operational and strategic success.”

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