The Jinx Declaration of War specifically states that "the Jinx project has stood on the side of peace against the splenative show of force." That having been said, the realization that at some point certain tactics must change is sure to follow. When that happened, Jinx declared war on its enemies. It is precisely why I got involved with Jinx, I too hold certain beliefs and ideals above others and am willing to risk it all to see those met. I believe in peace, however if that is breached, I am a proponent of extreme retaliation.
The last issue of Jinx dealt with the supreme advancements in technology and their effect on the world, and I have seen this firsthand while deployed in military operations around the globe. Sitting in a bush somewhere communicating about mission objectives with other operational assets in CONUS (continental United States) seems real until they mention they are watching the entire situation live from a camera on a satellite. Having been a part of that, I can safely say, that no matter how advanced technology gets, a rifleman on the ground, occupying land is still the bottom line. You don't control a region until the foot soldier is actually physically present.
It is also my belief that the world's most devout peacemakers are those who stand to lose the most should a war happen. The military. I have never met a person with a stronger desire for peace than one who has faced the horrors of war. That person has seen all to be gained and lost, and because of that, has the experience which most motivates that individual to pursue peace.
The sun was setting on a day that should've been like all the others. A simple patrol through the dirty streets that are Mogadishu. Mogadishu is a city that's been in turmoil for as long as anyone's been paying attention, and the early ‘90s were when it was in its worst condition ever. People who have been there often describe that they've "smelled death", but the smell here is something worse than death. Sure death is in the air, but there was more to it than that. It smelled of decay, it smelled of shit, it smelled of a country that was dying. No sewers, no running water, no sanitation at all compounded with the thousands that were dying in the streets created a smell that burned my senses forever. You would enjoy the smell of the 5-Ton trucks and the HMMWVs burning diesel because it would overpower the smell of the land.
The day was hot and our mission was simple, cover a specific route to ensure no funny business was taking place. This route was one often traveled by convoys of U.S. Military vehicles carrying food to relief stations. We had come to expect a certain amount of daily violence as the clans fought for control of city blocks, but usually a squad of fully loaded Marines was enough to keep the troublemakers at bay.
Every so often the local militias would get feisty and try and cause trouble. When they did, they would get spanked, quite severely. We had established early on that we were not to be fucked with. We were Marines, damn it, and nobody fucks with Marines.
This day saw the thirteen of us head out for a short trek a couple of hours before sunset. There was no reason to expect anything out of the ordinary, Intel hadn't given us anything to worry about. This did not, however, cause us to let our guard down at all. All weapons were checked, all clips were loaded, all gear secured. It was all business, one slip would mean your life. We were more than halfway done when we started noticing the streets were uncommonly deserted for the neighborhood we were in. Our senses heightened as we realized all was not kosher. Heartbeats raced as the sweat poured down our faces. All com chatter ceased, we held our positions and disappeared into doorways and around corners. The signal was given to move out and we slowly moved out. I decided to make one more check around the corner I chose to use as cover. That's when all hell broke loose.
In the blink of an eye, dozens of Somalis had materialized in what we later learned was one of the largest attempts at a coordinated attack they would ever mount. I was staring horror in the face at that moment, and possibly death. I saw a frenzy of weapons and screams, eyes wide open, and mouths that to this day I'm sure were foaming. These "warriors" had decided to attack this recon patrol in an attempt to snatch one of us to use for info and as a bargaining chip. What they didn't bargain for was the fact that they picked the wrong unit to try and fight.
I was on the verge of being overrun as my training kicked in. I figure I was scared shitless for about 2 seconds, and after that, my mind went into survival mode. The closer they were to me, the quicker they died. I fought for my life that day. I fought, and I won. I was wounded several times and tasted the blood of my enemy, but I fought for my life, and I won. I felt a fear like no other, and an anger worse than you could ever imagine. I don't know what drove me harder; fear of dying or the anger that these bastards were trying to kill me.
Here I was, in their country because they couldn't unfuck themselves long enough to feed the starving populus, and they were trying to kill me. The world had spoken and said we must help these poor dying people, and when all the chips were on the table, it seemed as though the US Marines were the only ones capable enough to complete the mission. And the world was right. The Marines did the job right.
