Books

Grove Press
Atlantic Monthly Press
Grove Press

Black Hawk Down

A Story of Modern War

by Mark Bowden

“Amazing . . . One of the most intense, visceral reading experiences imaginable. . . . The individual stories are woven together in such a compelling and expert fashion, the narrative flows so seamlessly, that it’s hard to imagine that this is not fiction.” —Michael Maren, The Philadelphia Inquirer

  • Imprint Grove Paperback
  • Page Count 416
  • Publication Date April 01, 2010
  • ISBN-13 978-0-8021-4473-7
  • Dimensions 5.5" x 8.25"
  • US List Price $16.00
  • Imprint Atlantic Monthly Press
  • Page Count 400
  • Publication Date March 22, 1999
  • ISBN-13 978-0-8711-3738-8
  • Dimensions 6" x 9"
  • US List Price $25.00
  • Imprint Grove Paperback
  • Page Count 400
  • Publication Date May 01, 2007
  • ISBN-13 978-1-5558-4604-6
  • US List Price $16.00

About The Book

Ninety-nine elite American soldiers are trapped in the middle of a hostile city.

As night falls, they are surrounded by thousands of enemy gunmen. Their wounded are bleeding to death. Their ammunition and supplies are dwindling.

This is the story of how they got there”and how they fought their way out.

This is the story of war.

Black Hawk Down drops you into a crowded marketplace in the heart of Mogadishu, Somalia with the U.S. Special Forces’and puts you in the middle of the most intense firefight American soldiers have fought since the Vietnam War.

Late in the afternoon of Sunday, October 3, 1993, the soldiers of Task Force Ranger were sent on a mission to capture two top lieutenants of a renegade warlord and return to base. It was supposed to take them about an hour.

Instead, they were pinned down through a long and terrible night in a hostile city, locked in a desperate struggle to kill or be killed. When the unit was finally rescued the following morning, eighteen American soldiers were dead and dozens more badly injured. The Somali toll was far worse: more than five hundred killed and over a thousand wounded.

Award-winning literary journalist Mark Bowden’s dramatic narrative captures this harrowing ordeal through the eyes of the young men who fought that day. He draws on his extensive interviews of participants from both sides’as well as classified combat video and radio transcripts’to bring their stories to life. A Black Hawk pilot is shot down and besieged by an angry mob, then saved by Somalis who plan to ransom him to the local warlord. A medic desperately tries to keep his grievously wounded friend alive long enough to be evacuated”only to have him bleed to death in his arms. The company clerk, who is the butt of jokes in the barracks, rises to the task and per-forms extraordinary feats of valor.

Authoritative, gripping, and insightful, Black Hawk Down is a riveting look at the terror and exhilaration of combat, destined to become a classic of war reporting.

Praise

“Amazing . . . One of the most intense, visceral reading experiences imaginable. . . . The individual stories are woven together in such a compelling and expert fashion, the narrative flows so seamlessly, that it’s hard to imagine that this is not fiction. And, in the end, what makes this book stand out form the current crop of nonfiction thrillers is that its impact and significance are so very much greater than the sum of its very many parts.” —Michael Maren, The Philadelphia Inquirer (front cover review)

“In Black Hawk Down, Mark Bowden has reconstructed this extremely violent episode with amazing vividness and detail. The reader can visualize the action, smell the dust and sweat and the reek of explosives, and even enter into the exultation, fear, rage, pain, confusion, and exhaustion of the combatants. Bowden never loses sight of the human qualities and reactions that are, in the end, decisive in battle. Because he was able to interview survivors on both sides relatively soon after the action, Bowden’s story has a vitality and freshness usually lacking in accounts of combat. He was written an extraordinary book. It is also a shocking one.” —Brian Urquhart, The New York Review of Books

“In Black Hawk Down, author Mark Bowden presents a riveting, minute-by-minute account of the battle, told from the perspective of the soldiers who fought for their lives in the narrow, dusty streets. . . . Bowden focuses . . . on the human drama, producing one of the most gripping and authoritative accounts of combat ever written.” —Kirk Spitzer, USA Today

“Riveting.” —Mark Yost, The Wall Street Journal

“A vivid, immediate and unsparing narrative that is filled with blood and noise. . . . It bears comparison to S.L.A. Marshall’s classic account of a battle in Korea, Pork Chop Hill.” —Jonathan Yardley, Washington Post

