Blood on the Altar: Poncho’s Last Walk

SSGTewes
SSG Tewes of 2-14 INF on September 25th under fire at the crash site. Photo Credit R. Burke.

An expanded excerpt from the full chapter.

Setting: the early morning hours of September 25th, 1993 in Mogadishu Somalia. A chapter that could easily be called “The Original Black Hawk Down”. Based on the firsthand accounts of 1-87 INF, 2-14 INF, 3-75 RGR and 5th Special Forces soldiers.

Blood on the Altar

The incident we’re about to re-live in this chapter is largely unknown by the American public as a whole, but not completely. It was briefly addressed in “Black Hawk Down” and received a few paragraphs of mention in a handful of major newspapers. If I had to give the mission itself a title, it would be “The Original Black Hawk Down”. The result of this mission was 3 American dead, and 3 American wounded with two of the wounded being what I would describe as brutally severe, and one of those two is a man I call a friend and a brother. My children know his name and his gift upon the altar. However, you do not; which is a major reason as to why I’m writing this book. Those of us who know Rolando “Poncho” Carrizales call him a hero, a title he would readily reject.

In July and August of 1993, at the end of the “Summer in Hell”, the call was passed to C CO 1-87 Infantry as they were deployed to “The Mog” as attachments to TF 2-14, relieving 1-22 Infantry. By now, the US involvement in Somalia was dedicated as a Quick Reaction Force (QRF) in the city of Mogadishu. TF 2-87 had also been the main QRF for operations in Somalia, but unlike those of us in A CO 1-87 Infantry and the rest of TF 2-87, TF 2-14 was under UN control. Not only was their command structure vastly different while being under international control, their utilization was very different as well.

The 24th of September started out as just another day, a day they would refer to as another “Groundhog day”. Wake up at 0530 hours, vehicles loaded by 0600 hours and by 0900 hours chow. The day would then continue with squad drills followed by cards and “bones” while the QRF say back, waiting to be called. SSG Rossman was the squad leader for 3rd platoon of C CO 1-87 Infantry. As a Ranger, SSG Rossman was viewed as one of the most competent leaders through his soldier’s eyes as well as his superiors in the Mog. He spent the day listening to “Mad Man of the Mog” on the Armed Forces Network (AFN).

Called the Mobile Weapons Squad, their QRF mission was normally to pull rear security during missions for C CO 2-14 Infantry, while attached to the company’s TOW platoon, which was similar to our own E-87 (Provisional). With their desert camouflaged fast back hummers which they had spray painted with “C CO 1-87”, they had two .50 caliber M-2 machine guns, no fewer than TEN 7.62 M-60 machine guns and four MK-19 40 MM grenade launchers.

By mid to late afternoon, the squad began settling in for naps, which the chain of command encouraged. Being the QRF meant that at any moment you’d be called out without any idea of how long it would be before you’d get a chance to rest again. So, taking naps became a big part of “Groundhog Day” for the QRF in Mogadishu. However, today there was a birthday. Poncho was turning 23 today and the napping would have to wait a bit longer than usual while his squad mates took opportunity to celebrate a little; I imagine many of the same juvenile pranks we would pull on birthdays or holidays were much the same. Poncho still remembers the number they pulled on him that day, but I’m choosing to leave those details for him and his squad as a happy moment for them to hold on to.

At 1700 hours, the squad unloaded their vehicles for the day. As the evening turned to night and the squad lay fast asleep in their desert camouflaged uniforms and boots (DCU’s).

At approximately 0145 hrs, Ranger Adam Bittner was on guard when he saw what he described as a “fireball” in the sky over the city.

By  0200 hours the squad was awoken by 1SG Tucker. It was “Go time”. A black hawk helicopter was “missing” and the QRF was going to find them. SSG Rossman notified SPC Archibaul and SGT Boult ready the squad. This meant the QRF had to have the vehicles loaded and ready to go within 10 minutes, during which time Rossman received a five-minute briefing on the situation. During the briefing, Rossman learned that a black hawk had been shot down in the city; the pilots were alive and fleeing the crash site.  SSG Rossman briefed his squad on the situation and presented their operations order. They would travel the K-4 circle to the airport, circumventing the 13 mile secure route, and they would follow aircraft to the site.

