October 04, 1993 as we gathered in our team rooms for morning PT, a man from our headquarters element came from room to room instructing everyone to move upstairs to our Squadron Classroom. The TV screen to the front of the room came on and a news reel played showing the wounded Michael Durant from the downed Black Hawk Super 61 as he made benign statements about the US Task Force Ranger involvement in Mogadishu.
Views of skinny black children were seen bouncing up and down where they stood on the blades of Durant’s ruined aircraft. The scene shifted to Somali militia dragging the noosed bodies of Durant’s flight crew nude through the streets. At the end of the news reel the TV was switched off as all gaze shifted to Major John Quincy Adams, our squadron commander seated to the front of the classroom, clutching a single sheet of paper.
John Adams read aloud a list of the men killed in action during the pitched Battle of the Black Sea, in capital city Mogadishu, Somalia the previous night. He announced the names of Gary Gordon and Randy Shugart, the two men missing from the C Squadron three troop (snipers). He finally read a staggering list of the many wounded and their essential condition. In the list were names of brothers from my own Selection and Assessment class.
John Adams concluded by saying: “Report time back to squadron is 2200hrs; we deploy to Mogadishu Somalia by way of Cairo Egypt tonight… dismissed.” The squadron silently stood and filed out of the classroom with a smattering of mumbles and and short whispers. I entered the team room, stunned, follow by Sam.
“Well the shit definitely is on… what are we going to do, Sam?”
“Well, today is swim day. Let’s go swim some laps.” Sam encouraged.
The laps were much longer than usual, they just really dragged on. For the remainder of the day at the Unit we packed and prepped as we had done hundreds of time, with no noticeable change in demeanor.
At 2200hrs that eve we assembled, shaved our heads as if for a D-Day drop into St. Mere Elise, and loaded out. We boarded a C-5A Galaxy and roared off for north Africa. We landed at the Mogadishu airport and exited the aircraft only to be hearded directly to an in-progress memorial ceremony that Task Force Ranger was holding for the dead. General William Garrison spoke magnificently. Delta CSM Mel Wick followed with an equally powerful set of reverent and poignant statements.
That evening, as night fell, Sam came into the open-air pavilion where we were garrisoned:
“Hey George, I found an out-going mail drop box at the TOC (Tactical Operations center). Let’s mail an ‘everythings-just-fucking-peachy’ letter to the wives. We both hastily scribbled some innocuous prose, sealed envelopes, grabbed rifles and headed through the dark to the TOC.
On the way I spotted my long time friend Matt Pierson, whom I had only time to greet and shake hands with earlier. He stood chatting with some folks at the entrance to the hanger where C squadron was housed.
“Hey, let’s chat up Matt; I told him I would stop by and catch up this eve.” Sam suggested we wait because the guys Matt was talking to were Jerry Boykin, and others in the chain of command. We paused to grip and grin with another great friend of mine, Steven C. perched on a wall of sandbags rocking his ear-budded head to heavy metal music.
No sooner had we greeted Steve when a chunk of the dumb-luckiest hell on Earth fell from the sky and erupted in a fiery belch. The moment of stunning silence was replaced by the moans and cries of the absurd number of men wounded by this single 60mm mortar round.
My rifle barrel pointed up to the window of an adjacent building where I thought I saw the flash of perhaps a rocket launcher, which turned out to be the reflection of the mortar burst in the glass pane.
I was jerked toward the hanger by Sam: “We need to take cover.” and to the hanger we both sprinted. The hanger was berserk with commotion, screams and oaths. I quickly sought cover behind a dark barrier. Moments later Sam shined a Mag-light through the barrier, which turned out to be a mosquito net: “Do you feel pretty safe behind there, George?” and he laughed his sarcastic laugh.
Yes Sam and fear never had the pleasure of each other’s acquaintance. They passed close by each other in several select parts of the world, but they never actually met. Of all the many morally questionable things I dare say about Sam, I can never take away the fact that he was a quintessentially fearless man, and a badass operator.
A-1-B, A Squadron, 1-Troop, B-Assault Team in Mogadishu, Somalia: Sam Foster front row far right (helmet on); author front row second from left (no helmet on)
Sam took over an assault team in our squadron’s two troop, as I ran my days out in the Advance Force troop. I found myself on an area familiarization and transportation exercise in Europe, hopping from Germany to the Czech Republic, to Hungary, to Austria, to the Netherlands.
In German, I was met by a former A Squadron officer, Pete “Pantera” B. who had also come to work in the Advon troop. We met in the cafe of the hotel I was staying in. I deduced that this could be part of yet another unscheduled roust to see what I was made of. I poised, sipping my coffee, waiting the hear what Pantera had to say.
“George, let me just get this over with…” Pete began, “Sam Foster died yesterday. He was deployed with his team to Arizona. He was out in the morning with another Unit man, running PT through a nearby canyon. He had a massive heart attack and died.” My coffee cup came down way too heavily on its porcelain saucer, ejecting contents and coaxing stares from cafe patrons.
“A doctor that was also running the canyon was summoned. He performed CPT on Sam for many minutes. The doctor eventually asked Sam’s running mate how much longer he wanted him to do CPR on Sam. The response was (to the effect):” “Well, he has a wife and two infant children… how about until you can’t stand it anymore!”