“With Black Hawk Down, Mark Bowden ably details that grim action in a fast-paced factual account that reads like a non-fiction thriller. . . . Through exhaustive research and interviews with the survivors, Bowden masterfully transcribes not just the swirling chaotic events, but also the heightening of charged emotions as the battle intensified. . . . Black Hawk Down is an engrossing read, a well-told tale of modern combat.” —Scott Taylor, The Globe and Mail (Toronto)

“One of the finest combat reconstructions in the annals of warfare. . . . The result of Bowden’s efforts is a detailed after-action report that stands in a league with Shelby Foote’s stirring Civil War diary Shiloh—rare in its completeness, compassion and reverence for the valor of young men cast into extraordinary circumstances.” —Jim Haner, The Baltimore Sun

“[Bowden] is obsessive about accuracy as a watchmaker, and the rhetorical strategies he employs make Black Hawk Down a descendant of books like The Killer Angels and We Were Soldiers Once . . . and Young; like those two, Black Hawk Down ranks among the best books ever written about infantry combat. . . . Anybody who has spent a day with contemporary America’s warriors will recognize immediately the authenticity of Black Hawk Down. It’s an intimate, minute-by-minute chronicle of suffering, futility and courage, infused with the Gen-X-speak of the 20-something soldiers, who talk about their profession as an extreme sport, way cool until the killing starts.” —Bob Shacochis, The New York Observer

“Bowden has crafted the quintessential story of men in combat. . . . If Black Hawk Down were fiction, we’d rank it up there with the best war novels, The Naked and the Dead by Norman Mailer, or The Things They Carried by Tim o’Brien. There are woefully few (Stephen Ambrose’s work on World War II may come close) nonfiction books about combat with which to compare it. Bowden captures the essence of combat—the sights and sounds, the terror and the determination, the sheer will to survive. It’s an intense and impressive work.” —Tom Walker, The Denver Post

“Mark Bowden’s Black Hawk Down is a minute-by-minute reconstruction of the climactic battle in the short, ill-fated American military campaign in Mogadishu. . . . His account, built on interview with battle participants and Army records, has great immediacy . . . Bowden shifts narrative point of view rapidly and regularly, from one battle participant to the next. Thus, we ride to the battle with Rangers who see themselves as ‘predators, heavy metal avengers, unstoppable, invincible,’ and we feel the confusion and panic of individual soldiers as the operation begins to unravel. . . . Some of the best passages of Black Hawk Down tell the story from the Somali point of view. . . their accounts help make sense of the overwhelming popular hostility that the Americans faced. . . . Bowden has performed an important service by picking out and meticulously dramatizing such a turning point in recent history.” —William Finnegan, The New York Times Book Review (front cover)

“I can’t remember having read such good reporting of a combat engagement. . . . Journalistic writing at its best.” —Don Murray, Boston Globe

Black Hawk Down may one day stand as one of the most realistic books ever written about soldiers under fire and, by extension, the role of the American military in a post-superpower, police-action world.” —Chicago Tribune

Black Hawk Down is destined to become a military classic.” —The Washington Times

“Mark Bowden . . . has told the story with a driving narrative in a treatment that proceeds with dignity like the measured tread of history, yet glows with the passion of a memoir.” —San Antonio Express News

Black Hawk Down has the power of an ambush . . . a suspenseful and gruesome account of modern war that’s impossible to put down.” —Orlando Sentinel

“The author inserts the reader right into battle . . . [Bowden] uses a narrative style to paint a faithful description of the sights, sounds, smells and tastes of combat.” —James W. Crawley, The San Diego Union-Tribune (front cover review)

“This is military writing at its breathless best. Bowden has used his journalistic skills to kind and interview key participants on both sides of the October 1993 raid into the heart of Mogadishu, Somalia, a raid that quickly became the most intensive close combat Americans have engaged in since Vietnam. . . . Bowden presents snapshots of the chaos at the heart of combat. On page after page, in vignette after vignette, he reminds us that war is about breaking things and killing people. . . . A gripping account of combat that merits thoughtful reading by anyone concerned with the future course of the country’s military strategy and its relationship to foreign policy.” —Publishers Weekly (starred review)

“A searing look at one specific incident during the US military action in Somalia. . . . A look at modern war in the tradition of the great war correspondents. Gripping, passionate, and impossible to put down.” —Kirkus Reviews (starred review)

“Gut-wrenching good . . . a riveting book . . . a dog soldier’s perspective of modern warfare that rivals any D-day scene in Saving Private Ryan.” —Kevin Giordano, Maxim

“Mark Bowden has produced a superb account of the October 1993 battle of Mogadishu. His graphic description of the fiercest firefight involving U.S. troops since the Vietnam war will resonate well beyond the military history enthusiasts who typically lap up such fare . . . enthralling narrative . . . riveting description of what might be called the first battle of the 21st century.” —Sean D. Naylor, The Washington Monthly