As the squad started out of the back gate, the atmosphere among the group was tense. How had Somalis managed to shoot down a black hawk, they wondered. The black hawk was said to have been traveling at over 100 knots as is flew over the city, an impossible shot with a mere Rocket Propelled Grenade (RPG). They had no idea what to expect. After a while Poncho began a conversation with SGT Boult, not sure why the route seemed to be taking so long. According to the briefing they had received, it wouldn’t have taken this long to get to the crash site. As it turned out, the convoy had missed a turn to the crash site by about 100 meters.

At 0300 hours, Poncho’s Humvee was the first to arrive at the crash site. Until SSG Rossman could get the rest of the vehicles turned around, they would have to secure the site alone. Immediately Poncho’s group came under fire; an RPG exploded just behind them. They dismounted and began returning suppressive fire, with Archibald unleashing hell’s furty with the M-60 machine gun. Archibald is the only M-60 gunner that I couldn’t beat during M-60 qualification (though I was told I tied him eventually), having placed 3rd in the all Army competition, with Poncho as his AG. There couldn’t have been a finer group of soldiers defending this crash site.

When Rossman arrived, he left part of the squad further down the road making an arc type perimeter around the crash site, with Poncho’s Humvee at the 12 o’clock position, and everyone else placed at their 10 o’clock on down. Rather than being rear security, the squad was now on point. As they maneuvered into position, Poncho could see that while the left was secure, he was worried about a gap in the perimeter to his 1 o’clock.

As Rossman approached the scene on foot, having stopped two hundred meters shy, he encountered a head sized object in the road which turned out to be a smoking helmet, eventually learning it had been the helmet worn by the crew chief on the black hawk who was now dead and in the wreckage. As they approached the site, they looked for trip wires and booby traps, figuring at this point that they were walking into an ambush.

A call over the radio confirmed that the pilots had been safely recovered, so the rescue mission was now a recovery; they would be recovering the bodies of the 3 dead crew members. As Rossman moved over to Poncho’s team, all hell was being unleashed as they unloaded on the Somali positions with everything they had. The other team was covering their six at an intersection just 50 meters away as Archibald suppressed the enemy positions, exercising good fire control. As abruptly as it started, the firing stopped. Having shot high, which was pretty typical, the Somalis hadn’t managed to inflict any casualties on the group.

As SSG Rossman began to move toward the other fire team which had secured the intersection, their M-60 opened up when a Somali had come into the intersection firing an AK-47. He took cover until the firing subsided, which coincided with that team’s M-60 jamming, making a sound “you hope you never hear in combat”. After moving to Carr’s position in the intersection, he used his leatherman pliers to help Carr free up the machine gun. Once the machine gun was again operational, Carr again returned fire, this time quickly silencing a sniper.

By the time the sun began to come up, Rossman was able to make out the rotor of the downed black hawk, noticing that it looked as though it was “surgically removed”. They were beginning to run low on ammo, having consumed about 50% of their basic M-60 load, and fearing the crash site was booby trapped, they initially stayed clear of the wreckage. In the center of their perimeter was a mosque; as their initial orders were to keep everyone away, they now had to adjust to civilians heading into the mosque for morning prayer. Rossman and his men redistributed ammo and Rossman secured another few hundred rounds of 7.62mm for the machine guns.

Then a call over the radio came for Rossman to bring a poncho to the crash site; the crew chief had been located. After getting a sitrep from his fire teams and learning that Carr’s team reported only kids in front of their position, Rossman headed toward wreckage.