So here I was, in the hot smelly dirt, facing a small army of drugged-out clansmen, and I faced the very real possibility of death. I knew more Marines were right over my shoulder and we were all doing our best to ensure we all made it home alive that day, but I knew even more that each and every one of us couldn't believe that they attacked us.
As I chose my targets, I felt no remorse. In my mind, they made this happen. We were trying to bring food to people who needed it, and they attacked us. I saw them drop one by one, by my trigger and by my friends'. We were the ultimate unit at that moment. A few of us got hurt, and others showed complete disregard for their own safety and ensured ours. But now, probably a minute into the fight, we were acting as one. A well-oiled machine doing exactly what it was trained to do.
My adrenaline raced faster and faster and I was damned if these scumbags were going to keep me from making it home to my family, or any of the other Marines make it home to theirs. The attacking force didn't realize that they were being destroyed. They failed to use any available cover for protection, or help each other in the fight. They just kept running at us, and paying the severest price. This has been attributed to two things: First, that they had little or no proper training, and two, that many of them were constantly ingesting a local hallucinogenic drug known as khat.
Not three minutes in to the fight and we get word that help is on the way. Seconds later we piled into some Light Armored Vehicles (LAVs) which laid down plenty of cover fire and as we pulled out of there. That's when we saw the Cobras inbound to clean up the mess. The explosions from the gunships tearing up the block were deafening. They completely leveled the area, and we were grateful. Like I said before, you don't fuck with Marines.
We were there to do something we weren't built for, delivering and escorting food. Up until then, we'd been used primarily to kick the shit out of bad guys wherever and whenever need be. So once the locals decided to test us, they saw what a mistake they had made. There was never again an attack made against the Marines in Mogadishu, the Army however, had to prove themselves as well. Their terrifying fight was later seen on international news programs as dead soldiers were dragged through the streets, and my friend Warrant Officer Michael Durant was taken prisoner.
Once we returned to the safety of the soccer stadium, we were quickly whisked away to Medical where we were all accounted for and made sure we still had all of our fingers and toes. That's when I started to lose my shit. I could still smell the fresh powder in my nose from blasting through half a dozen clips on my M-16. I was covered in blood and dirt and couldn't really get my bearing because my ears were still ringing from concussion.
We spent the next few hours debriefing and decompressing. It was the first time for all of us, and hopefully the last time we would be exposed to that kind of horror. I still don't know how vets from World War II and Korea and Viet Nam made it though years of combat. I'll never cease to be amazed at those men. As we deconstructed the events of the day, it opened more questions in my mind than it answered. To this day, the question that still burns me is why the hell we had to go through that? Why do politicians think our lives are expendable if we are trying to "save" a country? And why do we try to "save" countries that can't do shit for us?
For those of you who haven't been paying attention, Somalia is one of the few places on the planet that does not have an organized government. Nothing. There is no semblance of order, nor any attempt from within to save itself. In the middle of the last century, the Soviet Union, Britain and France tried to "influence" the countries in Eastern Africa to become organized and part of their empires. All attempts at establishing systems failed miserably. Since then, the country has developed into one of the most evil and corrupt societies you could possibly imagine. And, before you start calling me bad names - unless you've been there - shut your trap.
Warlords control the country in with something vaguely reminiscent of tribes to support them. These gangs fight constantly for control of blocks in the city, and regions of the countryside. Bands of thugs zip through the streets piled on the back of pick-up trucks. Individually, they are armed to the teeth with everything from machetes to machine guns. The trucks usually have a large caliber machine gun mounted in the back as well. These thugs shoot first, and never ask questions. As I mentioned before, much of the time, they are hopped on the drug of choice which is a plant called khat. This reed, which resembles a sugar cane, has the same effects as LSD when chewed on. One of the most disconcerting sights was to see a Somali local with an AK-47 walking down the street chewing. It guaranteed trouble. These gangs terrorized the Somali population killed thousands, and continue to do so today. The warlords have the guns, the gangs, and the food.
In the early 1990s, the world began to take notice at the atrocities taking place that were causing a devastating famine. Relief agencies from around the world began sending missions and aid in the form of food and cash to help save the starving nation. This had little effect. The warlords saw this a threat to their power, which it was, and did everything they could to make these efforts fail. Aid workers were kidnapped and killed, food was hijacked, and money was stolen. The warlords captured the port and the food that was unloaded there. Food which could have saved thousands sat on a pier, guarded by gun-toting thugs.