Black Hawk Down vividly depicts the confusion, courage, friction and sheer terror of close combat. . . . The narrative evokes the smell and taste of battle and is every bit as good as that found in S.L.A. Marshall’s Pork Chop Hill, a classic of the Korean War.” —LTC (Ret.) A. E. Miller, Army Times

“This after-action report is an admirable effort to record the skill and heroism ‘of ninety-nine American soldiers trapped in an ancient African city and fighting for their lives.’ With a good reporter’s attention to detail and a novelist’s appreciation of the lingo of the professional military, the author has written a vivid account of deadly, hand-to-hand urban fighting. This is an authoritative picture of the Rangers and the men of Delta Force who think of themselves as ‘faster, stronger, smarter, and more experienced than any soldier in the world.’” —U.S. Naval Institute’s Proceedings

“Dramatically, graphically reconstructing the October 1993 gun battle in Mogadishu, Somalia, journalist Bowden leaves nothing about combat to the imagination. . . . It is a horribly fascinating bullet-by-bullet story, in which the purpose of Americans in Somalia fades to irrelevance amidst the immediate desperation of fighting. . . . In effective New Journalism style, Bowden projects the individual soldier’s thinking: his pride in his elite training, his surprise at the strangeness of combat, his determination to hold out until rescue, and in two instances, his pure self-sacrificial heroism. An account impossible to stop reading, especially for those with army associations.” —Gilbert Taylor, Booklist

“A battle that changed the world, Black Hawk Down will alter how we look at the modern battlefield and the respect we have for those who fight on it. The story sends you from anger to tears, from laughter to quiet moments alone. It is the power of the personal accounts and the research of the author that brings the 1993 battle into your heart. Mark Bowden is not a military expert, but his manner and style of reporting earned him the respect of some family members and the people he interviewed. Thus the book becomes the combatants story told through a single author. A book not built on finger pointing or blame, yet is well aware of all of the issues. At the end of the book the author looks at many of the issues and dedicates it to the people who fought the good fight. That dedication was forged starting on his first interview, and has developed into a book for generations.” —www.nightstalkers.com

“Bowden has succeeded in writing what will doubtless soon be considered one of the most important works on military combat in the post Cold War era. Perhaps the best book ever written on military special operation forces (SOF) in a combat environment, Black Hawk Down provides unseen view into the world of both overt and covert warfare. . . . We are rewarded with a story that reveals the complex and chaotic events of October 1993 in a manner that is as breathlessly exciting as it is informative.” —Tom Hunter, www.specialoperations.com

“Your account of the events in Mogadishu on October 3, 1993 is an inspirational and evocative retelling of one of the most significant military operations of the past 10 years. Though there is heroism and professionalism aplenty, you also bring out the errors and missed opportunities that contributed to the unfortunate outcome of the mission. Both senior leaders and young soldiers can learn much from this compelling story. . . . Black Hawk Down will occupy an honored place in my personal library.” —General Henry H. Shelton, Chairman, Joint Chiefs of Staff

“Terrifyingly real . . . Mark Bowden shoves you into the middle of this fierce battle and has you fighting for your life.” —U.S. Army Major David Stockwell, spokesman for Task Force Ranger

“A riveting, up-close account of the most intensive, hand-to-hand combat by U.S. soldiers since Vietnam. In their own words, Mark Bowden has captured the heroism, honor, and horror of the battle of Mogadishu for both Americans and Somalis.” —United States Ambassador Robert Oakley (Ret.), author of Somalia and Operation Restore Hope

“A fascinating, blow-by-blow account of the Mogadishu raid that went wrong and cost the lives of so many brave American warriors . . . Meticulous reporting.” —Joseph L. Galloway, co-author of We Were Soldiers Once . . . and Young

“The only thing more phenomenal than the depth of reporting in Black Hawk Down is the quality of the writing. Mark Bowden is a brilliant storyteller.” —Jim Naughton, president of the Poynter Institute for Journalism

“Bowden [has] produced one of the finest pieces of investigative journalism of our time. . . . [You] can feel, hear, smell, and even taste it.” —Lt. Col. L. H. “Bucky” Burruss, U.S. Army (Ret.), author of Mike Force, A Mission for Delta, and Clash of Steel

“I did not ‘read’ Mark Bowden’s Black Hawk Down . . . I devoured it. It is a compelling tale of noble endeavor gone awry, written with such clarity and insight that the reader quivers as if trapped in the desperate, close-quarters firefight Bowden’s gifted narrative brings to life.” —Benjamin F. Schemmer, editor in chief, Strategic Review

Awards

A New York Times #1 Bestseller
Selected as one of Time Out‘s 1,000 Books to Change Your Life

Excerpt

The Assault
1

At liftoff, Matt Eversmann said a Hail Mary. He was curled into a seat between two helicopter crew chiefs, the knees of his long legs up to his shoulders. Before him, jammed on both sides of the Black Hawk helicopter, was his “chalk,” twelve young men in flak vests over tan desert camouflage fatigues.