When he got to the wreckage, SFC Ed Ricord asked Rossman for his pliers before then reaching in and removing a dog tag from the deceased; SGT Ferdinand C. Richardson. As SFC Ricord instructed SSG Rossman on recovery procedures, the thing that stuck in Rossman’s mind the most were SFC Ricord’s instruction telling him “Above all, treat him with respect”. During the recovery, those words echoed repeatedly through Rossman’s mind. Treat him with respect. Even in death, maybe even especially in death, we respect and honor each other as soldiers. For the dead, the ultimate sacrifice has been laid upon the altar; their fight now over. As the recovery continued for the remaining crew members, the crash site again began taking more and more fire, rounds striking the wall just above the helicopter.

As Rossman moved to gather SITREP’s (situation reports) from his fire teams, he could hear SGT Boult yell out as he returned fire.

“RPG! RPG!” Boult yelled as his team began suppressing a partially opened doorway in which stood an approximately 12-year-old boy with an RPG.

The boy fired, but fired short. Though Rossman reported that he was unaware of the boy’s fate, Poncho confirms that he had been killed.

Now, as Poncho had feared, the group began taking heavy fire at their 10 and 1 o’clock positions, with the 1 o’clock being the most vulnerable. To their 1 o’clock, a 3 story building erupted with fire coming from each floor, causing the squad to return 40mm grenades in volume into the building, while the squad machine guns ripped each floor apart. Archibald yelled out that he was running low on ammo as the cobra gunships tore through the buildings around them in an attempt to cover the soldiers exposed on the ground. Rossman was able to secure another 200 rounds from 1SG Doody just as several more explosions ripped around Poncho’s Humvee.

Poncho saw Archibald retrieving something from the Humvee. Believing his gunner needed his help, Poncho got up to assist him. As Rossman got to the site, several explosions rocked the group as they took a volley of several more RPG’s, followed by automatic gunfire. As Rossman got to the team, Poncho fell back into the street, seemingly unconscious. Rossman yelled for Poncho, believing that the explosions had knocked him unconscious, but to no avail.

As Rossman grabbed Poncho, he noticed a small one-inch hole in the left side of his neck. At first, there was no blood. Within a few seconds, the wound began pulsating, covering Rossman with Poncho’s blood as Rossman immediately yelled for medic. The blood was shooting out waist high and Rossman tried his best to stop the bleeding. After several more minutes and no medic arriving to dress Poncho’s wounds, Rossman continued to save Poncho as best he could, using Poncho’s field dressing to apply pressure to the wound.

One of the FO’s (Forward Observers) SPC Gregg Long exposed himself to heavy fire as he ran to retrieve a medic for Poncho.

As SFC Ed Ricord, a Special Forces Medic with 5th SFG, arrived at their position, Poncho was again conscious and able to speak.

“What do we have here? You picked a fine place to try and lay down.” SFC Ricord calmly said to the pair.

“I think need to get the fuck out of here…” Poncho replied as he choked on his own blood from the wound in his neck.

“We’re working on it buddy.” SFC Ricord calmly replied as he took over treating Poncho’s wound from SSG Rossman.

As Rossman started to re-assess the situation of the rest of his squad, Archibald yelled out that he had been hit. SGT Boult pulled Archibald out of the turret where he had been manning the machine gun which was now conspicuously silenced. Rossman noticed a bullet hole that had ripped through the windshield of the Humvee and had initially thought Archibald had been gut-shot, but it turned out to be his thigh.

“The only thing harder than self-pity is facing your own wounded soldiers.” – SFC (Ret) Olin Rossman

SFC Ricord worked frantically to save Poncho’s life as the fight raged on. The skill of a Special Forces medic is second to none, and in the heat of the battle, they can perform surgery on a patient. Eventually Ricord was able to pinch of the artery in Poncho’s neck enough to drastically slow the bleeding.

Rossman jumped into the turret to man the M-60, finding it difficult to operate with his hands slick with the blood of his soldiers. From the waist down he was soaked in blood, and his hands and wrists were as well. As the battle raged on, 1SG Doody and Rossman coordinated several more 40mm strikes at a sniper position, using HE and CS rounds. The gunships also took seveal passes ripping through the enemy positions in the surrounding buildings.

