interviews: specialist jason moore
navigation

Moore was a US Army Ranger between 1992 and 1995. He was an RTO - radio telephone operator for Chalk IV - Helicopter Super Six - Seven on October 3rd. Chalk IV were supposed to set-up a blocking position around the target building, Olympic Hotel. He was 22 at the time of the 1993 firefight.

Let's talk a little bit about the intelligence aspect of this. What kind of briefing were you given before you went out there? What were you briefed about Aidid and his henchmen? What were you told your main mission was?

Our main mission was to capture Aidid; our particular mission as the Rangers was to set up blocking positions around the actual target building, and crowd control.

And did Aidid have a code name?

Yeah, everybody called him Elvis, "Elvis sightings." It was common every time somebody saw Aidid it would come across that, "We've seen Elvis," as the joke goes, "Elvis has left the building."

Were you given the sense that the US had any kind of edge in this whole thing? Were you just hoping to pick him out of a crowd, or did you have informants?

No, we definitely had an informant, one that was nicknamed Abe Lincoln because he was supposed to resemble Abraham Lincoln. He was supposedly the one informant on Aidid's team that was gonna tell us when he was at a meeting, what time he got there, and set up a strobe light on the roof to alert us, and then we could go in and take down the building.

What were you briefed about Lincoln?

We were told that Lincoln was close to Aidid, one of his lieutenants. Supposedly he was giving us information; other than that we didn't know who he was. We were the lowest on the information chain over there, they basically told us what we needed to know and that was it. People were wondering "OK, is he giving us the correct information, or is he giving us bogus information, we're not really sure." We didn't hear anything like who he was, was he on our side, we really didn't know.

Who do you think it was ?

I don't know. To this day, I really don't, I'm not sure.

Who was giving these briefings?

Our chain of command, the Ranger battalion chain of command, at my level, were coming out and giving us briefings.

And what they were telling was that intelligence sources had developed this source?

Exactly, exactly. We had what they called the war room, and every time some new intelligence would come out and they deemed it necessary that we know, each squad or each platoon at a time would go into this war room with all the maps and the pictures of Aidid and all his henchmen and all the targets that we were after and they would brief us on all the updates in intel and everything that they wanted us to know.

Did they ever tell you how highly placed Lincoln was?

No, I knew he was in the hierarchy, very well placed, but as exactly what his relationship to Aidid was I have no idea. From what I understand he was [a] financier, he dealt with finances. We had what was called tiers, Tier 1 was obviously Aidid, he was the main target, and Tier 2 included [Aidid'd more important advisors]; there was probably 30 different individuals in all that we were actually targeting. I know that Lincoln was definitely in the second tier, although he wasn't one of our targets, he was definitely a second tier.

Exactly how was Lincoln supposedly helping the Rangers in this effort?

Well, after about the third mission, once we were briefed on him, basically what he was gonna do was when he was in proximity to Aidid, he was gonna alert us somehow, [I'm not sure] whether it was an infrared strobe that you could only see at night, [or] whether it was some [other] type of signal that was pre-arranged with whoever his handler was. From that it would trickle down through the Ranger battalion to us, and then we would take off and target the building. There was supposed to be an infrared strobe on top of the building, and that would be our target building. I know that he was supposed to sprinkle himself with juice out of a infrared chem light, because we all go in with night vision devices and he was really, really petrified of being shot by the US forces, so he sprinkled himself in this juice so that [when we] went in with our night vision devices, he would glow, and hopefully not be shot. He was extremely scared about that; we were told, four or five times that he was real apprehensive and that to make sure that if anybody was glowing in the room when you came in not to shoot him.

Did you actually personally see one of these strobe lights?

I did. On our fourth mission we were circling Mogadishu for about five or eight minutes, and I was in the door of the helicopter, our feet are hanging over the edge. And as we're flying through the town you can look out over the whole town, and with the night vision devices you can see this infrared strobe flashing on and off like a beacon, on top of this one building. I definitely saw [one] on that mission in particular.

So your intelligence had developed an ace card, hadn't they?

Well, that was the theory. The night that we did go on that mission that the strobe light was there, obviously we didn't capture him. So that leaves some room to wonder how much of an ace card it really was.

To the best of your knowledge did Lincoln actually provide accurate intelligence or not?

No, as far as I know Lincoln didn't give us very good information at all. We never captured Aidid, not on any of the trips that he was supposed to be providing intelligence on, to my knowledge we never came close. It was a lot of dry leads; we went in and there was nothing there, so it was hard to believe in a source like that after two or three missions go by, and you're going in thinking Aidid's gonna be there and he's just not there.

So a certain amount of cynicism developed in the Rangers?

I don't know so much cynicism but I know it was almost a joke amongst the Rangers at our level; Keni Thomas had made that picture with Abraham Lincoln standing on top of a building with a light bulb on his head, and Elvis, an actual picture of Elvis running down the road with a guitar, and I think there was a machine gun in the other hand, and a bunch of Rangers chasing him. There was a lot of levity about the whole thing.

So at a basic level the Rangers, ordinary soldiers, were pretty skeptical about Lincoln as a genuine informant?

