Sixty Special Forces soldiers involved in 1993 battle to have awards upgraded – The Fayetteville Observer
FORT BRAGG — Sixty Special Forces soldiers involved in the 1993 Battle of Mogadishu, known as “Black Hawk Down,” will have their awards upgraded, according to an Army news release.
The soldiers were part of Operation Gothic Serpent, which was led by U.S. Special Operations Forces from August 1993 to October 1993 during the Somali Civil War, the news release states.
On Oct. 3, 1994, two MH-60 Black Hawk helicopters were shot down by armed militants, which led to the attack of ground forces attempting to recover the downed personnel and the deaths of 18 American soldiers.
Two awards have been upgraded to the Distinguished Flying Cross, and 58 were upgraded to the Silver Star, the news release states.
The Silver Star Medal is the third-highest military combat award and is given in recognition of a valorous act performed during combat operations while under fire from enemy forces.
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The Distinguished Flying Cross is awarded in recognition of heroism or extraordinary achievement while participating in aerial flight.
In October, former Secretary of the Army Ryan McCarthy directed the Senior Army Decorations Board to reevaluate previously approved awards for valor, according to the news release.
The upgraded awards will be presented later this year in separate ceremonies hosted by the units in which the soldiers served at the time of the mission.
Here’s what we know about the October 1993 battle based on news accounts and The Fayetteville Observer archives.
In August 1993, Fort Bragg sent 140 soldiers to Somalia to join United Nations forces providing humanitarian relief in the East African country.
The soldiers were from the 1st Corps Support Command, the 82nd Airborne Division’s 782nd Maintenance Battalion, 18th Airborne Corps headquarters, 18th Finance Group and the 18th Personnel Group’s 129th Postal Company.
Other Fort Bragg units with soldiers in Somalia included the 44th Medical Brigade, 4th Psychological Operations Group and U.S. Army Special Operations Command.
By October, Pentagon officials confirmed Americans were killed Oct. 3, 1993, during a U.N. military operation against Somali warlord Mohamed Farrah Aidid, according to an Oct. 4, 1993, wire report.
According to the report, a Pentagon statement confirmed that two Army Black Hawk helicopters were shot down during the operation.
By Oct. 6, 1993, the Associated Press reported that three Fort Bragg Green Berets were among soldiers killed by Somali gunmen in the gunfight.
They were: Master Sgt. Timothy L. Martin, 38, of Aurora, Indiana; Sgt. 1st Class Earl R. Fillmore Jr., 28, Blairsville, Pennsylvania; and Staff Sgt. Daniel D. Busch, 25, of Portage, Wisconsin.
Other soldiers killed in the attack were assigned to Company B, 3rd Battalion, 75th Ranger Regiment,at Fort Benning, Georgia.
According to the Associated Press report, the United Nations accused Mohamed Farrah Aidid, a fugitive warlord, of trying to incite Somalis to further violence against U.N. forces at that time.
The Associated Press also reported that a Somali cameraman filmed the interrogation of Chief Warrant Officer Michael Durant, the pilot of one of two U.S. Black Hawk helicopters was shot down Oct. 3, 1993.
A fourth Fort Bragg soldier, Sgt. 1st Class Matthew L. Rierson, 33, of Nevada, Iowa, was confirmed dead in an Oct. 6, 1993, mortar attack in Mogadishu.
Rierson was assigned to Fort Bragg’s U.S. Army Special Operations Command.
A fifth U.S. Army Special Operations Command soldier — Master Sgt. Gary Gordon, 33, of Lincoln, Maine, who had been listed as missing in action on Oct. 3 and Oct. 4, 1993 — was confirmed dead, according to an Oct. 9, 1993, article in The Fayetteville Observer.
A sixth U.S. Army Special Operations Forces Command soldier — Sgt. 1st Class Randall D. Shughart, 35, of Newville, Pennsylvania who had been listed as missing and unaccounted for in the attack, was confirmed as dead, according to an Oct. 13, 1993, Fayetteville Observer article.
The families of Gordon and Shughart were presented with the Medals of Honor during a May 23, 1994, ceremony at the White House.
President Bill Clinton presented the medals to Stephanie Shughart and Carmen Gordon, the soldiers’ wives.
“Let there be no debate about the professionalism of those who served there and the valor of those who died there,” Clinton said.
Shughart’s and Gordon’s families had said the men were members of Delta Force, the Army’s counter-terrorist and hostage-rescue unit.
Clinton told Gordon’s and Shughart’s families that they saved the life of the helicopter pilot, Durant.
According to the award citations, Gordon was serving as a sniper team leader for the U.S. Army Special Operations Command under Task Force Ranger in Somalia.
When Gordon learned that ground forces were unable to secure a helicopter crash site, he and Shughart, a sniper team member, volunteered to protect the four wounded, despite the enemy closing in on the site.
Shughart was under intense automatic weapons and rocket-propelled grenade fire, when he provided precision sniper fire from the lead helicopter during an assault on a building and at two helicopter crash sites.
Shughart and Gordon fought their way under intense small arms fire through a dense maze of shanties and shacks to reach the critically injured crew members at the crash site.
The two soldiers pulled Durant and injured crew members from the aircraft and established a perimeter.
Shughart used his long-range rifle and sidearm to kill an undetermined number of attackers while traveling the perimeter to protect the downed crew.