As the fight raged on, 2-14 was also completely engaged in the fight, as RPG after RPG ripped into the perimeter with nonstop machine gun fire. SGT Reid was struck with an RPG, blowing off one of his hands and a leg, blinding him in one eye, and leaving him covered with shrapnel wounds.

After pulling the mangled, charred Black Hawk apart by using a vehicle, and recovering the remains of the crew, the order would soon come to withdraw.

————————————————————–

“TO THE TOP!!!”

Copyright© 2014 by Steve Slane / Bravo Charles and Behind The Gun

4 thoughts on “Blood on the Altar: Poncho’s Last Walk

  1. I have heard about this encounter for 25 years now. My nephew is SPC Archibald.
    Very few people, in fact no one has heard of this event. But everyone has heard of Black Hawk Down. For every soldier involved involved in the battle of September 25 it has been a difficult passage of time. For those who are living today I hope the publication of this book helps in their healing process. To those who have not survived I hope their families find peace, acknowledgement of their loss and eternal honor for their loved ones. To all involved in events of this book I thank you for your professionalism, courage and service to our country. Bless you all.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. 25September
    Rude awakening at 0200 hours, ‘Get it on’, and we loaded trucks by 0210 and were off towards the rumor – a downed aircraft – leaving our compound sometime between 0220 to 0230 hours. Leaving the front gate, we turned right into the city past the Embassy, and right past the north side of the hospital we shot up twelve days ago. Lucky we didn’t get ambushed. We turned toward the airfield via the K-4 traffic circle to pick up a fire-truck, but someone decided it wasn’t coming with, so we just passed through the airfield perimeter road and out the east gate up and along a ridge that stretched towards downtown and Newport, about two klicks east of the airfield. It was no mans land, border area between two rival clans. We were stopped on the main north/south high ridge road east of the crash site and received word the crash site was receiving small arms fire, but were still on the trucks when an Egyptian convoy of M113 APC’s passed through us, and it was the Egyptians, who had come and rescued our pilots. The pilots were wounded, burned, and one was blind. The one who could see had held off a group of Somalis, killing two, until he was out of Ammunition, had sat down, and a Somali boy came to them, said to follow him and led them to a building to hide. The boy then, either led them to an Egyptian checkpoint or led the Egyptians to them. I don’t know for sure. The pilots had 50% burns over their body area.
    We moved from the second truck towards the rear of the convoy, where we turned right down a wide street with modern buildings, still evident in the dark night, the large buildings with large wide side streets, each doorway and window a darker square. We moved down this street for four to five hundred meters of city blocks, coming to an intersection at the bottom of a long sloping hill. The cross street loomed in front of me, as we moved down on either side of the street, myself on the left side. I came up on two humvees exchanging machine-gun fire with targets down the street to the left, and further up the street to the West. There was a fire burning in the intersection, which I mistook for a tire-fire roadblock, on the opposite corner from the two humvees. I crossed behind the humvees, screening my night vision almost in the middle of the intersection, as most of my platoon moved to the right past the fire. We immediately took incoming fire from down the street to the left and up the street to the west. The humvees continued to return fire, and the arriving company deployed to the other side of the intersection taking up positions along the western edge of the road. I had run across the intersection running directly into a scrap pile of broken wood and corrugated steel sheets, almost tripping on it, hearing my name shouted as I made my way through the debris and past the fire to the sound of my squad leader’s voice, sounding off my presence as I arrived. –sorry, flare scared me-an Ak-47 only 40-50 meters to our left, no place to hide, it got pretty anxious with fire from all around, three sides now. I finally ran through the roadblock looking fire and joined my team, not looking at the fire to save my night vision. On arriving and announcing my arrival, McClain and I were positioned across the street from where the rest of the platoon faced west towards the cities heart, and McClain and I were watching an alley on the far side of the fighting. The firing is mostly us, but there is enough incoming to worry a person, and demand a response and the crescendo is quite loud. SSG directs McClain and I to join the M60 on the other side of the road, and we move to a small concrete escarpment and set up in the light of the fire facing down an alley between two large four story buildings. Meanwhile, 1st and 2nd squad blast this