I think everybody was really excited because we hadn't heard about him until the third or fourth mission, and at that point there had been some intelligence problems where we didn't get the intelligence and then as things started to come out, and as they started to brief us more and more and then this information about Lincoln came out, we were really excited because we knew we could capture him if we could find him. That was the biggest thing; we didn't have any problem with confidence in our skills or completing the mission, it was finding Aidid [that was the problem.] And so everybody was really excited when this information first came out. And after, I don't know, three or four more missions, and still every single time a dry hole it was, [we were] definitely a little bit cynical, and we did not trust his information at all.

Has it occurred to you the possibility that Lincoln was actually a sort of double agent? That the whole operation on the October 3rd could have been a baiting a trap?

Not at the time, but after October 3rd, we were still over there for a few days, and that definitely occurred to me, because of the amount of force that we encountered on October 3rd and 4th and how quickly it was there. It definitely crossed your mind that maybe he was a double agent or at least led us into the into the lions' den.

The Italians -- what was going on here, what did you see yourself?

After we were there a few days, we started up profile flights, which was we would [take] four or five people up in the helicopters at all hours of the day and night to fly around the city, just so people [wouldn't] know whether it was an actual mission or [not when] the helicopters went up. So, we started these profile flights, and we'd fly around four or five, six times day. And after a couple of weeks, I noticed, and other people in the unit noticed, that every time the profile flights would take off -- the Italian compound was on the far end of the airfield from us -- you would see lights flash and there would be a lot more activity. A pattern continued to develop over the course of the next three, four, five weeks where you would see every time the helicopters went up little blinking lights at the Italian compound and a flurry of activity and then it would stop. There was definitely something going on with the Italians. We were even briefed on that by some of our commanders. We were never given any absolute facts but it was, "Here's what we think. We don't want to cause an international incident, we can't prove it, but this is what we think so try to be careful around the Italians."

Be careful in what way?

Well, there was another incident; we used to run around Mogadishu airport and the whole airfield a couple of times a week, and there was an incident where as we were running by the Italian compound, a shot was fired, and noone knows whether it was an accidental discharge or somebody was actually firing at us or exactly what the cause was, but it just created a lot more tension.

What else did you perceive to be going on in there apart from the signaling?

That was the only thing that we know of for sure, that's what we saw and what we perceived to be going on was that they were signaling the Somalis that we were coming, and we heard that the Italians had been in Somalia for a long time, there's a lot of economic ties, and things like that, so it definitely left you wondering which side they were actually on.

October 3rd was a kind of quiet sort of day; what were you doing?

We were actually getting ready to go on a run; every Sunday morning we had this thing called the "airport marathon" and our squad had to run a complete length around the airport, I think it's like three miles, and so we were getting ready to go on our regular Sunday run.

And then what happened?

Well, the call came down that Elvis has been spotted, another Elvis sighting. At that point we've already done seven missions, and it was not commonplace but it was starting to become a routine. And so you didn't get nearly as hyped up as you did the first few times you went out; it wasn't the same level of adrenaline, it was like "OK, we're gonna go out in the city again." So we loaded up all our gear, radio, the fast rope gloves, all the things we need, and proceeded to take the helicopter into the city.

Just describe the feeling of lifting off and flying over the city.

It was almost fun. We had a new sergeant, Sergeant Galantine and it was, I believe, his first mission, he had just come over -- he'd graduated a school or he'd been away -- and so he was dying to get over there. He caught the next flight over. It was his first mission on our bird and I remember looking over to him and saying, "Scottie, are you ready?" and you [could tell] he was a little nervous, the same way we were on our first flight, and everybody was giving him the thumbs up and "don't worry about it." There was almost a joking atmosphere, a real light joking atmosphere.

Could you see up the side of the bird or were you hanging out?

Well I was the RTO for that whole chalk, Super-67, and so I sat up a little bit higher on the little bench, right next to the chalk leader, which is the leader for the whole helicopter. We both had a little raised seat, and he would give me the signals whether we were gonna land or fast rope and that way I could get those out to everybody else that was sitting there. So although I wasn't right at the door I could see out both doors.

And as you looked out of the doors what were you seeing as you approached the target?

There was a lot of activity, a lot more than normal, nothing extremely out of the ordinary, but as we actually approached the target, the Little Birds had already come in and done their insertion, and there was a brown-out; you couldn't see anything at all. The rotor wash from the helicopter kicked up so much sand that there was zero visibility, and what we do when we fast rope [is that] the person sitting in the door -- you actually sit hanging out of the helicopter -- throws the rope down, and he has to see that it's laying parallel to the ground before he goes out, that's his job, and [on] a night fast rope we got our chem lights on the rope and when the red and green one are parallel, [you know] that the rope has hit ground and therefore you can rope out. It's his job not to leave the bird until he can guarantee that rope is actually on the ground, but because of the brown-out, you couldn't see the ground, you couldn't see five feet away from you, so he was waiting and waiting and waiting, and we heard a loud explosion and the whole helicopter shook, and the 2-door gunners just started screaming, "Go, go, go! We're taking fire! Get out of the bird!" so everybody, without being able to see the ground or know if the rope was even on the ground, just started bailing out of the bird onto this fast rope and heading to the ground.

