Setting: Around the 17th of December, 1992. Though we’d been around fire several times since arriving on the 11th or 12th, today was unique.
“The old 1st of the 87th infantry traded their skis for helicopters and went tear-assing around ‘The MOG’, looking for the shit……” – Paraphrased from the film “Apocalypse Now”
Our first Air Assault mission was to a small village somewhere west of Mogadishu and Baledogle. I couldn’t tell you the name, because I never heard it. Since I wasn’t going with my own platoon the other platoon apparently didn’t think I needed to know. This mission was done in broad daylight and even consisted of performing false insertions, something we had done when we flew with the famed Task Force 160 during our time in Death Valley. I remembered driving in a Humvee while at NTC in Death Valley with First Sergeant Poe along a ridge as 155mm howitzers tore the valley up below us.
“THAT’S SOMETHING, AIN’T IT SLANE!?!?!?!” First Sergeant Poe exclaimed as the two of us headed across the ridgeline.
And it was. I just smiled back like a big kid watching the valley get blown to oblivion. He looked very much the same; like an excited kid. A typical grunt reaction to all hell breaking loose from a model grunt if there ever was one.
Anyway, a false insertion is exactly what it sounds like. The pilot pretends to land and let the troops off in several different locations, so anyone watching has no idea which site the troops got off at. It could be all of the sites for all they know. However, we weren’t flying with Task Force 160, or even our own 10th Mountain Aviation unit, which was also very good.
For this mission we were flying with some unit out of Germany and the first thing our pilot yelled to us was something like “Got a map?” as he pointed to void with wires hanging out in the helicopter dashboard where his GPS equipment was supposed to be. And just as we were on our final approach, he screamed back to the chalk leader “I think this is it! If it’s not, just fire up a flare and I’ll circle back and pick you up!” Holy crap.
SSG Ferriero kindly informed him that the pilot had overshot our objective, thus changing our assault approach. Murphy is a bastard.
“Oh boy….” I thought to myself as we began to close in on our landing zone (LZ). “I’m about to get dropped off ‘somewhere’ in the middle of butt-fuck Somalia, who knows where. But if I’m lost, shoot a fucking flare and the fucking guy who left me here lost, will somehow find me again, and then miraculously find the fucking base we just left and have no idea how to find again?”
It was now apparent that the pilot was “wingin’ it” with the false insertions. Doing it to try and cover up the fact that he almost had us assault the wrong objective.
As soon as the wheels touched the ground, we were out the door about 10 meters and hit the dirt in the prone position (on your stomach facing out with your weapon at the ready), and as soon as the last man hit the dirt, the helicopter lifted back off and smothered us in a fury of dust. As soon as it was gone, we were able to lift up our goggles and start our mission.
Once everyone was at the rally point, we spread out and began walking through the town. Our squad, 2nd squad, was on point. Within about 3 minutes, a single shot echoed out and we all kissed the dirt.
“SHOTS FIRED!” SSG Ferriero shouted as everyone kissed dirt.
Though, we initially hesitated. We’d never been shot at before and didn’t recognize the distinct “CRACK” made when a rifle was fired directly at us. You could actually hear the round whiz by. It was a mistake we’d never make again.
I’ve been here just a few days and someone already hates me. It felt a little like going to a new high school, except everybody had guns and various scary exploding things. I remember looking around and seeing what I think was a general at the rear of our formation, just taking a knee. I guess he didn’t want to get his uniform dirty. And besides, who wants to shoot the enemy’s general? It turned out to be the battalion commander.
Suddenly, a child ran out directly in front of us carrying what looked like a weapon. Every single weapon went from safe to kill instantly, the sound echoing in unison. I can’t tell you how uncomfortable it is to aim the most destructive weapon in the light infantry at a child. After simultaneously realizing the kid wasn’t armed, we all clicked our weapons back on safe, without anyone saying a single word.
“Good fire control, Sergeant. I was aiming at him, too.” LTC Sykes told Sergeant Wasik.
After scanning the surrounding area and unable to locate the source of the shot, we picked up and started moving again. Franklin and I headed over to link up with elements of another platoon.
I had been “loaned” to my old platoon sergeant, SFC Gary Mason and SFC Mason wasn’t very happy about it. He had basically demanded that he get the other, more experienced M60 gunner, Terrance Eaddy, a demand my current platoon sergeant and platoon leader ignored. I didn’t take offense to his demand.
Eaddy had been an M60 gunner for probably the better part of 3 or 4 years by then. I hadn’t even been out of basic training for a year at this point, and had been made a gunner just days before coming to Somalia after putting in my time as an assistant gunner to SPC Morris who had ETS’d (got out of the Army). To compound matters exponentially with SFC Mason’s disappointment, my assistant gunner had shown up looking like a bandito out of an old western. He had the two belts of M60 ammo he carried (I carried 8 to 10) crossed over his chest.
“WTF is up with that shit?” Mason asked Franklin.
“What do you mean, sergeant?” Franklin innocently asked.
“You look like a G.D. bandito. Poncho Fucking Villa. Why the hell are you carrying your ammo like that, Franklin?” Mason asked the bewildered Franklin.
“I dunno, sergeant…” Franklin replied, shrugging his shoulders.
I had tried to remedy the situation prior to leaving. He had slipped through the pre-mission inspection because he had the ammo in bandoliers like he was supposed to. Sometime between the inspection and boarding the birds he had gone “full bandito” on us. By the time I noticed, we were boarding the Black Hawks.
“Badges? We don’t need no stinking badges!” I said, quoting a line from an old western (The Treasure of the Sierra Madre), hoping it would lighten up the situation.
“Get that fucking monkey dick out of your mouth when you’re talking to me!” Mason said, referring to my cigarette, a phrase I had grown quite accustomed to over the previous year when he was my platoon sergeant.
“I think cigars are monkey dicks, sergeant. This would be more like a cat dick or something.” I replied.
“Move the fuck out, Mountain Man.” He ordered, using his preferred nickname for me.
Excerpt from “Looking for the Ish” in “Behind the Gun”
Copyright© Bravo Charles & Behind the Gun 2016