building with the help of 1/87 M60 and M-19 gun hummers and our m60 teams. One gun team was set up with us, but were called away to assist the fires on the other side of the street. The firing behind us was tremendous, but McClain and I were intent on our alley and missed the light show. It must have been horrific. The people who shuffled out of them the next morning unarmed and unmolested, may later need therapy. Twenty feet to the right is the fire, which I still have not looked at, and Danny says, “Hey, look at that helicopter,” I’m thinking what helicopter and he indicates the fire. It’s then that I glance to the right and peer at and into the fire, finding flames licking up past melted props and the mast protruding as if a fiery funeral pier from the middle of the thirty by thirty feet of what I now realize is flaming fuel and burning airframe and luckily, all ammunition on board had already cooked off. McClain and I stayed in this position until 0530, first light, with the dawn breaking beyond the buildings to our front and the fire-fight having carried on for thirty-five to forty minutes behind us, to the right in the intersection and extending down the street to our left. First light revealed a blind alley between the building the Helicopter had hit, and a massive gray cement structure all of four stories and a hundred meters down the street to our left. The rest of the squad had occupied this building, climbing over the triple concertina protecting it. On the open veranda along the building or just inside, a Somali was encountered, apprehended and commenced to wail as if he was being mistreated. About 0530, we were called to join SSG Tewes up on the roof, four stories above the battle.. I asked how much of the building was secured, was told just this stairwell. This was a massive building, a sort of large administrative building, with wide corridors, rooms, and stairwells leading to the roof. The roof was massive, with several stairways going the width, and four to six running the length, rows or columns of stairwells, and all we secured was one in the southwest corner, and the Squad plus some of second, Rays squad, SSG Tewes, and LT. Hanes.
    When assembling on the veranda, I again ran into Ray, who promptly informed me he still had to shit, but had nothing in which to wipe with, therefore I reached around my neck, removed my desert camouflage drive-on rag, and handed it to him.
    Some time after assembling on the roof, he saw me and said, “I just took a combat shit, I leaned on the back of the stairwell, and my ass just exploded!” I didn’t ask for the drive-on rag back.
    There were Marine Corps murals and various spray painting by the marines on the walls indicating their presence previously. Turns out this used to be their HQ while here and in brighter times was a functioning civil blood bank. Must have held a lot of blood, it is massive. Sixty meters by one hundred and twenty meters at least and they liked to come to the roof. There’s a short concrete railing, of a cap over thick concrete spindles. We on the roof are lined up facing west into the city.
    There is the intersection down to our immediate left and a three-story building directly across the street from ours, and another next to it to our right front. Past this right side building, the street turned west and there was another building just coming into the new days light, and we observed a family stirring inside, going about their morning routine. Further up the street stood a long dark building running parallel to ours, with wooden shutters on the windows, and directly behind this building stood a structure maybe a story higher than the three story shuttered structure. This one also ran parallel to ours and would become the focus of our attention later.
    McClain and I were on the extreme left of the line of riflemen, with Danny on the left of me with his SAW, I with my M203 grenade launcher. Ray and a member of his squad were twenty meters or so down the rail, and SSG Tewes, the Lt. and the rest of our squad. We were taking fire from the large building that ran parallel to ours and was three buildings into the valley to the west.
    On the far side of the valley, the terrain rose gradually for four hundred meters to where I could see a monument sitting squarely on the next ridge next to the road that was a continuation of the road we ingresses here on. Beyond the crest were the rooflines of the Presidential Palace and surrounding buildings. The intervening valley floor to the south of the large apartment buildings directly to our front was an open bazaar type area. On the approaches to this from our side were corrugated sheet metal vending shacks, one of which was the mass of debris from the helicopter striking one across the street from the building it hit, the same debris I found myself stumbling through earlier this morning. Machine gun fire erupted down the street from the long four-story building, the pink/orange tracers a winking line of fluid life, darting towards unseen targets below me, friends of mine, I understood. I relayed to