Last year, April 2009, I had the unique honor of hosting Major General William Garrison to my Army ROTC battalion Dining-In at the University of Texas-Pan American, in Edinburg (McAllen area), Texas.
General Garrison came at my two year, persistent, unrelenting, persuasive invitation to come and speak to my cadets and future officers about becoming commissioned officers and leaders in the world's premier fighting force; the United States Army. He had never before spoken to a group of future officers, nor seen the movie nor read the book made famous by the battle he led in Somalia 16 years earlier.
General Garrison was at our Bronc Corps Dining-In to watch multiple clips from the movie "Blackhawk Down" and answer leadership questions from my cadets about his role, preparation, choices and decision-making in this well-known, world-watched and read-about battle. We didn't know when he arrived, but he was about to hit a home run... leading a spell-binding discussion with all my cadets with detailed, insightful questioning following nine different 2-3 minute video clips taken from his leadership decisions via Hollywood's rendition of events in Somalia those two days the battle raged. His provocative and insightful answers and challenges to my young future officers was mesmerizing.
He ate it up, and so did my cadets, and it was an unforgettable evening.
The above photo is the actor, Sam Shepard, who played the role of Major General Garrison in the movie "Blackhawk Down", showing him in this scene as he monitored and controlled the Battle of Mogadishu from his command post.
He is the only Army general that my university had produced in its 100 year history as a campus, and he had never been there to speak, so I was passionate about getting him to fly home from his duties in West Africa where he still works, and come to South Texas to pass on some of his insight and leadership skills to the next generation from his Alma Mater (then called Pan American University, his "nourishing mother" who gave him his bachelor degree).
He told me after our four hours together; "This was an extraordinary evening for me. I can tell you plainly Colonel Dean, I have never been so honored in my life, as what you did for me here with these young folks here tonight. It was worth the trip from halfway around the world to be here."
The honor, no doubt, was mutual.
In the photo at the start of this blog post, he is the very tall gentleman in the black tux, next to Colonel Chris Rivers, my Assistant Professor of Military Science (to his right), and Dr. Paul Sale, the Provost of UTPA (to his left). Also in the photo is my then-Bronc Battalion Commander, Cadet Lt. Col. Vanessa Rodriguez Randolph, and I am to his far left. Vanessa is now a second lieutenant in military intelligence. She is on active duty and is a very powerful leader and role model.
For those of you who do not know the military community very well, let me share with you why having General Garrison come to speak to my cadets was so significant. General Garrison was the Delta Force (super stealth, almost unseen and unknown elite part of our Armed Forces) Commanding General for Task Force Ranger. He was personally responsible for the entire Blackhawk Down mission in Mogadishu, Somalia, professionally known to us in the military as Operation Gothic Serpent. In October 1993 General Garrison sent in some Delta Force soldiers, 5 Navy SEALS from SEAL Team 6, some US Army Rangers with 160th Special Operations Aviation Regiment (SOAR) air support, some 10th Mountain Division wheel and firepower support and some Air Force controllers. Their mission was to capture and extract the notorious war-lord Mohamed Farrah Aidid who was stealing and stockpiling all the massive food relief to the starving people of Somalia.
The mission to find, subdue and extract Aidid on that day was a failure, as Aidid was not at the raid location when this highly skilled and competent team of America's very, very best descended from above on the targeted building. Then the storm and fog of war descended and the Army had two UH-60 Blackhawk helicopters shot from the sky in the ensuing hornet's-nest of angry Somalians stirred up by the raid. Two future Medal of Honor recipients (honored for heroic actions that day), Sergeants Shughart and Gordon of the US Army Delta Forces, went in to help their fellow soldiers and were killed in the subsequent combat actions of that day.
Below are US Army Ranger of the 75th Ranger Regiment, fast-roping in from their Blackhawks above. This is a much faster way to get o n the ground than parachuting, and much, much more dangerous. Fast-roping allows the helicopters to hover above restricted areas (city streets too narrow for a landing zone) and still insert their assault teams rapidly onto the objective, as seen in this movie footage of the Mogadishu assault on 3 October 1993.
It is worthy to note that despite the "failure" of this highly visible and bloody mission for the American Army, Major General Garrison was not fired by the President of the United States. Nor was he relieved nor threatened with loss of command. In fact, he stayed in Somalia and the surrounding area and continued the mission to remove Mohammad Farrar Aidid until 3 August 1996, the day after General Aidid was killed, supposedly from gunfire wounds to the body sustained in rebel fighting. On 3 August, with mission complete, Major General Bill Garrison resigned his commission and completed his remarkable military career.
On the other hand, there had to be someone held responsible for 18 American dead soldiers on the steets of Mogadishu, and some 83 Rangers wounded. General Colin Powell had offically asked Bill Clinton's Secretary of Defense, Les Aspin, to approve the request of General Garrison, the U.S. commander in Somalia, for tanks, armored vehicles and AC-130 Spectre gunships for his forces. Aspin turned down the request. Following the Congressional investigation into what had happened in Somalia, the Secretary of Defense was pressured fiercely by House Democrats and Republicans to resign or be terminated. Less than three months after the Battle of Mogadishu, Secretary Les Aspin resigned with a sad admission of his mistake.
And so, General Garrison's record was "mission complete" on 3 August 1996, and what a super-star and leader of warriors he proved to be that night in Edinburg, Texas at our Bronc Battalion Dining-In, for my future crop of Army Commanding Generals, also from the University of Texas-Pan American.....just like General Bill Garrison.
You can read about General Garrison's visit to my UTPA campus in the university magazine at www.utpa.edu/news/index.cfm?newsid=3721