What had happened? Were you hit?

The helicopter was not hit, it was an airburst RPG that had exploded near the helicopter, and I guess the shockwave of that explosion just shook the helicopter in the air a little bit.

Did you have a nasty feeling?

Yeah, very nasty. That was the first time that we realized it was probably not gonna be like the other missions, and that was the first time we had taken fire before we'd even gotten on the ground; it was definitely a completely different ball game.

And so right from the first seconds of the mission they fired RPGs at your helicopter.

Yeah, again we were not the first in; the Little Birds were the initial insertion and so we were probably there maybe 30 seconds, 45 seconds later, and if you count the time that we hovered because we had to, hoping to wait for the brown-out to clear, maybe a minute later. So, yeah, it was, maybe not from the first seconds but definitely the first minutes of the mission.

Sounds like the guy was waiting there.

It does. I mean at the time, on October 3rd, the thought never crossed my mind, but over the past few years I've definitely thought about it, that someone was waiting, that they were waiting for us to come to that location that day, at that time.

OK, so you slide down the ropes, you can't see a thing, What happens as you hit the ground?

The first thing I see is Blackburn, who was another person on our bird, laying in the road. Goode, our chalk medic, was working on him, and we had no idea what happened. It was really disorientating, because it was the first time anyone of us, at least from our bird, had been injured, and to see him laying there and Goode working on him, it was definitely a scary time.

He looked bad.

He did; his eyes were rolled back in his head. I didn't spend a lot of time actually with him, we just dragged him to some cover and then Goode started to work on him there, but in the initial insertion, when I was sliding down the rope, it was so funny -- Murphy's Law, anything [that] can go wrong will -- when I slid down the rope I had a radio with an earpiece and a mouthpiece and I pushed the talk button that was mounted on my weapon, so I was all set and when I grabbed the fast rope the wire leading from the radio to the earpiece was attached, it was inside my hands, as we went down the rope the friction had completely burned that off. I had another extension with me so the first few minutes of the battle I spent changing over from the headset mike to a hand mike.

So you hit the ground, but you're under fire almost immediately, and you're somewhere with your radio. Where are you holed up at this point, where are you hiding?

I was at an intersection with the rest of the chalk. We had split; it was weird because when you come out of a helicopter, obviously, you come out each side, and some of us had gone to one side of the street and some of us to the other side of the street, so we were at this intersection and I was on the left side of the intersection on the far side of the road, and I'm messing with the radio and I just remember Sergeant Eversmann telling me, "Moore, find some cover," because I was out in the open. And it still didn't register what was going on, until people in that chalk started getting hit, [that] we were taking enemy fire. I didn't even realize it because I was taken with Blackburn, and then as soon as that happened I realized I'd lost the earpiece, so I was frantically trying to [fix it]. The radio's sort of like your lifeline because all your information flows through the radio; that's your connection to the outside world. I was so concerned with that that I didn't realize that we had already begun taking ground fire.

In fact, Galantine lost his thumb almost immediately. Did you see that?

I did. Sergeant Galantine was on the opposite side of the street from me, with Sergeant Telsa. His injury was the first one that sort of brought me back to where I was and what I was doing because I'm standing out in the middle of the road, trying to fix this radio, and I heard Sergeant Galantine scream, and at that point I didn't know what happened, and Sergeant Telsa was right there with him, so Sergeant Telsa came up to him and took care of him, he dressed his wound as best he could and he was just holding his thumb. I remember Sergeant Eversmann wanted us to consolidate on our side of the street, so he told Sergeant Telsa and Sergeant Galantine to run over to our side of the street. And I remember seeing Sergeant Galantine running, and his weapon was just mangled, it was bent and didn't even look like a weapon anymore, and as he's running, his other hand, his left hand, I believe, was shot, but as he's running you can see his thumb flipping back and forth all the way up his arm, because it was almost severed, and so it was still attached, but just by a small portion so you could see it just flopping as he ran across the road, and it was just amazing. First of all, because I had told him maybe ten minutes before in the bird, "Don't worry about anything. Hey, it's gonna be good. Your first mission, glad to have you here, don't stress out," and it was almost like a joke and then ten minutes later, he was wounded. And it definitely woke you up.

He'd only been in Mogadishu about a day.

Yeah, exactly. He's only been in about 24 hours, he got in, I believe, the afternoon before that.

So you're being shot at, you've taken instant casualties, in the meantime the operators are going through the building; do you see any of that?

I didn't see any of that. From what I understand after looking at maps and reading different things about it after the fact, we were dropped off about a block shy of where we were actually supposed to have been dropped, so we didn't get to see the actual mission going down.

And did you see Anton get hit?