He continued his protective fire until he depleted his ammunition and was fatally wounded, the citation states.
Gordon went back to the wreckage to recover the crew’s weapons and ammunition and provided ammunition to Durant.
After Shughart was fatally wounded and Gordon spent his rifle ammunition, he went back to the wreck to recover a rifle with the last five rounds of ammunition and gave it to Durant.
Using his pistol, Gordon continued to fight until he, too, was fatally wounded.
Durant was captured by Aidid’s followers, but he was released 11 days later when United Nations commanders in Somalia backed off from their efforts to capture Aidid.
Durant spoke about the attack during a visit to the Airborne & Special Operations Museum in Fayetteville in 2003.
He said his treatment didn’t start out well but somewhat improved because of the way he treated his captors.
He said he owed his life to Shughart and Gordon and that he thought they deserved the Medal of Honor.
Schools at Fort Bragg have since been named after the soldiers, with Gordon Elementary and Shughart Elementary and Middle.
Part of a sculpture outside the U.S. Army Special Operations Aviation Command contains steel taken from the wreckage of one of the UH-60 Black Hawk that crashed during the Battle of Mogadishu in 1993.
The Airborne and Special Operations Museum in Fayetteville also has an exhibit that includes a piece of one of the downed aircraft.
By February 2001, Actors filming the movie “Black Hawk Down”, based on Mark Bowden’s book with the same name that recounts the Battle of Mogadishu, visited Fort Bragg to prepare for the movie.
Maj. Gen. William Garrison took responsibility for the raid that left the soldiers dead but defended his actions during a May 12, 1994, Senate committee.
Garrison was commander of the Joint Special Operations Task Force that hunted for Aidid in Mogadishu in September and October.
Maj. Gen. Thomas Montgomery, former deputy commander of the U.S. forces in Somalia, told members of Congress he requested tanks in September 1993, but the request was denied.
His military superiors cited reluctance in Washington to increase U.S. forces because the public was becoming disillusioned that people the Americans were supposed to be helping were responding with hostility.
Garrison said most of the causalities in the battle were from the first downed helicopter, which was Ranger forces and “other forces that are classified in nature.”
Garrison said his forces were not pinned down and intentionally stayed with the downed helicopters as the battle raged around them.
Three Pope airmen were given valor awards Jan. 31, 1994, for their roles in the battle.
Tech. Sgt. Timothy A. Wilkinson received the Air Force Cross, the second-highest honor an airman can receive after the Medal of Honor.
Master Sgt. Scott C. Fales and Sgt. Jeffrey W. Bray each received the Silver Star, the next-highest award presented to all ranks of the armed services.
All three airmen were part of the 24th Special Tactics Squadron.
Wilkinson and Fales werecombat rescue medics trained to get to a site by land or parachute.
Wilkinson responded to a U.S. helicopter that was shot down by a rocket-propelled grenade.
According to his citation, Wilkinson slid down a rope from a hovering helicopter into the crash site “under extremely heavy enemy fire from three directions” to treat three wounded Rangers.
Fales was attached to a joint task force search-and-rescue security team responding to the crash.
Fales lost part of his calf to an AK-47, but patched himself up, started intravenous injections on himself and tended to other wounded, Air Force officials said.
His citation states that he disregarded his wound to continue to provide medical care to his team and provided covering fire against enemy attacks.
Bray was attached to “an elite Army special operations task force conducting combat operations in support of Task Force Ranger,” his citation states.
In response to the helicopter crash, he exposed himself to enemy fire, developed a perimeter and called in fire support against concealed enemy targets.
Bray’s citation states that he worked throughout the night to keep enemy forces at bay and that his efforts were instrumental in limiting casualties and getting U.S. soldiers out of the situation.
In addition to the 18 soldiers who died during the October 1993 attack, about another 75 were wounded, according to published reports.
The wounded were operators from Fort Bragg’s 1st Special Forces Operational Detachment-Delta, along with Rangers from the 3rd Battalion, 75th Ranger Regiment, and pilots and crewmen from the elite 160th Special Operations Aviation Regiment.
Maj. Gen. Gary Harrell, who is depicted in the movie “Black Hawk Down,” was among the wounded.
Harrell twice denied the requests of Delta operators wanting to rescue the crew of one of the downed helicopters being overrun by a mob in Mogadishu.
He approved Gordon’s and Shugart’s requests to rescue the crew.
“That’s one of those that makes you ask, ‘Where do we find men like that?’” Harrell said. “It wasn’t like they just decided they’d hop off the helicopter and thought that somebody would come to their rescue. We had two helicopters down. We had the capacity to get one. We didn’t have the capacity to get two. They knew what was going on.”
During Harrell’s retirement ceremony, Lt. Gen. Robert Wagner — then-commander of the U.S. Army Special Operations Command at Fort Bragg — said that a mortar round detonated near Harrell during the battle.
Wagner said Harrell’s leg was nearly severed, and he suffered other life-threatening injuries.
According to a 2019 obituary for retired Sgt. Maj. James McMahon, of Fayetteville, he was wounded in one of the helicopter crashes during the 1993 battle in Mogadishu.
McMahon’s obituary states that although he was wounded, he “continued fighting to protect his fallen comrades until reinforcements arrived.” He received a Purple Heart and the Silver Star for distinguished valor.
Staff writer Rachael Riley can be reached at [email protected] or 910-486-3528.
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