Sam was taken eventually to a hospital where he was pronounced DOA.
“Do you want to fly back to the states today, George?”
I returned to my hotel room to stare at German walls for the rest of the day and most of the night.
Back home Sam had been in the process of building out the living room of house he had just bought. He was decking it all over with red oak and purple heart hard wood trim that we had scored in Britsh Guyana. He was running crown molding along the ceilings and floors, raised panels on the walls from the floor one third the way up the walls to a molded purple heart chair rail.
Don H., our Troop Sergeant and (another formidable wood worker) and I made trips to Sam’s house each weekend to visit his wife and family and finish Sam’s work in the living room. His wife asked us to please clear out the garage (Sam’s woodworking shop), throwing out anything we thought of no value, and to please take and keep all of Sam’s woodworking tools and machines.
That was music to the ears of guys like us, but Don and I, after a short tete-a-tete, quickly agreeing that we would of course clean out the garage, but we would finish the work that Sam had started in his living room, then we would clean and sell his woodworking kingdom, offering the returns to his wife and children.
It was the very definition of a labor of love from Don and I, from our hands to the memory of our friend Sam. We cut and fit red oak crown molding and exotic purple heart decorative trim to the best of our ability, as close as we could replicate from our interpretation of Sam’s intent.
Though unfortunately black and white, the interior of Sams living room where Don and I are finishing up
Don skillfully completed the more intricate assemblies. I produced a majestic mantle for the fireplace. Once finished with the living room we cleaned up the tools and machines and prepared them for sale.
Troop Sergeant, Master Sergent Donnie H. handles some of the more intricate cabinetry work on Sam’s entertainment center and book cases
Don took nothing from Sam. I treated myself to two of Sam’s personal items: one was a Filipino Bilisong, or butterfly knife. Sam went through phase where he would carry it in his flight suit at work everyday for a couple of annoying weeks.
At random intervals he would flip it out suddenly and hold it to my throat, and in his best Robert DiNiro impression from the movie Taxi Driver, would say: “You talking to me? I don’t see anybody else here, are you talking to ME?? Then who the fuck are you talking to???”
Sam’s best Robert DiNiro impression was the worst ever. It didn’t sound any different than his normal voice, but he was entertained by it, and I admit I was modestly beguiled.
Sam’s Philippine Billysong that I still have to this day
The other item I took was a table saw push stick made of dark walnut. It is a standoff device used on a table saw to push wood on its final path through the saw blade, such that you don’t have to get your fingers and hands near the blade. This push stick was hand-made by Sam.
As we gutted poor Sam’s paradise, sorting throw-out from keepsake, worthy from worthless, preserving interesting and oddity, I came across an item that startled me to the core. There, on a shelve under a work bench… was a single brick.
I don’t think Don knew what it was, but I did. Wouldn’t it be a grand and noble gesture to return that brick back to its grave at Crematorium Number Five? Sure it would, but entirely unrealistic. What then? I held the brink, noting its weight, and foolishly smelled it as if it were somehow supposed to smell like something other than a brick. I turned it in my hand glazing carefully all six sides, in case there was some clue that could prompt me on how to proceed.
Sam’s house was a beautiful home in the old section of Fayetteville, NC. A section of town that real estate agents would not take military personnel house hunting, because it was understood that G.I.s were a transient sort, that tended to take less care of their property, as they would be moving on soon anyway. How Sam landed this house, I never knew.
His landscaping was stunning and meticulous. In his backyard he planted beautiful flower gardens and vegetable gardens that yielded formidable return on investment. One section of flower garden he had indicated to me that he planted for his young daughter, as his son had no vested interest in flowers or such things.
Sam and son
It is there in that modest flower garden where I took a hand trowel, dug a hole, and buried that brick from Krematorium Nummer Fuenf, Auschwitz II Birkenau Konzentrationslager, that the many MANY souls who came to know that brick against their will, may bless that tiny garden and make her flowers grow pretty for Sam’s baby daughter.
Sam and baby daughter
Sam was not a selfless or reverent guy, yeah, or so at least that is how I fancied him. He had no compunction, no compassion, and was utterly devoid of fear. Delta wanted him, in spite of his politics and incidental spiritual convictions, and for their sins Delta got him.
Samuel Booth Foster is why there will always be a Delta Force, because no measure of modern technological wizardry will ever replace immeasurable courage and raw audacity; “l’audace, l’audace, toujour l’audace” (General George S. Patton by way of Georges Jacques Danton).
Sam Foster was 41 years old when he died. On the last run he and I ran together he slowed down considerably toward the end, and fell back behind me. I braced myself for some sort practical joke. As he caught back up with me he was rubbing his chest deeply: “Goddamn, if I didn’t know better I’d swear I was having a heart attack.” I cocked my head back and bellowed forth a ‘yeah right’ laugh of doubt.
Yes, only 41 years old he was when he left this world, knowing full well that he had obligations here: places to go, people to meet, wars to fight. It was all a good deal, you know… but God offered good-deal-Sam a slightly better deal that day there on the floor of that canyon, and bad-deal-scram Sam, recognizing a better deal when he saw it, left this planet in a vortex of dust.