I did. I was right next to Anton when he got hit. He was our 203 gunner. We were taking fire down the street, just past this one tree, and we're now consolidated on the same side of the street, and I remember Anton trying to fire, but a 203 is an indirect fired weapon at anything over about 15 meters, so you have to angle it and let the trajectory hit the ground, but this tree was in the way so he couldn't hit this target; every time he'd shoot a round it would end up exploding in the tree, and it was very frustrating. If you tried to shoot it directly, it would fall way short of the target, so it was a difficult position to be in. He kept moving, inching up further and further to take this shot at the vehicle, and that's when Anton took I guess some shrapnel or a bullet in the shoulder, and First Sergeant Harris took his 203 from him and just continued to try to take out the one place we were taking fire from. And Anton moved back and started to take care of his wounds.

Could you actually see the people who were shooting at you? Could you actually see the enemy?

We could see individuals. They were far enough away from us initially that you couldn't make out any features, it was very difficult even to make out the weapons, but you could hear the gunshot and see the little flash, so, although it wasn't a detailed picture, you could definitely at that point make out who was shooting and where they were shooting from.

Were you engaging these people, were you shooting at them?

Initially I wasn't really engaging. My radio was still working at this point, and as an RTO your mission is for communications and that's it. And as they say with FOs and RTOs, if you're shooting then something's gone wrong. Obviously later in the day I ended up shooting, and I remember thinking because so often that's told to the RTO if an RTO is actually firing his weapon that means something must have gone wrong, that's not their job, and so I remember thinking that something must have gone terribly wrong when I started firing the weapon.

What did you hear on the radio at this point?

A little bit of everything. Again, at this point, I missed a lot of the radio communication because when I fast roped in, my head mike was destroyed, so I had to download that one and put a new handmike on. And by the time I got it up and running, we were in the middle of it. Berendsen was still hurt, Sergeant Galantine had just got shot, so it was pretty crazy. I heard some broken transmissions from Captain Steele and Lieutenant Perino and different things; at that point, we still didn't know exactly what happened, we knew that they hit the target building, we knew that there were prisoners coming out, and we knew that we had wounded, and so at that point we thought everybody was gonna either load up in the trucks and we were gonna get out of there, or the helicopters would find a place to land and we would walk to them.

But what happens next is one of the birds goes down. Did you see that?

I didn't see the bird go down, I heard it. From where we were, even over the drone of everything else, you heard the crash. David Deimer was facing the exact opposite [from me], [he] watched it go down, and he tapped me on the leg and he said, "A bird just went down." And at that point, I still don't think that anybody had a real bad feeling. We had wounded, but nobody to my knowledge at that point was critical. Blackburn was the most critical. And we just thought we were gonna get on the convoy and head back, mission over, we had our prisoners, let's get outta here. And then when Deimer told me the helicopter had got shot down, that's when things got taken to a new level. The chaos over the radio traffic increased. I think some of the leaders were finally starting to realize that this wasn't the surgical mission everybody had planned.

What exactly did you guys do next? There's the convoy which is supposed to be leaving with the prisoners, and I think it was meant to pick you up and take you back to base, wasn't it? What actually happened?

I'm not sure exactly what they wanted to do because we had done it so many different ways, sometimes a helicopter would land right there and pick us up, sometimes we would meet them somewhere, sometimes we had to walk numerous blocks back to the to the compound where they could land, so I don't think we expected to actually ride on this convoy back, I think we expected that all the helicopters would land somewhere close, that was the standard operating procedure at that point, and we were all gonna load everybody up and just take off and fly back to the airport.

Can you just explain in detail what the mission plan originally was? What was supposed to have happened?

There was actually three different parts to the mission, there was obviously one part [where] Task Force Ranger would go in on the Little Birds and hit the target building and then, as it was worked out, although it didn't always follow this order, we would fast rope in and set up a perimeter around [the building] that [let] nobody in, nobody out, so that anybody that they flushed out of the building would be stopped and crowds could be kept from taking over the much smaller unit. And then there was also this convoy, which was for prisoners, for wounded and possibly even to pick us up. The convoy was waiting up several blocks away for the mission to be over and they were just gonna roll in, pick up the prisoners, any wounded that we wanted to take that we couldn't get on the helicopters, and they were just gonna go back to the airport.

After the bird goes down, what changes? What actually happens to your chalk?

Our major concern right there -- because, again, we still didn't realize how out of control the situation was actually getting -- our main concern was taking care of Blackburn, who looked critical at that point. And so we sent some people up to the convoy and said, "Look we gotta get this soldier back, we're gonna load him up with you and take him back on your convoy," and that's about the same time that the helicopter went down, so that changes all the plans right there. This information didn't get to even to me and I was an RTO, but more so through word of mouth, what was said was, "We're gonna hop on this convoy, we've already got Sergeant Galantine down, Anton Berendsen down, Blackburn down, all our position is gonna hop on with the convoy, and take all the wounded back," and that was gonna be the new mission for this convoy, just to get all the wounded back, and they were gonna send the other two chalks that were much closer to the downed helicopter, because again they were on the opposite side of the building and a lot closer than we were, to secure that crash site, and so that's how it worked out, we were now split into two elements. We were gonna provide security for the convoy on the way back with the wounded, and they were gonna go secure the downed helicopter.

