interviews: Sgt. Randy Ramaglia

Interview with Sgt. Ramaglia who was a US Army Ranger 1991-1995. He was a Squad Leader, Chalk III - Super Six Six First Platoon Bravo Company - Private Ranger Task Force - Ranger Regiment run of the Task Force squad leader and Alpha Team Leader. At the time of the 1993 Mogadishu firefight, he was 21.

On that Sunday, you get an alert - what happens?

We geared up... and we'd figured we were gonna be on the ground for two hours possibly. It was gonna be in and out.

So most of us didn't have any water. We had smoke grenades. And I remember the call came down -- don't worry about night vision. And when I walked out the hanger, say that you weren't scared to an extent, it was just false. You had butterflies like you wouldn't believe. And I remember walking out and it was such a nice day...a classic, sunny, it was beautiful. A nice breeze coming in off the sea, and it spooked me... it was just something I hadn't noticed, and it kinda spooked me.

What was it like in the helicopter going out?

I sat in the doorway and we'd be flying and I could put my foot on that blackout tire and actually lean out of the bird. It was a total sense of power being in the helicopter over that city. Because at that point in time, we were the most proficient fighting force in that city. There was no way they could touch us.

What does the city of Mogadishu look like?

Run down... very poor. The first time I flew over, we went to a height of four or five thousand feet and our first flight was like a statement -- 'Here we are. And here's the deal,' you know? At times the birds would start doing evasion patterns while flying over the city. The first time we flew over, the people just stopped because that was the largest helicopter force that had been in country... And whenever they do a banking turn... they would pull these real tight turns. It was almost like you've stopped and you're just getting twisted... the bird would shake and you're looking straight down at a road intersection and these people are just looking at you. You just know that it's fear. And I'm a nice guy, but that was a feeling of power. I don't like to come across like that, but I tell you what it was like -- all business.

What happened after you roped down and hit the ground?

At first everything was kinda quiet. And then the first contact was a little tin shack... it couldn't have been more than 75 meters from us. All I really remember -- they would just stick a weapon out from around a corner, they wouldn't even aim, they just would spray... And he was on the ground and he was spraying and the dust was kicking up from the discharge of the weapon.

Meaning what?

We fired him up. I imagine we got him. I never physically saw him, but I saw the weapon and I was shooting at the shack itself... the shacks were like corrugated sheet metal. There's no cover. So I know we were shooting right through at him.

That was our first contact that I remember. But of course you could hear the rounds cracking up and down the road, behind us and in front of us, and you could hear the convoy coming in and you could tell where the convoy was, because it was growing in intensity.

You see the first guy and he's been got rid of, just before the convoy starts heading your way. How intense does the firing get? How close are the bullets getting to you?

A bullet makes an odd noise... it almost snaps through the air. At first I wasn't sure. I heard that ptew... What was that? You know, it was like -- do, do, do, do, do -- and you heard the snap and at first it was like -- let me make sure that was what I thought it was! Because I don't want to overreact and jump on the ground and you don't want to make an ass of yourself.

But it makes like a crack or a snap. So I'm facing out and a lot of fire coming from behind us. Which I thought was so odd because we had a block in position back there, but it just seemed like they were just more concentrated in front of me.... But they're shooting at us from windows and alleyways and a tree, and there was a big tree. I'll never forget because we're getting shot at and we could not figure out where this was coming from. So eventually when the convoy met up with us, it had the big 50-cal on top of the humvee, and we were like-- see that big tree down there? We told them to fire it up because that 50 was something. I remember he took the tree and we figured, even if we didn't hit anybody that was still enough of a deterrent -- that at least let them know that we knew that was a hiding spot.

And there was a point when Keni was on a knee and shooting, and all of a sudden I just remember -- it was like a puff of smoke or something and he dropped his weapon and he yelled at me... showing me he just got shot in the magazine of his weapon. Now a magazine is maybe an inch and a quarter wide, it's at chest level. And a bullet had actually lodged itself in that magazine. What are the chances of it hitting an inch and a half wide when he's probably you know three feet, you know, 2, 3 feet wide? It stopped in the magazine, and I yelled at him something like -- you're gotta keep that one!

And you could see the people down in the distance and they were crossing roads back and forth. And being that they wore robes, sheets and stuff like that, you couldn't tell if they had weapons, and we were disciplined and we weren't just shooting anybody, unless they had a weapon. .

Did you see the helicopter go down? was doing this circle pattern and it just kinda went up and then it never came out of the turn. It just continued to go and it was like slow motion, I just remember that bird just spinning out of control. And I just remember going 'oh man, this has changed the entire mission.' The two seconds that I watched it felt like ten minutes, and it changed everything. It changed your outlook on it, because you just knew from the past that they were just dying to get their hands on a Ranger. The Blackhawk that was shot down... And we knew that they had a bounty out for a Ranger...we knew that if Aidid could get his hands on a US soldier he had a chip in a big game.

