Today we remember one of our most famous Special Operations warriors. Randy Shughart would have been 60 years old today. Shughart and Gary Gordon, both Delta Force operators and snipers died in Mogadishu, Somalia in October 1993 after being inserted alone into a crash site for a Blackhawk helicopter which had been shot down while raiding a headquarters of Somali militiamen headed by Mohamed Farrah Aidid.
With the aircrew killed and only the pilot, CWO Michael Durant badly wounded, the two Delta snipers held off hundreds of Somalis until they were both killed. Both Shughart and Gordon were posthumously awarded the Medal of Honor for their selfless sacrifice, the first time it had been awarded since the Vietnam war.
Background: Shughart was born August 13, 1958, in Lincoln, Nebraska. His father Herbert was in the United States Air Force at that time. But his father would leave military service and move the family to Pennsylvania to work a dairy farm.
The younger Shughart graduated from high school in Newville, PA and immediately joined the Army in 1976 and was assigned to the 2nd Ranger Bn. at Ft. Lewis, Washington. After an initial four-year hitch, he left active duty in 1980 and went into the Army Reserve.
In December 1983, he returned to active duty and in 1984 attended and graduated the Special Forces Qualifications Course. The next year, he volunteered for and was selected for Delta Force, the Army’s premier counter-terrorist unit in 1986. He took part in Delta’s operations in Panama during Operation Just Cause in 1989-90.
Black Hawk Down: In 1993 the humanitarian situation in Somalia had reached a crisis situation. The United States, after having stood by and done nothing in the Rwanda crisis decided to act. Rival clan militias were destroying the country and killing hundreds of people. The worst of all perhaps was the clan of Mohamed Farrah Aidid, the Habr Gidr.
After years of indiscriminate killing, the Aidid militia was targeted by the U.S. In August of 1993, the Pentagon dispatched a task force from the Special Operations command consisting of Rangers from the 3rd Ranger Bn. Delta Force Operators and Special Operations Aviation from the 160th Special Operations Aviation Regiment. The operation, code-named Operation Gothic-Serpent would reach a head on October 3, 1993.
The task force received intelligence that Aidid’s warlords were meeting at a location in Mogadishu and the Task Force Commander, General Garrison ordered a raid consisting of Rangers and Delta operators and a convoy of 12 Humvees. The raid force would involve 19 aircraft and 160 personnel.
The operation was slated to take 30 minutes and capture Aidid’s foreign minister Omar Salad Elmi and his top political advisor, Mohamed Hassan Awale. While Delta operators would take down the target building, four groups of Rangers would fast rope into the perimeter and seal the target area until the convoy of vehicles would reach the objective, pick up the Rangers, Delta operators and captives and spirit everyone safely back to the airbase.
Immediately things went awry. One Ranger missed the rope and fell 70 feet to the ground, suffering severe head and neck injuries. The three-vehicle convoy to evacuate him back was badly shot up with one Ranger getting killed.
The convoy under LTC Danny McKnight was delayed as Somalis made impromptu roadblocks of burning tires and debris. Had the convoy had armored vehicles as Garrison had requested from the White House and was denied, they could have swept those aside easily.
The roadblocks would become an even bigger issue on the way back from the Olympia Hotel where the raid took place. Then the plan and operation went to hell in a matter of minutes.
A Blackhawk, callsign Super 61 was shot down with an RPG. Both pilots were killed, the crew chiefs severely injured. Two Delta snipers SSG Daniel Busch and SSG Jim Smith were defending the crash site. A “Little Bird” an MH-6 landed with the co-pilot getting out to help the now wounded Delta operators into their bird. A CSAR (Combat Search and Rescue bird, despite being hit with an RPG deposited a Delta and Air Force Pararescue team on the ground and moved the wounded crew chiefs to a secure location where they defended their position. That bird made it back to the base.
Twenty minutes later a third Black Hawk, callsign Super-64 piloted by CWO Mike Durant was clipped with an RPG. Seconds later he crashed. In another Black Hawk, Super-62, Delta snipers Gary Gordon and Randy Shughart asked permission twice to land to defend Durant’s crash site, which they could observe from the air. They were denied. However, on the third request, Garrison allowed them to go in. They knew what awaited them on the ground.