So the ground convoy pulls up and all the wounded were loaded into this one cutvee which is a sort of like a military pick-up truck. It's not a humvee, it doesn't have a back, it's almost exactly like a military pick-up truck. We had sand bagged the walls, and most of the wounded that were with us were loaded right in the bottom of it. Deimer, I believe, was up front and I was in the back, kneeling on all the guys that were already wounded. They were piled actually so high that I was up above everything that was going on. And then once we loaded up, it still hadn't hit me exactly what we'd stepped into. The convoy started, and we made a right hand turn to start heading back to the airport compound, and I saw someone peek out from behind a corner of a building and fire an RPG. And it went right over the front of our cutvee, literally right over the hood at about chest level for me but about eight to ten feet in front of me, and it exploded on the wall on the opposite side of the street, and the noise was deafening, and you could smell the burning gunpowder. That was when it all became real for me. That was the first time I was scared in any way. I was just petrified. It was just so loud and so intense and unexpected. And right there, that's when I decided I was gonna just lay down in the back of this humvee with all these wounded guys and forget about it. This whole process [took a] matter of one or two seconds, but I just thought to myself, "Well, the next time we go round a corner like that maybe I can shoot the guy with this RPG, and I'm a lot safer actually, believe it or not, sitting up here and shooting at people, and maybe I can pick somebody off before they get me. I don't have any control if I'm down there, over my own destiny." And so all this is going through my mind, this overwhelming urge just to curl up and hide under everybody that I could, and at the same time this self-preservation, just wanting to stop that from happening again. And so I came to the conclusion that I was much safer and better off if I was up firing at the enemy rather than hiding in the humvee. So it was not a fear thing, but sort of a self-preservation thing.

So this convoy becomes like a nightmare; what memories do you have of it? Could you actually see the people shooting at you?

At this point, we could actually tell features of people. They were at most one and a half blocks away, and in Mogadishu a block is maybe 30 feet, 40 feet, 50 feet on the outside. So you could actually identify exactly who was shooting at you. The convoy, like you said, turned into a nightmare as we would go from block to block to block, you could look down the sidestreets and see a group of Somalis with weapons running to set up an ambush a block ahead of you. And then as you went by that ambush they would run another two blocks ahead of you, because the convoy was going so slow, and there were so many vehicles that when the first vehicle stopped everybody else behind it would have to in turn stop and somebody would get stuck in an alleyway and just take fire from all directions. And so they would have to literally ram into the vehicle in front of them, or ram into the vehicle behind them to get out of the alleyway.

Because if you stopped on an intersection...

You got field of fire from all directions. Between the buildings, at least you could see the windows and doors and you had cover on both sides, but in the middle of an intersection you're just taking fire from everywhere.

Were you shooting back?

Yes, and at this point, once we got on the convoy, I continued to fire the whole time. That's when things really, for me, came into focus, after that RPG hit the wall next to us. And I was continuing to fire at all the Somalis. I think I didn't have a fear to fire, but you would see a person just hanging out at the street corner and he didn't have a weapon, and so the first couple of times I passed someone like that, I didn't shoot them -- that was our rules of engagement, unless they have a weapon, you don't shoot -- and then as soon as we pass them, I'd see a weapon come up, and we were fired upon by the same individual, and then it sunk in that [this] isn't a spectator sport, these people aren't coming out to just take a look and see what's going on, if you're in this area right now, you're a bad guy, and so that's when things went to a new level. I think a lot of the soldiers were, I won't say shooting indiscriminately, but they were more apt to fire now. I think there was a huge amount of selective fire. There wasn't just random shooting, and as the day progressed, it got more and more towards random shooting and less and less towards selective, well-placed shots at a known enemy with a known weapon.

You were talking about this extraordinary sort of intensity, the clarity of vision you have in the immediate surroundings and everything else is sort of bit of a blur....

After the RPG went over the front of our vehicle, everything became so clear and there was such a focus, the adrenaline level went up a thousandfold. I could focus on exactly one thing, and it was absolutely clear, but everything else around me was sort of like a fog, like people that were with me telling me things that I did or said and I don't even remember who they are, that they were even on our vehicle, but I have these snapshots of certain things were just absolutely crystal clear. I tell everybody that asks me what Somalia was like, when I came back, that it's sort of like football, and you always want to go to the big game, you've been practicing for years and years but you never made first string, and all of a sudden you get sent in to play, and now what you've been practicing for years and years, now you get to use it, and it's a great feeling, it's just an intense adrenaline rush. The downside is, once you've experienced it, that focus of vision and that clarity and that amount of adrenaline, nothing else compares to it, so it's hard to go back to a regular life because you always want to reach that level again. It's the most incredible feeling in the world, it's just that the price is so high and the risks are so high to attain that, it's a real balancing act.

You say you had these snapshots in your mind; can you tell me a couple of them?