He knew their faces so well they were like brothers. The older guys on this crew, like Eversmann, a staff sergeant with five years in at age twenty-six, had lived and trained together for years. Some had come up together through basic training, jump school, and Ranger school. They had traveled the world, to Korea, Thailand, Central America … they knew each other better than most brothers did.

They’d been drunk together, gotten into fights, slept on forest floors, jumped out of airplanes, climbed mountains, shot down foaming rivers with their hearts in their throats, baked and frozen and starved together, passed countless bored hours, teased one another endlessly about girlfriends or lack of same, driven out in the middle of the night from Fort Benning to retrieve each other from some diner or strip club out on Victory Drive after getting drunk and falling asleep or pissing off some barkeep. Through all those things, they had been training for a moment like this. It was the first time the lanky sergeant had been put in charge, and he was nervous about it.

Pray for us sinners, now, and at the hour of our death, amen.

It was midafternoon, October 3, 1993. Eversmann’s Chalk Four was part of a force of U.S. Army Rangers and Delta Force operators who were about to drop in uninvited on a gathering of Habr Gidr clan leaders in the heart of Mogadishu, Somalia. This ragged clan, led by warlord Mohamed Farrah Aidid, had picked a fight with the United States of America, and it was, without a doubt, going down. Today’s targets were two of Aidid’s lieutenants. They would be arrested and imprisoned with a growing number of the belligerent clan’s bosses on an island off the southern Somali coast city of Kismayo. Chalk Four’s piece of this snatch-and-grab was simple. Each of the four Ranger chalks had a corner of the block around the target house. Eversmann’s would rope down to the northwest corner and set up a blocking position. With Rangers on all four corners, no one would enter the zone where Delta was working, and no one would leave.

They had done this dozens of times without difficulty, in practice and on the task force’s six previous missions. The pattern was clear in Eversmann’s mind. He knew which way to move when he hit the ground, where his soldiers would be. Those out of the left side of the bird would assemble on the left side of the street. Those out of the right side would assemble right. Then they would peel off in both directions, with the medics and the youngest guys in the middle. Private First Class Todd Blackburn was the baby on Eversmann’s bird, a kid fresh out of Florida high school who had not yet even been to Ranger school. He’d need watching. Sergeant Scott Galentine was older but also inexperienced here in Mog. He was a replacement, just in from Benning. The burden of responsibility for these young Rangers weighed heavily on Evers-mann. This time out they were his.

As chalk leader, he was handed headphones when he took his front seat. They were bulky and had a mouthpiece and were connected by a long black cord to a plug on the ceiling. He took his helmet off and settled the phones over his ears.

One of the crew chiefs tapped his shoulder.

“Matt, be sure you remember to take those off before you leave,” he said, pointing to the cord.

Then they had stewed on the hot tarmac for what seemed an hour, breathing the pungent diesel fumes and oozing sweat under their body armor and gear, fingering their weapons anxiously, every man figuring this mission would probably be scratched before they got off the ground. That’s how it usually went. There were twenty false alarms for every real mission. Back when they’d arrived in Mog five weeks earlier, they were so flush with excitement that cheers went up from Black Hawk to Black Hawk every time they boarded the birds. Now spin-ups like this were routine and usually amounted to nothing.