When the "free-world" could take no more of this, the United Nations decided to act. "Send help," they demanded. "The world could not sit idly by and watch this happen," they said. Well when all the cards were on the table, it was decided that there was only one force in the world that could make this work, the U.S. Marines. And wouldn't you know, they were right.
SEND IN THE MARINES!
In December 1992 the first American forces landed, unopposed, on the beaches of Mogadishu. Operation Restore Hope had begun. Within a few short weeks the Marines had established an effective system of ensuring food was reaching it's intended destinations. The Mogadishu soccer stadium had been converted into a Base housing several thousand Marines and sailors, with more waiting just off the coast. For several months, the Marines operated under the flag of the U.N. to deliver food and supplies. And, for several months, the clans learned not to mess with the Marines.
After a certain amount of order had been established the Marines withdrew and passed operational control to the U.S. Army. And it wasn't very long after that that the Somali militias began testing the waters and making aggressive actions in a way they never would have dared against the Marines. There was a terrible series of events which left Army Rangers surrounded and being killed in ferocious street fighting. It was a devastating time for the U.S. Forces.
Later in 1994, when it was realized that the mission was not being accomplished, the Marines were once again sent in to restore order. For several months after that, the Marines worked to remove all U.S. Forces, assets, and aid workers. The country was being left to fend for itself. All relief agencies closed down operations in Somalia, and all aid organizations vacated operations. By 1995, all U.S. Forces and organizations had been removed from the country, and it returned to complete chaos.
The question to this day which lingers in my mind is was the whole thing worth it? Should the United States have been appointed the humanitarian aid force for the world? Were the lives of dozens of American servicemen the appropriate price to pay? How about the hundreds, if not thousands, of Somali militiamen who died trying to deny the U.S./U.N. passage to deliver critical supplies? What bothers me most of all, is that I still cannot understand the mindset of the Somali clans. The only reason the Marines, and the U.N., was there, was to bring food and supplies to a nation which was starving. The warlords, and their clansmen, would do everything they could to make that relief mission fail. Why? Why did they feel the need to control all the food? They already had all the guns. Having all the food would increase their power structure, but what is good is power when the country you are trying to control is dead?
The mission overall was seen as a failure. Everyone tried to save this country, not for imperialistic reasons, but for humanity, and these drugged-out thugs felt it important enough to stop, that they were willing to kill and die for it. Somalia today is in as much disarray as it ever had been. Armed gunmen control everything, and people are still dying.
As a member of the team that was there, can I feel good about what we did? Yes. While the Marines were in charge, essential supplies reached their destination. We helped people survive. They didn't manage to kill any of ours, but when they tried, we killed lots of theirs. Hopefully politicians will learn from the mistake of Somalia, and not attempt it again.
The Marine Corps, and all United States military forces for that matter, was designed to fight and win wars. The colorful 225-year history has shown that that is exactly what the Marines do, they win. In situations where complete military action is not the answer, a presence in forward areas is required for the purpose of preventing conflicts and controlling crises. The existence of a forward-deployed force is a visible and tangible symbol of U.S. political commitments and military strength. People often blame the military for getting involved in conflict, when in fact; it is the politician who should be held accountable, for the military only exists to succeed where sheer politics fail.
With the end of the Cold War, the U.S. military has seen it's operational commitments quadruple. For right or wrong, we have become the "world's policeman." As the most powerful country in the world, both economically and militarily, we are expected to act when others cannot. The oh-so-blunderous United Nations signs sanction after sanction and charge countries with violations that must be stopped. And since the U.N. Peacekeeping (military) Forces have proven themselves so terribly ineffective both in doctrine, concept and action, there is one place that help can be found. the United States. Add to that politicians who have a god complex, and no concept of operational capabilities, and you create a situation where the U.S. military is misused, underpaid, and ill-appreciated.
When I left the Marine Corps in 1996, it was for many reasons, but mainly because I didn't want to get screwed out of a job because of huge defense cuts after having gone everywhere and done everything the politicians said. I had gone across the globe several times because the Commander-In-Chief said so, and if I stayed in, I would have gone to Bosnia for six more months, and then on a ship for a while after that. This is on top of not having a vacation in almost two years. Sure when I signed up I agreed to do whatever the powers in charge said to do, but that was before the Marine Corps was being used for everything from flood aid in Bangladesh to saving a government in Haiti.