We had stopped at some point, because as this convoy's making its way through the town, it's been told now instead of going back to base to secure Crash Site 1, so it sort of turns around, or meanders a little towards Crash Site 1, and then as we get in closer to Crash Site 1 and we can actually see the downed helicopter and start to be within range, they tell us they decide no, there's another downed helicopter, we want you to go to Crash Site 2. And so we'd left that area and we started going towards Crash Site 2, and then finally it came over, "There's too many wounded, turn back around, and go back to plan A," which was just to go back right to the airfield, and so at this point we had wound our way all through Mogadishu. And I remember one stop in particular, we were at an intersection and when we stopped everybody that was still combat capable would get off the vehicle and go to the corners, that way you could protect the flanks of the vehicle.

So I got off this vehicle, and just as I stepped out, from a side street a hand grenade came flying out, and it was almost surreal, because it looked like a soup can with a wooden handle on it. And I was pretty inexperienced, I'd only been in a battalion about a year, and I didn't know, I mean, I've seen those grenades before, but it didn't click, and so I'm standing there staring at it for about two or three seconds, and then it came to me that I'm actually in combat and that is a grenade, so I yelled, "Grenade!" and dove back, tried to cover all the wounded guys that were on the thing and then cover myself at the same time. So I dived back onto this humvee and covered everybody up, and it doesn't go off. And now I feel like the biggest idiot, because I'm thinking that it is a soup can and you know, I scared everybody into thinking that they were gonna have a grenade go off in their lap, and so I'm sitting there, sorting through it, "Is it a prop? Did it [just] not go [off]? What's going on?" and about the time I got it all sorted out and realized it probably was just a dud grenade, another one comes flying out, and this time I'm a little bit more on track of things, so again I yelled, "Grenade!" and dove back into the truck, on top of Anton and the other wounded, and this one went off. It was only about six or eight feet from us and none of us were injured, but it was almost surreal, because after the first time, I don't know if everybody took me seriously the second time or what. It was a weird time.

Do you remember shooting anybody?

The first one I remember, we were stopped and I was dismounted and you could see three or four Somalis running across the street about a block away. Like I said, they would go a block at a time or two blocks at a time to set up ambushes. I just started picking them out as they were running across the intersection two blocks away, and it was weird because it was so much easier than you would think. You hear all these stories about "the first time you kill somebody is very hard." And it was so much like basic training, they were just targets out there, and I don't know if it was the training that we had ingrained in us, but it seemed to me it was just like a moving target range, and you could just hit the target and watch it fall and hit the target and watch it fall, and it wasn't real. They were far enough away so that you didn't see, or I didn't see, all the guts and the gore and things like that, but you would just see this target running across in your sight picture, you pull the trigger and the target would fall, so it was a lot easier then than it is now, as far as that goes.

Meaning?

Well, that day, I had absolutely no ethical or moral problems with pulling the trigger and taking out as many people as I could. And being back here, years later, I think that they had wives, children, mothers, sons, just like I have a mother and a dog, and all these things. Our government sent us there to do a mission, and I'm sure somebody was paying him to do a mission. [I just] reali[zed] that he was another human being, just like I am. And so that's hard to deal with, but that day it was too easy. That upsets me more than anything else, how easy it was to pull the trigger over and over again.

Any idea how many people you killed?

I don't know that I killed anyone for absolutely sure. Because, again, we didn't run out there to inspect the body and that type of thing, we were continuing to move this convoy on and on. But four or five, that I shot, that I saw drop, and didn't see him move after that in the four or five seconds before we moved again. And at least 15 or 20 others that were wounded.

What sort of things did you see the Somalis doing?

I saw one mother with an RPG, and again, the chronology of the whole thing sort of blends together, but I know this was very early on, this was while we were still at the corner. And you see maybe 75 meters away this woman walking and you can tell she's got a weapon, I didn't know it was an RPG at the time, but I saw a four- or five-year-old kid carrying a plastic shopping bag that you get from the grocery store and inside it you can see the heads to RPG rounds sticking out of this plastic bag. It was amazing, I mean absolutely amazing. Just like I couldn't believe some of the people were actually just watching, it was sort of like their TV or their entertainment. Some people actually didn't have weapons and they were just coming out to check out what was going on.

Absolutely [the] most amazing thing I've ever seen, [was when] we were going down one of the few paved roads in Mogadishu. We'd just gone through this one ambush and just up the road as we're going by and still taking fire from both sides there's a woman carrying two bags, and she's just walking down the middle of the road, and as we go by her, she put her bags down, put her fingers in her ears and just kept walking. And we're shooting at the people on both sides of us, they're shooting at us, and this lady walked right down the center of the street, and absolutely nothing happened to her, and then we got the call that we had to go to this helicopter crash site, so this whole convoy does a K-turn. It absolutely just turns around in the middle of a circle and has to go back through the same ambush that we just went [through], and it's absolutely amazing to see all the vehicles in front of you just suddenly turn around, and you knew you were going the right way back towards the airfield, and you're wondering why is this vehicle doing a turn, and then your vehicle starts turning and in turn everybody goes up and turns around. And we went back by this one older woman, and at this point she [had] gone back and gotten her bags and as we go back by she put her bags down again, put her fingers in her ear, and just kept right on walking, didn't get down on the ground, [it] didn't even phase her, and we went by again and the most amazing thing is, to my knowledge she was never hit, she never was wounded in any way.