Waiting for the code word for launch, which today was “Irene,” they were a formidable sum of men and machines. There were four of the amazing AH-6 Little Birds, two-seat bubble-front attack helicopters that could fly just about anywhere. The Little Birds were loaded with rockets this time, a first. Two would make the initial sweep over the target and two more would help with rear security. There were four MH-6 Little Birds with benches mounted on both sides for delivering the spearhead of the assault force, Delta’s C Squadron, one of three operational elements in the army’s top secret commando unit. Following this strike force were eight of the elongated troop-carrying Black Hawks: two carrying Delta assaulters and their ground command, four for delivering the Rangers (Company B, 3rd Battalion of the army’s 75th Infantry, the Ranger Regiment out of Fort Benning, Georgia), one carrying a crack CSAR (Combat Search and Rescue) team, and one to fly the two mission commanders—Lieutenant Colonel Tom Matthews, who was coordinating the pilots of the 160th SOAR (Special Operations Aviation Regiment out of Fort Campbell, Kentucky); and Delta Lieutenant Colonel Gary Harrell, who had responsibility for the men on the ground. The ground convoy, which was lined up and idling out by the front gate, consisted of nine wide-body Humvees and three five-ton trucks. The trucks would be used to haul the prisoners and assault forces out. The Humvees were filled with Rangers, Delta operators, and four members of SEAL (Sea, Air, Land) Team Six, part of the navy’s special forces branch. Counting the three surveillance birds and the spy plane high overhead, there were nineteen aircraft, twelve vehicles, and about 160 men. It was an eager armada on a taut rope.

There were signs this one would go. The commander of Task Force Ranger, Major General William F. Garrison, had come out to see them off. He had never done that before. A tall, slender, gray-haired man in desert fatigues with half an unlit cigar jutting from the corner of his mouth, Garrison had walked from chopper to chopper and then stooped down by each Humvee.

“Be careful,” he said in his Texas drawl.

Then he’d move on to the next man.

“Good luck.”

Then the next.

“Be careful.”

The swell of all those revving engines made the earth tremble and their pulses race. It was stirring to be part of it, the cocked fist of America’s military might. Woe to whatever stood in their way. Bristling with grenades and ammo, gripping the steel of their automatic weapons, their hearts pounding under their flak vests, they waited with a heady mix of hope and dread. They ran through last-minute mental checklists, saying prayers, triple-checking weapons, rehearsing their precise tactical choreography, performing little rituals … whatever it was that prepared them for battle. They all knew this mission might get hairy. It was an audacious daylight thrust into the “Black Sea,” the very heart of Habr Gidr territory in central Mogadishu and warlord Aidid’s stronghold. Their target was a three-story house of whitewashed stone with a flat roof, a modern modular home in one of the city’s few remaining clusters of intact large buildings, surrounded by blocks and blocks of tin-roofed dwellings of muddy stone. Hundreds of thousands of clan members lived in this labyrinth of irregular dirt streets and cactus-lined paths. There were no decent maps. Pure Indian country.

The men had watched the rockets being loaded on the AH-6s. Garrison hadn’t done that on any of their earlier missions. It meant they were expecting trouble. The men had girded themselves with extra ammo, stuffing magazines and grenades into every available pocket and pouch of their load-bearing harnesses, leaving behind canteens, bayonets, night-vision goggles, and any other gear they felt would be deadweight on a fast daylight raid. The prospect of getting into a scrape didn’t worry them. Not at all. They welcomed it. They were predators, heavy metal avengers, unstoppable, invincible. The feeling was, after six weeks of diddling around they were finally going in to kick some serious Somali ass.

It was 3:32 P.M. when the chalk leader inside the lead Black Hawk, Super Six Four, heard over the intercom the soft voice of the pilot, Chief Warrant Officer Mike Durant, clearly pleased.

Durant announced, “Fuckin” Irene.”

And the armada launched, lifting off from the shabby airport by the sea into an embracing blue vista of sky and Indian Ocean. They eased out across a littered strip of white sand and moved low and fast over running breakers that formed faint crests parallel to the shore. In close formation they banked and flew down the coastline southwest. From each bird the booted legs of the eager soldiers dangled from the benches and open doors.

Unrolling toward a hazy desert horizon, Mogadishu in midafternoon sun was so bright it was as if the aperture on the world’s lens was stuck one click wide. From a distance the ancient port city had an auburn hue, with its streets of ocher sand and its rooftops of Spanish tile and rusted tin. The only tall structures still standing after years of civil war were the ornate white towers of mosques—Islam being the only thing all Somalia held sacred. There were many scrub trees, the tallest just over the low rooftops, and between them high stone walls with pale traces of yellow and pink and gray, fading remnants of pre-civil war civility. Set there along the coast, framed to the west by desert and the east by gleaming teal ocean, it might have been some sleepy Mediterranean resort.

As the helicopter force swept in over it, gliding back in from the ocean and then banking right and sprinting northeast along the city’s western edge, Mogadishu spread beneath them in its awful reality, a catastrophe, the world capital of things-gone-completely-to-hell. It was as if the city had been ravaged by some fatal urban disease. The few paved avenues were crumbling and littered with mountains of trash, debris, and the rusted hulks of burned-out vehicles. Those walls and buildings that had not been reduced to heaps of gray rubble were pockmarked with bullet scars. