Michelle Black’s husband, Bryan, was a Green Beret and one of four American soldiers killed in an ambush in Niger in October 2017 by ISIS terrorists.
If her husband’s death wasn’t bad enough for her, the nightmare that followed was worse as she couldn’t get a straight answer from his unit, and the various headquarters that the Green Berets fell under, of what had caused that fateful outcome.
Now, Michelle Black has published a book titled Sacrifice, A Gold Star Widow’s Fight for the Truth. It recounts her husband’s life, the events leading up to the ambush, its aftermath, and the investigation surrounding it.
With narratives changing frequently, Mrs. Black was horrified to learn that the Army, U.S. Africa Command (AFRICOM), and Special Operations Command Africa (SOCAFRICA), were blaming the Special Forces A-Team for its own demise. In their investigation, they partly blamed the ambush on a culture of risk-taking, a culture that is deliberately cultivated in Special Operations soldiers. They characterized the team as rogues and cowboys, who went off the reservation.
This set her on the path to find out the truth. Her book, Sacrifice, A Gold Star Widow’s Fight for the Truth includes a minute-by-minute breakdown of the awful events that unfolded on that fateful day in Niger. Michelle Black interviewed the surviving members of the A-Team. Their account tells the true story and exposes the entirety of what transpired, not only on that day but in the months leading up to it, as well as what happened after the ambush. By interviewing the surviving soldiers, who were anxious for someone to listen to them, Michelle Black pieced together a minute-by-minute timeline of the entire mission.
Bryan Black’s Path to the Green Berets
Michelle and Bryan Black’s story began long before he became a Green Beret. The two were building a life together and raising two young sons, one of whom had autism. And as anyone with an autistic child will tell you, that is a time-consuming but rewarding job that requires patience, time, and the willingness to try every conceivable way to get through to your child. Those factors would later all come into play for Mrs. Black in ways she had never envisioned.
When money got tight, joining the military became more appealing for Bryan who had always been interested in the Navy SEALs and the Army Green Berets. Being a champion chess player, online poker player, and rugged outdoorsman he was a perfect fit for Special Forces and vice versa.
Not long after joining the Army, Bryan Black volunteered for and passed Special Forces Assessment and Selection (SFAS). He then embarked on the long Special Forces Medical Sergeant’s Course in the SFQC. In the spring of 2015, he graduated the SFQC and earned his Green Beret. A few months later he was in Afghanistan. After returning home, he went to and graduated from Ranger School. In 2016 as a member of ODA-3212 in the 3rd Special Forces Group, he went on his first deployment to Niger.
Upon returning, SSG Black mulled getting out of the military. Instead, he opted for one more four-year hitch. Shortly after, came his final deployment to Niger.
Then one day, ODA-3212 was outside the village of Tongo Tongo near the Mali border when they and their Nigerien counterparts were ambushed by a numerically superior ISIS force.
The Ordeal of the Families Continues
After the ambush, the families were subjected to stories varying widely by numerous major media outlets. They all seemed to be damning to the members of the A-Team. To the families, it seemed that nobody in the upper levels of the chain of command knew anything about what had happened. Plus, AFRICOM was dragging its feet with its investigation.
And then, things got even worse for the families when the world learned there was video footage of the ambush.
Michelle Black and her mother-in-law, Karen Black, were horrified to learn that the video was being shown on CBS news. Karen came home from work, turned on her laptop to catch up on the news of the day, only to see her son killed in front of her eyes. SOFREP also showed the video and compounded the angst of the families. It would be a decision that would be hashed out for months, but once the genie has been let out of the bottle, it couldn’t be put back in.
When the families were finally briefed, Michelle Black was shocked to learn that although Captain Perozeni and his team had said it was a bad mission higher headquarters insisted it be carried out. Yet, in the investigation, they cleared themselves of any responsibility. Further, the team was acting on intelligence that had a two-hour window — but the operation took more than two days.
Under General Don Bolduc, SOCAFRICA was a bottom-driven unit. The men on the ground had the final say about missions. Just a few months prior to the ambush, he turned over command. And in this particular case, it appeared that his command guidance was not followed.
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Mrs. Black’s long search for the truth pieced out all of the events and uncovered the command influence that was brought to bear on the case. The team leader and the men tried three times to call off the mission but were ordered to continue. The events had played out not in the way that the Army, after months of investigation, had tried to portray them.
The Army tried to protect all of the senior officers from any blame while throwing the team and their team leader under the bus. It even punished the company commander for ODA-3212 Major Van Saun for improperly preparing the teams for deployment. This despite the fact that he took command of the company just prior to deployment and was briefed by the battalion commander that all of the teams in the company were trained and certified for the deployment.
Michelle Black’s book, while a riveting page-turner, is also a sobering reminder that many officers in the military are only interested in protecting their own careers. But the men of ODA-3212 were the brave heroes of this story. And while uncovering the truth, Michelle Black pieces together the best after-action report that came out of the ambush and subsequent events. As her husband told her, beginners have to start somewhere.
Michelle Black had the courage to continue digging for the truth unsure of what she was going to find. And what she did find was a heart-breaking tale of deception and untruths leveled at the very men who gave their lives for our country.
Sacrifice, A Gold Star Widow’s Fight for the Truth is a book highly recommended for all of our readers.
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