did my son have to die?
navigation by Larry E. Joyce USA TODAY October 20, 1993

U.S. Army Rangers are the most highly motivated and best-trained soldiers in the world. They volunteer four times: They volunteer to be soldiers. They volunteer to be paratroopers. They volunteer to serve in one of three elite Ranger battalions. Then, they voluntarily stay in a Ranger unit despite grueling physical and emotionally draining assignments.

They are kept in places like Panama, England, Korea, Egypt and Thailand for weeks at a time. They can walk away and join a less demanding assignment any time - no questions asked.

They are a national treasure. I'm proud my son chose to be an Army Ranger. He died in the arms of the finest soldiers this nation ever produced. I only wish I could have been there to fight at his side. But now, I'm questioning why he died.

Last December, we sent 21,000 troops to Somalia to provide security for a humanitarian mission. Once that was completed, all but 4,700 came home. Of those 4,700, only about 300 were combat troops - including 145 Rangers who were sent there in late August. And, suddenly, with this bare-bones force and no American armor or mechanized equipment and troops, the mission changed to one of very direct combat.

Who changed the mission? The United Nations? The multinational commander on the ground in Somalia?

Who in the American chain of command concurred? The president? The secretary of State? The secretary of Defense?

From all we've learned since the tragic events of Oct. 3, the senior American military officers - including Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Colin Powell - requested tanks and armor-protected troop carriers from Secretary of Defense Les Aspin. They were repeatedly rebuffed. Why?

Rangers are highly mobile because they travel lightly. This means they are lightly armed. Light infantry should never be committed with no means of reinforcement.

Did Maj. Gen. Thomas Montgomery, the senior American officer in Somalia, demand U.N. reinforcements be assembled and placed in reserve? The Pakistanis and Malaysians had tanks and armored personnel carriers, but it took them over three hours to make the decision to move. They arrived 10 hours after the battle began. Did Montgomery make their ready involvement a prerequisite for using our Rangers? If not, why not?

Now a question for President Clinton. Why is Les Aspin our secretary of Defense? Why is a man who made a career of criticizing and reviling the military put in charge of the military? This makes as much sense as appointing an atheist to be a cardinal.

I've spoken to parents and loved ones of other Rangers who were killed or wounded in Mogadishu. I've spoken to several Rangers who served with my son - some of them were wounded. I don't want to suggest that I'm speaking for any of them, but maybe I am.

I certainly think it's reasonable to ask for them and for all concerned Americans that a thorough investigation of this debacle be conducted immediately, and the results be made public. Those who are responsible must be held accountable.

Mr. President, start with Aspin. He is too uncaring and too incompetent to command the most precious resource this nation has. At the very least, Mr. President, seek advice on military affairs from the professionals in uniform who are eager to serve you - not from politicians or people who are experts in manipulating public opinion.


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