Our sister squadron was deployed and fully engaged in Mogadishu, Somalia. My own squadron was in full-bore planning to replace or reinforce should the need arise. Armed with accurate and up-to-date intelligence from the in-country squadron, we developed courses of action to better deploy against and neutralize the Muhammad Farrah Aidid regime.

We committed three weeks to planning and executing live rehearsals against very realistic opposing forces (OpFor) role players, thanks to the efforts of our unit operations cell and the dedication and enthusiasm of our support personnel. The specific contingencies gleaned from our in-country squadron were as follows:

  • The target subject (principal) is traveling on foot, with protective forces in tow.
  • Principal is holed up in a building/structure.
  • Principal is on the move in a single vehicle or convoy.

On this day at our unit compound, helicopters from the revered TF-160 Special Operations Air Regiment, the Night Stalkers, absolutely jammed our helicopter landing zone (HLZ). We wedged ourselves into our assigned MH-60 Black Hawk helos, hooked into MH-6 Little Birds, collected our situational awareness, and waited for command to launch.

We had a company of Rangers from the vaunted 75th Ranger Regiment with us. They deployed to stay with us the entire three weeks if necessary, to plan and rehearse with us. These same Rangers deployed with us to Mogadishu when the time came.

They stayed in our gymnasium, sleeping on cots and making do the best they could. Some operators scoffed at them because they couldn’t play basketball with Ranger’s effects strewn about. How petty, I thought. I wandered respectfully through the gym greeting some, shaking hands with some, striking up small talk with others. Every Ranger I came in contact with interacted with me with utter respect; some jumped from their cots to stand at parade rest. I decided to distance myself from the gym, lest I disrupt their downtime.

At meal times, the Rangers lined up for much-deserved chow. It was announced that The Unit operators would have priority over the Rangers, moving to the head of the line. Again, I processed that as a gesture of disrespect to men who were working just as hard as we were. I stood in line where I came in. Some Rangers gestured for me to move up; I waited my turn in line.

Then, command for liftoff rang in every earpiece on the HLZ. Rotors flared and gripped the air tight, tighter, until our formation lifted off the ground in unison, rumbling toward our objective. Our formation was anyone’s definition of an armada—formidable and intimidating. Black Hawks stabilized in wedge configuration, MH-6 and AH-6 passenger and attack helos buzzed about protecting our flanks with their heavy firepower. Audacity was alive and well.

Our first aerial checkpoint was very close to our unit compound, and very recognizable with its many buildings, structures, and range fire facilities. This was the Special Forces Advanced Reconnaissance, Target Analysis, and Exploitation Techniques Course (SFARTAETC) compound. We roared over it at some 150 feet. From one of the apparently administrative buildings darted a tall, lean figure. He paused and gawked skyward, shielding the glare of the sun with his hands. He waved his arms and I waved back. Why not? On then to the objective.