What did you hear when it crashed?

It was like silence. Everything was totally focused on that bird, and I lost sight of it... And that was a shock too... seeing that get shot down it was like --'wait a minute you know this isn't--it's not supposed to work like this. We're Americans.' You know. 'We're the ones dictating the game here. '

At this time we didn't know what was going on. We knew that we had to make it to the crash site... secure the crash site, there was no option there. How we were gonna do it, I think, was the question... At some point, the word had come down that the convoys had been ambushed and that we weren't getting out on the convoy, they weren't sure exactly how we were gonna get out.

So, you move to the crash site....

We pick up and get ready to move... and Keni's now heading the squad on the other side of the road. We're ready to move, we're the very tail end of the entire movement, Keni's in front of his. I'm in front of mine. And this point, when you start running across the intersections... you felt totally exposed, (laughs), the first alleyway you ran across it was like -- you actually stopped and paused for a minute and you're going -- 'I've got to do this?' You know? -- 'I've really got to do this? I don't want to do this, but I've gotta do it'

So we start moving... At first the movement to the crash site was controlled... Capt. Steele's elements directly in front of me, it was Capt. Steele, Lieutenant Lechner... And it felt like to me at the time... we needed to be moving. So I remember yelling to Capt. Steele -- here I was like an NCO yelling at a Captain to get his ass moving! -- That's how I remember. I'm sure I didn't say that but I remember yelling at those guys like 'you gotta get moving because you're breaking up the entire element here, we got gaps.' At this point in time there was a lot of fire and we didn't need anything to kinda hinder us...

How many directions is the incoming?

It just seemed like you were surrounded. We could see them moving on us too, you would see groups of those guys, and they were following us. It felt like we were starting to get boxed up. The movement comes to a halt... We think they just halted momentarily and they're getting ready to basically assign blocking positions. But it never happens, everything just stops and we're idle. And this was like the hardest time -- [the Somalis] started to figure out exactly where we're at, so it gives them an opportunity to call their buddies so that they can grab the old AK from behind the door and come down and shoot at us. That's how we thought they were doing you know -- it was entertainment....

So we're receiving a lot of fire and it's coming from alleys, windows, doorways. The next thing that stands out in my mind is I had John Collett at the corner... and I remember Collett he was yelling at me 'Sgt.' I could tell he was nervous because the crossfire here... and the next thing I know, before I had a chance to move Collett, there was an explosion... just like dirt and dust, and I'm on a knee and you know I'm thinking, well what was that, you know an RPG, a grenade? And, out of this big cloud of dust comes Errico, a big Italian..... and he comes out just lumbering towards me I just remember the eyes just wide and I'm thinking -- what did he just see?...

So anyway, Collett's in the middle of the road, Keni runs across the street. They put the M60 over there on the other side of the street because if we made it left, there was a courtyard to the right and we got a lot of fire... So, we figure we put the 60 over there, but the only thing about a 60 - it was considerably louder than anything like our small arms, so it was a magnet. As soon as we put that on the other side of the road that was what was focused on, and it couldn't have been over there for more than, I don't know 10, 15 minutes or so and then I remember Nethery was shot. And this is where it really started getting bad because [one] we didn't know how we were getting out. Two, we started taking casualties....

What were your emotions at this point?

A feeling of helplessness. Because of all the units that were there in the city at the time, we were by far the most proficient. And here we are, pinned down in a city. And I just remember going through thinking, even to the highest level, like the White House -- what is it they can send to get us out of here today?

So, moving ahead -- it's getting about dark by now. You go into the casualty collection point. What did you see?

Sgt. Watson...said Capt. Steele had formed a CCP -- we were going to move into a house because it was getting dark and we didn't want to be stuck out in the street....They knew the streets and we didn't....It was like a very tight environment, and at night basically somebody could have walked right up on you.... It could have really took a bad turn....

At this time the guys are in the CCP and I'm sitting here in this doorway, and...I remember I put my hand down for some reason. It was wet. It was like it wasn't the consistency of water, it was smelling and I remember there was enough light to where I could see, big blood and I remember looking down and the floor reflected light, just pools of blood. I was sitting here laying in a pool of Lieutenant Lechner's blood. And I didn't even really get up to get out of it. I just kind of sat there. I'll never forget that smell.

Could you hear radio talk about what was happening to the convoy or the relief column?

