I knew it would be bad, I just didn’t know how bad.
We touched down in May 1993 at what remained of the city’s airport, under a blazing, earth scorching sun with searing heat that would make most places uninhabitable. A heaviness of uncertainty hung in the parched mid day air. An awkward glaring silence prevailed as the sun cooked us in our winter cotton fatigues and worthless heavy Vietnam era flak vests. It had been 36 hours since we abandoned the crisp cool comforting mountain air of Fort Carson, Colorado. Before moving forward to our operating base we were given bottled water, enough ammunition to get us killed and a short, dispassionate briefing on the perilously confusing rules of engagement. Ill equipped and poorly trained we ventured into the most desolate and dangerous city in the world; Mogadishu, Somalia. The 35 square miles of the capitol city with 1.2 million inhabitants seemed unnatural, deserted and silent. A putrid rotting stench infected the oppressive air as ragged skeletal like humans lingered among the shadows returning vapid stares to those of us trying to make sense of the absurd.
I decided I must never forget Somalia. So when I returned in 1993 I documented my unvarnished memoirs through the eyes of a combat soldier, thoroughly disillusioned with our failed mission, with only a thin veil of hope left for the people of Somalia. Today, I see the world cynically different. Today, I question authority, self anointed experts and trust few. Today, I question how and why our soldiers “died for their country” a meaningless, exhausted cliché providing limited solace to the living. Complacent preoccupied Americans knew little of our hardship; the daily desperate fight for our lives. An abnormal that become normal to us long before the infamous slaughter of U.S. Army Rangers. Today, I question our pious presidential task to perform “Gods work” righteously proclaimed by then President George H. Bush. If there is an almighty God and we were doing what he couldn’t, then he’s got some explaining to do. Today, I question why we were denied the desperately needed protective armored vehicles we urgently requested. And why we were issued (not prescribed) and ordered to take an untested, antimalarial, psychotropic drug (Melfoquine aka Lariam) which causes irreversible brain stem damage and other life threatening complications. Today, I question why many thousands of unsuspecting veterans continue to suffer in morbid, silent confusion while an indifferent, overly bureaucratic, Veterans Administration does nothing to locate and treat thousands poisoned by this neurotoxin.
I came to Mogadishu as a humanitarian, to end the needless extermination of a country through avoidable starvation. Amid a raging civil war we came to help the helpless receive international aid routinely stolen, with impunity, by ruthless tribal warlords. I did not come to kill Somalis.
Within a 24 hour period our veneer humanitarian mission changed into savage urban warfare, where we became the enemy, the hunted; no longer their infallible American savior. So we dug in, improved our defenses, and fought ever day and night to stay alive. They killed us. We killed them. In the end nothing was accomplished except more violence, more death, more destruction.
Twenty-four years later I believe I have some answers, however most would be unpalatable and offensive to the average American. I, like so many others, struggle against the demons of rage, inexplainable anger and tormenting vivid nightmares. Sadly, I now know our soldiers died in vain, joining the ranks of so many others.
We returned to a disinterested America, no one knew of or cared about our losses, struggles and sacrifices. Somalia Veterans have never received a cleansing welcome home to rid us of the guilt of emptiness, failure and loss. There were no red white and blue half time events, marching bands or parades. We just…returned, disappeared and became a distant faded memory, an irrelevant whisper in the footnotes of military failures. Today most Somali Combat Veterans share a void and cold bond of abandonment by our nation.
War is fought by the poor and working class. The rich, well-bred and political elite don’t send their children to do the dirty work of our nation. These cowardly chicken hawks send others to become the next generation of throw away soldiers to become transparent, expendable and forgotten. Do soldiers fight for freedom of the oppressed or for corporations and their callow, blood stained war profiteers? Not once did I hear a soldier lament about fighting for freedom, liberty or America. In the end we do what we are told but don’t fight for ideology, badges or awards. We fight for those on our left and right. We fight to return to our loved ones. We fight instinctively to survive, like a rabid cornered rat. If there is a hell, it is here on earth, in the haunting uncelebrated darkness of every war ever fought. It seeps from the shallow graves of the innocent, shrouding the forgotten dead, silencing the hallowed cries of motherless children, forever haunting the living.
A part of my soul was cut off and buried deep in the wretched fly infested sand of Somalia. I often wish I had never gone. Sometimes wish I was still there. Oddly, I would not relive my life differently. I am who I am today because of Somalia, the beginning of a long lonely journey leading to the spiritual awakening of my soul. Most importantly, I have learned to let it go as I approach life’s fourth quarter, as the torrid past bitterness of Mogadishu only steals from the moments of today.
Once a Soldier
© Greg Alderete 2016