Were you aware of how badly your own convoy was getting shot up? Did you hear the screaming from the prisoners?

They were behind us a good ways, and I was so focused that I didn't hear the prisoners at all. I knew our convoy was getting shot up badly because of the radio contact that I had. One of vehicles would become disabled [every] three or four miles [we traveled], and they would bring people up to your vehicle and add them to yours. As more and more people ended up on the back of our cutvee, I realized that obviously we were getting shot up really, really bad.

Right after the grenade incident, I still had good radio reception, and I'd been speaking to different people, but it was real intermittent. I felt like somebody had grabbed me by my left shoulder and pulled me, and so I looked around. I thought somebody was probably trying to get my attention or to tell me something, so I looked over my shoulder and was looking around, and there was nobody there. And it was weird, I couldn't figure out exactly what had happened, but a few seconds [later] we were taking more fire so I didn't think anything else of it, and continued to return fire. And from that point on I didn't have radio communications at all.

When we finally got back, a few days later we were going out to do some training missions, and I did a radio check, and the radio worked fine. And I couldn't understand it. We got out to do this training mission, just flew down the coast to practice another helicopter down situation, so that we'd be better able to handle it if it happened again, and as soon as we got there, the radio wouldn't work. And nobody could figure out why. And I was taking a lot of heat from different people to make sure this radio worked before we go out again, so I took it to the [communications] guys, and they took it off its pack and they said, "You're never gonna believe this, Moore, come back over here," and when I went over [I saw that] a bullet had entered from the front of me over this shoulder and into the radio. And it actually severed the antenna wire, so I could get comms from me to you, or and real close relations, but anything over 25 feet I couldn't get any communications whatsoever. The bullet had never exited the radio. But for days nobody even knew that the radio was damaged, or that it was shot.

Were you there when Sergeant Joyce was shot?

I was not there; he spent a lot of time on my humvee having some medics work on him, but I wasn't there when he was originally shot.

What did you see?

I couldn't really see too much because casualties were piling up in our vehicles and there were two medics working on them, and I just remember the medics saying three or four times, "This man's critical, we've gotta get back." And just as he would say that we'd make another wrong turn or try to go to a different crash site. The information wasn't flowing down to everybody exactly what was going on, so we were just wondering; [in our] estimation we were just wandering around Mogadishu and I just remember the medics saying over and over again that, "This guy's critical, this guy's critical, you have to get him back." I remember looking at him one time after the medic said that to see if there was anything I could do, and at that point he was already extremely pale, eyes rolled back in his head. To me he looked dead already.

Do you actually have to drive through big piles of burning tires?

That was at the very end; everybody continued to pile on the vehicles that were left working, and at some point John Burns had come onto our vehicle because he was wounded. He had linked up with our convoy and was ready to go back; he had some shrapnel in his shoulder. But the only room left was sort of the tail gate portion of this pick-up; he could just sit at the edge and let his legs hang over. And he was still had his weapon, he was still firing, even though he was wounded. And I just remember him screaming, "They shot me in the leg, they shot me in the leg!" And so I pulled him up into the humvee and I ripped his BDUs open and there was just a huge hole in his leg. It was really calming to me, because it didn't phase him at all. He wasn't scared, he wasn't upset, he was totally calm; he said, "Bandage it up." And so I bandaged up the best I could. I said, "Do you want me to put a tourniquet on?" and he said, "No, no, I don't want to lose my leg!" But he asked me to tighten up as tight as I could the little stretch cinches on his knee pads. And so I did that, and the next thing he wanted was another magazine so he could shoot the guy that shot him; he thought he still saw him down the street and the one thing that he wanted to do was kill that person that shot him, and so he was asking me for magazines and telling me to leave him alone. Sure enough he was back to hanging off the edge of this thing and firing and shooting, now wounded twice. And what would happen was every time we would go over a bump or a some type of roadblock that they had set up, John Burns would bounce off and he would fly way out of this humvee. We weren't going that fast, so with his one good leg he would push along to try to stay with us, and every time I'd grab him by his vest and [pull him back on]. We had a rhythm going by the fourth or fifth time; he would wait two or three seconds and get a good push off with the one leg that wasn't wounded and I'd haul him back in with the one arm. After about the third or fourth time this happened I was hauling him back in and he'd jumped just as we gone over another bump, and I ended up smashing my face on the back of his k-pot. That was my only injury in Somalia, a chipped tooth, on John Burn's k-pot.

But so after I pulled him back in, I just remember I was focused on the back of the humvee outside and seeing where we were going and I just remember starting to feel this heat on the back of my neck. And then when I turned my head, there were flames rolling over the side of the cutvee on both sides. It just engulfed this whole cutvee for about two or three seconds, and then we came out on the other side. I had no idea what had happened, and Deimer was yelling that we had just gone through a wall of fire. They had set fire to a bunch of tires and different debris in the road, and our driver -- who was phenomenal the whole time he was there -- just drove right through this huge wall of flame. It was wild. It was almost surreal.

At last you get back to base. Describe the scene as you unload the dead and wounded.