You always heard the radios cracking on and off, but the word was they were trying to form the QRF -- a convoy to come in and get us out. And at some point they said the convoy's left the airfield. And I remember a little while later, it came over that they'd been stopped and had to turn back. When we heard that it was just disheartening... We were running out of IVs. Most of us didn't have any water. I remember going into the back room with Sgt. Watson for a moment and Goodale was back there and he had been shot in the rear end (laughs) and I remember seeing him just kinda hobbling around. That was just something that sticks out... because he was coherent -- he was like pretty cool....

I mean you never lost hope about getting out, but it was just -- this is looking really bad. Eventually Sgt. Watson had the [Delta] operators leave our building. They went down towards the crash site. Sgt. Watson took Keni Thomas and his squad out next door,a courtyard there... and they were providing cover... So Sgt. Watson before he left was like -- 'You've got security of the house.'... And he just told me -- basically the house was mine. You gotta look at it from -- I just turned can imagine how overwhelming you know the entire thing was....

Tell me about the grenade.

The grenade incident was after I'd gotten down behind rocks.... We're here behind the rocks, and all of a sudden this thing flies out into the street. I knew what it was but it didn't look like ours.... A World War II pineapple. And it flew out and looked funny to me, and I would say it landed probably within five feet of Collett's head... I just remembered wigging out.... It was close enough to where I was gonna get concussion and shrapnel off of it. So you can imagine Collett being there within five feet of it, you know, I just knew it was gonna take him out.... I remember yelling.... frag out, frag out, until I got to the point where I felt that it was getting ready to explode and I didn't want to get shrapnel in the face. And Collett just dug his head down into the dirt, dug his kevlar down ... I just kinda scrunched up, and that thing went off, boom. And I just remember sitting up and yelling 'Collett, Collett....' I'm thinking he's smoked.

And he was part of the machine, man. And I cannot see him!... I was probably like at tears and like --'Collett, you know you're still alive?' "Erm--right here--I'm all right Sgt.' And there was just that dull, like Ben Stein voice, you know. I was just like screaming, wiggin out, and all of a sudden I'm freaking and Collett's cool, you know. (laughs) Yeah, I just don't have words to describe .... the feeling you know was just total relief.... It was the little victories that helped you get you through.

And then, not long after, the column finally shows up.

Right, they pull up just APCs in front of the house... loaded the guys out and I remember getting water... and I remember you're just exhausted, so tired, but you were just so wired. And I remember I wanted to take my kevlar off, but I was -- I know as soon as I do that, somebody gonna pop a round off that's gonna ricochet off one of these walls and catch me in the head. And the dark was starting to fade. We knew they were trying to get that body out of the helicopter.... Finally the sun is up, they freed the body....

Finally, you move out from the house....And not long after that, you get shot...

...They said -- 'we're getting ready to move.'... I was dreading it -- this is the same thing we went through yesterday. I was just certain that something was gonna happen. The 10th Mountain was there and all of a sudden they were gone. And here we are out in the street again with these APCs. They start moving slow, we're running with them in a line. And they start going down the road... To me it was just -- 'this just can't be happening... this really cannot be happening!' They make a right, we start following them... I remember the first APC -- the one I was beside -- the rounds just bouncing off that thing -- ting, ting, ting, ting, ting, tingg. And it was just so different... Day before, we're moving towards a crash site. This time. we're just trying to get out alive.

I remember just running across the road, just blindly shooting and hoping sounds of the shots is enough to get somebody's head down. We get to the intersection where we set up our initial blocking position.... They're still shooting I'm beside this wall... and this is when it felt like somebody had walked up behind me and just hit me with a ball bat in the shoulder. It slung me forward... I just remember you know kinda recovering for a moment and -- 'What happened? '

I'm figuring somebody shot a piece off the building or threw... a rock. And that's when Collett said he'd been shot... and then his eyes just got huge. And -- he's like-- 'Sgt., you've been shot.' ... And I did all my vital signs. [Shoulder] just felt tight, it just felt like somebody had wrapped it up in a bandage . But it didn't hurt, and I was like sitting here waiting to start gurgling. And I'm thinking I got shot in the back, in the torso. And if it came through it more likely is gonna penetrate a lung or at least bust a rib. And that was like the biggest thing I was concerned about .

And I... assessed the situation and refocused on the mission of getting out of there. And we gotta run across the biggest intersection... and it was crazy, we ended up running across that... I remember running... And after we started moving again it really sank in. And I was furious. I was just furious like (laughing ) you know I can't describe it any better than -- I could dish it out but I couldn't take it, and I was like -- 'how could... who do you think you are, shooting me?'