the Lt. where the fire was originating from, and fire erupted from a lower level window on the left side, and Danny and I returned fire, Danny exclaiming he had hit, and with the volume of fire from his SAW, I believe him. The LT. Asked if I could mark which building we were receiving fire from. I fired a green smoke grenade and it passed over the roof of the building, he yelled back that I had missed. I waited peering intently at it, waiting, and then, yes, a thin wisp of green smoke rose from behind the building, and I yelled back, “No I didn’t.” The thin green line rose as if a finger pointing, directly midsection of the building, and the reason soon became apparent as a Cobra helicopter gunship passed overhead spraying twenty millimeter canon rounds, which inadvertently fell on us, with one striking Schneider. Whoosh, and off went the TOW missiles, and the show began, pass after pass, one to reload, another attacking, it was horrific and wonderful, you couldn’t put a price on the experience.
    SSG Tewes had Tiejens fire his LAW rocket at the building, and as we watched, the missile flew into the door of the apartment where we had watched the family rise, and exploded inside. Whoops, wonder what happened in there? SSG Tewes shot at a Dog running below us in the street, I think he hit it. I used the intervening exchanges to engage shuttered windows interdicting possible snipers, at the target building, and continuing sighting in my four-power scope shooting at various targets.
    Beyond the valley, topping the crest on the road that continued from our came a crowd, about abreast to the monument, a crowd I estimate at from four to six hundred people as the front filled the width of the street. We had yelled reports from the LT. that crowds packing recoilless rifles were seen approaching; therefore I relayed the presence of this approaching crowd to the LT, who was masked from seeing it by the helicopters target building. The LT. yelled back for me to disperse them, so I calculated for four hundred meters and dropped five or six grenades onto the crowd, and they dispersed. The helicopters finished their business, as fire erupted to the southeast of our building, on the street we had come by. I watched as the humvees in the street below used a multi-colored smoke screen to maneuver to an empty lot adjacent to the crash site. I guess in cover of the machinegun tracers I observed flowing down the street.
    A fire fight ensued on the streets below, the debris of carnage I was later to leap over on my way by, a lot of blood, a smashed M-16 magazine, a nearly burnt into two AT-4 rocket, and a bloody bandage next to a bloody blast spot. We on the roof felt that Sammi might be enveloping us, as the sounds of battle raged on the streets behind us. I was watching the area to the southwest, scoping in on Somalis and generally keeping an eye out when I heard a yell from the stairwell.
    It seems even Danny got the word and as I was gazing and leaning over the railing taking pictures of the Humvees and terrain, the squad had made it to the ground, and SSG Tewes came back up and got me. As I moved towards the stairway, I felt resistance and realized I had accumulated nearly twenty thin wires that got tangled in my equipment, evidently the guidance wires from the TOW missiles. I got out my Leatherman’s to cut them, but they were too strong to cut. I gathered them all up in a bundle and stepped over them continuing towards the stairwell. Running down with SSG Tewes behind me, I had my camera and as I leaped over what was left of the helicopter, I took a picture under my arm of SSG Tewes running behind me. The rest of the squad was waiting for us around the corner, we were the last out. We split to either side of the street, making our way along the wall to the first intersection where SGT —–sat in a Humvee with all the color drained out of his face, if you ever seen that on a black man. The hummer was facing down the street we were coming up, so we gathered around it and waited for him to turn around, then continued our trek up the street, watching, running, shooting, it was the wild west. There were too many windows, doors, and alleys so we applied a little suppressive fire into some, and fired down the cross streets as we ran.
    Four to six hundred meters up the road the trucks still waited where we had left them. SSG Tewes accounted for everyone and we boarded the trucks. They were now facing towards the airfield, so we were able to pick up, and watch the sun rising to our left off the Indian Ocean. The Somali people of this neighborhood, within the sounds of battle, were up and carrying on their days. People were coming and going and one would hardly realize the suspense and apprehension the pervaded this convoy. One shot from unknown quarters may have spelled a blood bath. We continued towards home by the round about way of the MSR, all sixteen miles of it. We were home by 0830 and on to a breakfast of T-rat eggs and corn beef hash, pear halves, corn flakes, and apple juice.

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