We pulled into base, and the first hour or so I spent guarding the detainees inside -- we had a little POW camp set up inside. After that, they told us that we were going to be going back out and so we needed to clean up everything and get ready to go back out. And so we went over to the humvees and you could just see blood all over everything, and the bullet holes through all the humvees. It was really scary because they're telling us as soon as we get things cleaned up we've gotta go back out there, and some of the people hadn't been out yet, and so they didn't really know what we had just been through, and I know the people that were already out there were just absolutely in shock. At the same time, we're hearing reports of who had died, and who was wounded, who was killed, and then seeing the remains of that actual battle on the back of these cutvees, it was horrible. It was horrible.

All through this interview you've been very... almost high, capturing the excitement of it. When it all wore off, how did you find yourself then?

It took a long time to wear off, a real long time, because we were still there for a little while, and then when we came back you were still sort of riding the waves of what happened. And I know for me, the hardest thing to live with is knowing that you took another human life, for no other reason than your government told you to. That's hard. I mean, I'm sure it's been said before but here I would have [gone] to jail for exactly what I did over there and got medals for.

It's really hard to deal with, knowing when we were over there, I wasn't fighting the political war. I was fighting for the guys around me and for myself, just trying to stay alive and keep everybody that was anywhere near me alive. After we came back, it was a long time before you could let it all down. It was a couple of months before I even cried about anything that happened over there. It was hard, and now you look back at those guys, I mean all the guys that I saw here this weekend, and you just know how special they are, and that special bond that you have, and it's touching. It's nice to be close to that special caliber of people; without saying anything when you see each other, you can see it in their eyes, [there's] just this connection. And their pain, and the things that are tearing them apart, and you can just hug them and not feel weird about it. It's definitely a good feeling to have that type of support group around.

Since you're the only guys who quite know what each other have been through, nobody else really knows that.

Exactly. Especially with some of the stuff that came out right afterwards in the newspaper reporting. We used to sit in the hangar a lot, and we would go out and do a mission and come back and we'd watch it on CNN and they'd give the brief of what's going on, and we're like, "That's not what happened. I was there, I just did that. Like eight minutes ago I was out there doing this that you're filming and that's not how it happened at all." So, it's nice to have people that, without even having to talk to them, can just relate to what it is and where you've been. I used to say when you're in Ranger battalion you don't realize how special you are, jumping out of a plane. Everybody that you live with, go out with, drink with, hang out with, they all jump out of planes. They all do everything you do every day. It becomes so commonplace that you start to take it for granted. You start to assume that this is just everybody. And then after you get out, you realize what you actually did while you were there, and how special it was and what level you were actually at. It's amazing.

What do you think the American public remembers about Somalia? Do you think they know any of this?

Based on the people I've talked to, not really. There's been a couple halfway decent stories that are starting to come out now, and hopefully this will clear it up a little bit more. Originally, the newspaper articles back home that I have from when it actually happened were extremely inaccurate. I think it was downplayed a lot. I don't think anybody in America really knew exactly how crazy and chaotic and intense the fire was over there. Some people that were doing a historical record of it had talked about it being the most intense urban combat definitely since Vietnam, but possibly since World War II.

Some people when they saw just a few weeks later Aidid being escorted by Marines to a peace conference in an American plane, they were really sick. Did you see the story?

I did see the story and I was so angry. We were sent over there to do a mission, and that mission was capture Aidid. To lose American lives, guys that I was best friends with, just did everything together, to see it be totally wasted, useless, it made me so angry to think that if we could have done it this way, why did we have to lose these American lives to force the issue? If this was what we wanted to happen, why couldn't we make it happen from the start? Some people say that maybe we pushed him into it, or forced his hand with the Rangers, but I just think it's an awfully high price to pay.

Do you think in the final analysis that the lives of your friends were wasted, thrown away?

They were definitely not wasted because a lot of the guys were doing what they loved. They absolutely enjoyed being a Ranger, and they knew what came along with that. I would never call anything that they did a waste, but it seems unjust. I always remember hearing over the radio on a number of occasions -- whether it was true or not I don't know -- but that Aidid was spotted and that somebody had a rifle scope on him, and that they could pull the trigger, and they were told [that] the American government does not assassinate anyone, we're gonna have to capture him. It's hard to understand at our level, if we're gonna lose all these American lives just so we can capture someone and detain him instead of killing him, it's crazy. It's crazy.

Do you in any sense feel that you were betrayed by Washington?

I do. Not at any one level, but between no armor being OK'd to come to Somalia, not having access to the AC130 gunship, to not allowing us to complete our mission, with all the questions that have come up about Lincoln and the different things that were going on at that level. And then weeks later to see Aidid being escorted by some of the same guys that were actually hunting him. It wasn't the same guys but the same units that were actually hunting him down, I don't understand it. It's amazing, and it makes you bitter and angry.


home . firefight . us rangers . weapons . interviews . discussion
readings . chronology . press reaction . tapes & transcripts . frontline online . pbs online

web site copyright 1995-2014 WGBH educational foundation
SUPPORT PROVIDED BY

RECENT STORIES

FRONTLINE on

ShopPBS