Undertaking the task of collecting, researching, compiling, and composing a collective of war stories is never easy. Doing it almost 25 years after the fact makes the task about as challenging as it gets. So, why does he do it? Why does Bravo Charles (B.C.) choose to undertake such a monumental task? The answer lies in the journey, both his and ours, from the time we answered the call to serve to the present day. It is a complex journey, one that has just as many victories and hardships back home as the actual time spent in combat. His story, and ours, personifies the journey of the combat Soldier that many know from past wars and that present and future veterans learn all too often.
His story starts out like something out of the movies; small town, corn-fed country boy who lands a college football scholarship to Elon College, later transferring to Appalachian State in North Carolina. Desert Storm is occurring as he walks the campus. Like any young man who was raised with the mindset of “be part of something bigger than yourself”, He drops it all and enlists in the United States Army as an Infantryman. His high school sweetheart, a high-maintenance coed named Shannon, drops the hammer on him, believing he will never amount to anything. Ironically, B.C. names his M-60 Machine Gun after her, which turns out to be some sort of twisted legacy when the gun gives him a hard time right in the middle of a very intense firefight (The Baptism).
He does BCT/AIT at the Benning School for Boys, like thousands of Infantrymen before and after him. But his journey was special, more like a gift. B.C., along with Earl, Mangie, Grinch, Cabbie, and Brawny, were part of a Cohort, recruits that are put together at Reception and complete Basic Training, Advanced Individual Training, and move to their first duty station as a group. This concept has been utilized on a small scale for combat units for years. The results of the Cohort concept are phenomenal. In A/1/87 IN’s modern history, Cohorts have produced outstanding leaders. This group would be no different, with several of its members occupying distinguished leadership roles in and out of the military even today. But the real success is the teamwork and close friendships that develop out of this type of units.
I talk and write frequently about the term potential, and how the Army is designed to assess it versus experience. When you are working with cohorts, you have no choice, there is no real experience. This is where B.C. stood out. From the outset, many of the NCOs could tell that he had what it took for increasing responsibility. We saw it in the train up leading to Operation Restore Hope at the NTC, Hurricane Andrew Relief, and Fort Bragg, NC, where, as a young Soldier on the MOUT site, he skipped a grenade simulator off a second story window, caught the grenade as it fell back to earth, and threw it back in the window before it exploded; talk about coolness under fire.
The key to relying on an inexperienced member of an organization is trust. B.C. demonstrated that he, along with others in his cohort, could be trusted to do the right thing in the absence of supervision, which is the essence of the Army’s Mission Command. This was probably the result of several years playing organized sports as a young man. He made sound decisions with little or no supervision, often anticipating the situation well in advance of others. Things like choosing and moving to over-watch positions, anticipating left and right limits, continuous improvement of machine gun positions, and preliminary pre-combat checks of himself and his Assistant Gunner aided the Squad in deploying and being prepared for follow-on missions much quicker.
Others saw this potential, which was evident in him being promoted to SGT after just 25 months in the Army and his selection to Squad Leader for the deployment to Operation Uphold Democracy, a deployment he did not have to be a part of, but rather delayed his PCS to the 7th ID in order to take his squad to combat once again. B.C. was also the chalk leader during the initial assault from the deck of the U.S.S. Eisenhower.
Leaders also recognized his toughness and willingness to get the job done no matter what. On numerous occasions in Somalia, on long missions involving considerable distances, I could tell he was hurting, carrying close to this body weight in weapon, ammo, and gear. He would not give up. I attest this never quit attitude to his football days, where the old-school mindset was “you either play hurt or you don’t play”. In fact, you can draw one major parallel between athletics and military service; one wrong step, one lateral movement, one hard landing can be life changing. In Haiti he also experienced a particularly harrowing incident where he kept a squad alive while literally swimming much of the night through a highly destructive hurricane that killed 1,100 people (The Prelude). You could say that B.C. put it all on the line on every mission and was left with two titanium knees, an ankle that did not heal properly, and PTSD.
As with any experience where morality is tested, you cannot come away from a combat experience either physically or emotionally unscathed. This is an important aspect behind the writing of the book. Talking and writing about experiences helps not only B.C., but those who shared his experiences first hand. His last assignment was with the 25th Infantry Division(light). After receiving a medical discharge for combat related physical disability, a diagnosis of PTSD, and two failed marriages, the journey had just begun for B.C. It is important to note that his struggles were not atypical. Anyone who has experienced modern war comes away changed in a way that families and friends, and the American public in general, will never understand. He was able to function, even flourish; College educated, married to Kim for the last 17 years with a plethora of children, middle school football coach. Yet there seemed to be some unfinished business when it came to Somalia. He recognized that most Americans do not know the story of the first active participants of Operation Restore Hope
After the Army gave campaign credit to participants in Operation Restore Hope in 2014, B.C. realized it was time to tell the story. Reaching out to his Platoon from Somalia, he collected and compiled the viewpoints of each of us. The goal behind the book is to tell the story of the Platoon, the Company and the rest of the Battalion. It is important to B.C. that the memories are not only de-conflicted to tell the most accurate story (it has been 23 years, memory becomes faded), but the story is from the viewpoint of the Soldier, the one on the ground who is getting it done. It is also important to note that the most important events documented in this book are not the ones that involve body counts or the killing of Somalis in combat, but rather the incidents where decisions were made that ultimately saved innocent lives on both sides (The Gift).
One of the things that the reader will realize when reading the excerpts is the raw manner in which he conveys the story. This is Bravo Charles. With a matter-of-fact writing style and a sense of humor that borderlines on the macabre, he tells it perfectly. He captures the raw environment that is Somalia. If you are looking for a book that provides analysis on the strategic objectives or operational decisions of Operation Restore Hope, look elsewhere. If you want stories from an American kid who found himself in the Horn of Africa on an extended journey into the obscure, this is your book. This is told from the point of view of the Infantryman, a machine gunner, not even a year out of Basic Training, thrust into a situation that he just had to figure out as he went along.
Those of us that were fortunate enough to serve with Bravo Charles understand his motivation to tell the story. Usually, when someone hears that you served in Somalia, the response is “Black Hawk Down, right?”. Most are unaware of the fact that the majority of 10th Mountain’s Battalions served in Somalia in the months leading up to October in some fashion. This is his story, and we will forever be grateful for his willingness to take on the task.
I haven’t seen him in 23 years, yet when I talked to him on the phone for the first time since then, I called him Brother. Kind of like what Earl said in his blog post, it just fit.
Copyright© Bravo Charles & Behind the Gun 2016