And finally we're safe. And we're all up under this building... pulling security shooting, firing, and humvees pulled up and they took the operators out. Took Second Platoon out. Anyway so they got me patched up -- it was like -- 'I can get you out on a Humvee, and I didn't want to go and leave those guys... So, we're waiting for the APCs to come back ... and... finally Sgt.Watson was like -- 'we're gonna move.' So we start exiting, here we go back out of the building out onto the road again, and it starts again you know. It was like damn we were safe now it's like, we're at square one, I'm running again....

An APC finally started coming down the road. We were waving to him and he was driving by. So here we are out in the road running, trying to run this APC down. Basically everyone running and shooting, it wasn't like that organized. I mean I think people had gotten mixed up. Anyway, we were up in back of that APC and I didn't think I've ever opened the back of an APC, but I did it in like (clicks fingers) like that quick, it was just like all business... I ripped the door off and they were like -- 'this thing is full.' Well, bullshit, we were getting in this APC. So we're packing them in, and we were totally scrunched up. And these guys, they got an open top and the Pakistanis were shooting and I was like -- 'what can we do?' I was like 'give me a magazine!'

So here we are with this -- it looked like a big sardine can of ammo and we're just loading magazines. I'm like -- 'shoot man, use 'em up, give me new ones....' But that ride, that sucked, I mean it really did. I was just waiting for the side of that thing to peel open and to see a flash.

And finally, you get safety. Describe what that was like....

I remember we were packed in there so tight that somebody had opened the back door up and they actually had to pull the first couple of guys out because they couldn't physically get out. And we were getting out and it was just like -- 'Oh God,' you know, 'I made it. ' I knew my boys had made it. It was like total relief. And I'm waiting for Sgt. Watson. He walks up and I'll never forget walking in the coliseum with him because he was, he was so -- I think humble is a good word to describe it... At that time I was so much younger. It hadn't sunk in exactly what had happened yet. I was just happy to be alive. I was just happy to have my boys out there alive.

And I was just so exhausted and bleeding. And, I remember looking around and there were guys from 10th Mountain and there's people sitting up on some of the seats in the stadium. And I remember walking in and you just felt like the total center of attention. I remember the guys just staring at us... And you are just soaked with sweat... and it's stiff, because you'd sweated again and you dried. It was just like you were just absolutely filthy. I had blood on my legs from Lieutenant Lechner, you know my boots and then I had this thing with my back and I just remember smelling blood. I remember walking in and at first I was like very, like, aware of what was going on. Then I just remember just kinda fading out into my own little world....

And you're just seeing guys that you thought you'd never see again. And you're just totally zoned out. I remember Sgt. Watson stopped us and told us to put our gear down and I remember dropping my stuff, I remember Doc Strauss grabbed me and said --'come on let's go over to the aid station.' At that time. I wanted to be left alone, it was weird... and I just remember him going, 'All right, you go on out right now.' Stuffed the gauze back in there, wrapped it up, and just stuck me with an IV. They didn't even try to get the veins, you were just so dehydrated ..

I finally kinda sit back on a litter and they were using Hughies to fly us in and out and there was something so, like, Vietnam like about it... and here they carry me over and set me next to this bird. And I just remember sitting there -- you see the documentaries, the movies you know, 'Platoon' and those movies and you see the looks on those guys' faces... I mean that's just the way it is. It's just stares. Just the guys trying to figure out what the hell just happened? Why did they take my friend from me, you know. Phew......

Well anyway, here I am on this litter... You were just so alive and so exhausted... It was like -- look how competitive football or basketball is. Just groups of guys on a field just trying to outdo each other. Now, imagine that, [but] this time it's with weapons -- actually trying to kill you. You're trying to do the same to them. But that time we won. We were the better team. And that's the stuff that's going through your head. At that time, it was about winning, man. The mission being successful. I mean, we got our nose bloodied, but we really cleaned -- I mean we were, phew.

Well ...they loaded me into the Hughie, I had the IV up and I remember they flew up and I remember just sitting up and looking out over the city. And it looked so different to the city that I remember seeing before. It wasn't just this run-down place that we had kind off patroled for a short period of time. It was just ugly. There was a reality there that you never saw until now. I just remember looking at it in, like, disgust.

And the medic asked -- 'What happened out there?' And he was like -- 'I feel sorry for you all.' I said, 'You should feel sorry for them.' That was my whole attitude. And then they rolled us into the hospital. It wasn't a life-threatening wound... it'd been assessed as just tissue damage.

When did it really hit you about how many people had been killed and wounded.?

After I got back to Benning I went on leave. And I didn't go back for a month. So I had all that time by myself to deal with certain things... although I was so numb.... and then about a year later when First Sgt. Harris died -- he did a jump and drowned -- and that was when I think it all came out for me. Somalia. The whole nine yards. Harris's death... that's when it did really hit me.

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