They could see a mob of hundreds, perhaps thousands of Somalis rushing the second crash site. A group of 90 Delta and Rangers were pinned down surrounding the first crash site and couldn’t make it to them. The two Delta men were on their own.
As they were taking off, Super-62 was raked by fire, an RPG blew the door gunner’s leg off and several crew members were wounded, the pilot had a bullet wound to his shoulder and his co-pilot was unconscious. Somehow the pilot CWO Mike Goffena made it safely back to the base.
Gordon and Shughart made it the crash site as the crowd was closing in. Despite being vastly outnumbered and outgunned, Durant was shocked at the coolness of the operators under fire.
In a later interview, he said, “They didn’t seem alarmed the situation that we were in. It was just focused on the task, doing what they needed to do to improve our situation, and get through it, get us rescued. Whatever it is they needed to do.”
Shughart and Gordon moved the crew members to a safer location and attempted to put a perimeter in place. Armed with just their sniper rifles and handguns, they were hopelessly outnumbered. They followed their training and slowly, meticulously picked off their targets. Gordon, cried out “Damn, I’m hit,” according to Durant and then heard nothing as Shughart moved to him.
Seconds later Shughart came to Durant and gave him Gordon’s CAR-15 and last magazine and uttered only two words, “good luck.” He then went back to his post with his M-21 sniper rifle and fought for another 10 minutes. Once he ran out of rifle ammunition, he fought on with his pistol until that too was out of ammo and he was killed.
The Somalis raced to the position and dragged the bodies out into the street and stripped them of their equipment and clothing and paraded them around in a frenzy of mob activity. Durant rarely escaped death when after being beaten by the mob, one of Aidid’s men decided he was worth more as a hostage and he was dragged away.
He was held for 11 days before he was released. He eventually recovered from his injuries and flew for another eight years until he retired in 2001.
Both Shughart and Gordon’s families were presented with the Medal of Honor on their behalf by President Clinton. Shughart’s father refused to shake the President’s hand and made some disparaging remarks about him to the press afterward.
Shughart’s body was eventually recovered and is buried in Westminster Cemetery, Carlisle, Pennsylvania with full military honors.
General Garrison took total responsibility for the raid, not pointing the finger at anyone other than himself. He moved over to the JFK Special Warfare Center until his retirement on August 1, 1996. At his retirement, several of the men from Delta came up to him prior to his ceremony and gave him the news that Aidid was dead. Killed the same day as Garrison retired. There were some wry smiles and handshakes that hot, North Carolina afternoon. Some hard feelings were still raw three years later.
Medal of Honor citation:
Sergeant First Class Shughart, United States Army, distinguished himself by actions above and beyond the call of duty on 3 October 1993, while serving as a Sniper Team Member, United States Army Special Operations Command with Task Force Ranger in Mogadishu, Somalia.
Sergeant First Class Shughart provided precision sniper fires from the lead helicopter during an assault on a building and at two helicopter crash sites, while subjected to intense automatic weapons and rocket-propelled grenade fires. While providing critical suppressive fires at the second crash site, Sergeant First Class Shughart and his team leader learned that ground forces were not immediately available to secure the site.
Sergeant First Class Shughart and his team leader unhesitatingly volunteered to be inserted to protect the four critically wounded personnel, despite being well aware of the growing number of enemy personnel closing in on the site. After their third request to be inserted, Sergeant First Class Shughart and his team leader received permission to perform this volunteer mission.
When debris and enemy ground fires at the site caused them to abort the first attempt, Sergeant First Class Shughart and his team leader were inserted one hundred meters south of the crash site. Equipped with only his sniper rifle and a pistol, Sergeant First Class Shughart, and his team leader, while under intense fire from the enemy, fought their way through a dense maze of shanties and shacks to reach the critically injured crew members.
Sergeant First Class Shughart pulled the pilot and the other crew members from the aircraft, establishing a perimeter which placed him and his fellow sniper in the most vulnerable position. Sergeant First Class Shughart used his long range rifle and side arm to kill an undetermined number of attackers while traveling the perimeter, protecting the downed crew.
Sergeant First Class Shughart continued his protective fire until he depleted his ammunition and was fatally wounded. His actions saved the pilot’s life. Sergeant First Class Shughart’s extraordinary heroism and devotion to duty were in keeping with the highest standards of military service and reflect great credit upon himself, his unit and the United States Army.
Photos: US Army