The two dozen men sat patiently in blue plastic chairs on warming asphalt. The veterans of battle now a generation past had a few wrinkles, graying hair, and a carried few pounds more than their trim fighting days.
But when two Black Hawk helicopters arrived Tuesday afternoon for a long-overdue ceremony, so low the men could see the pilots’ visors, a few cracked a tear or two at the memory those sights and sounds carried with them.
Thirty years ago, commanders grabbed 40 soldiers from 3rd Platoon, Charlie Company, 1st Battalion, 87th Infantry Regiment, 10th Mountain Division on short notice and attached them to another unit in the division — Task Force 2-14, made up mostly of soldiers from the 1st and 2nd brigades of 10th Mountain.
They were headed to a place called Mogadishu, Somalia.
Twenty-five of the original 40 soldiers of 3rd Platoon returned to Fort Drum, New York this past week for a recognition ceremony by their old unit on the 30th anniversary of that fateful day. It served as a homecoming of sorts for those who could make it, supported in part by the Warrior Reunion Foundation, a nonprofit group that reunites veterans and Gold Star families.
A ceremony that never happened for the platoon that calls itself “The Forgotten Bastards” and served mostly as a footnote, despite their heavy combat experience in what would come to be known as “Black Hawk Down.”
“For me, it meant a lot, because outside of a small circle of people nobody really knew where 1-87 existed in the firefights,” said Olin Rossman, former 2nd squad leader for 3rd Platoon told Army Times.
As part of the ceremony, some of the men who’d braved multiple, intense firefights three decades ago finally received their Combat Infantry Badges. But no valor awards were issued.
Their mission was to provide a maneuver element for the peacekeeping mission in Somalia known at the time as Operation Restore Hope.
What began as a way to deliver food, medical care and other relief to a starving population amid a warlord-run country transformed on Oct. 3 and 4, 1993, into the heaviest urban fighting that the U.S. military had seen since Hue City, Vietnam.
After two helicopter crashes during an otherwise routine raid, Delta Force operators and Rangers were trapped and surrounded by thousands of enemy fighters intent on capturing or killing every one of them.
It was Task Force 2-14, and 3rd Platoon’s, job to rescue the elite soldiers.
Current 1st Battalion commander, Lt. Col. Chris Turner, told Army Times that he studied the Battle of Mogadishu in college but still wasn’t aware of 1-87′s involvement until recently. It was only last year that the platoon’s contributions were added to the official 10th Mountain Division history of the operation.
“This organization is very resilient,” Turner said. “It’s the most deployed division in the Army and can really accomplish any mission it’s asked to do.”
Turner pointed to 3rd Platoon’s accomplishments during the Mogadishu mission as examples for his soldiers to follow.
“What I’m trying to inculcate in my organization is a culture of grit and lethality, and what those men did in ‘93 was the epitome of grit,” Turner said.
When the fighting ended, hundreds of Somali fighters lay dead and 19 U.S. servicemembers had fallen. Some of the Rangers and Delta operators would receive valor awards ranging from the Bronze Star Medal to the Medal of Honor.
Leaders for the 40 soldiers of 3rd Platoon were told they could put in for one valor award. They recommended a Bronze Star with “V” for valor. That award was downgraded to an Army Commendation Medal with “V.”
And the Oct. 3-4 battle wasn’t the first taste of combat, nor loss, that 3rd Platoon had faced.
They were on constant rotation from late summer through the October battle, running vehicle patrols on the main supply route, conducting convoy security and escorts while also filling in as the quick reaction force for much of the mission.
More than a week before the infamous battle, on Sept. 25, 1993, Somali fighters knocked the first Black Hawk helicopter out of the sky. The crash killed the crew except for the pilot and co-pilot. Second squad had to rescue them.
In the process, two of their soldiers would be shot, with one paralyzed for life.
But attention lay elsewhere and soon after the task force had returned home, the mission was quickly brushed aside for the needs of big Army.
Members of 3rd Platoon returned home to Fort Drum, were given less than two weeks of leave over the holidays and then, after a six-month combat deployment were sent down to Fort Pickett, Virginia for urban combat training.
As students, not instructors.
This was even though they may have been one part of a very small population in the Army at the time that had experienced real urban combat. As years passed, award-winning author Mark Bowden would write the book “Black Hawk Down: A Story of Modern War,” published in 1999 followed by the hit film of the same name in 2001.
Both the book and the movie detail the fight that the operators, Rangers and helicopter crews faced, making short mention of 10th Mountain and no mention of 3rd Platoon.
Bryan Puckett, the former 3rd platoon leader, told Army Times he read the book and saw the movie.
“Our story just wasn’t told in that movie,” Puckett said.
Todd South has written about crime, courts, government and the military for multiple publications since 2004 and was named a 2014 Pulitzer finalist for a co-written project on witness intimidation. Todd is a Marine veteran of the Iraq War.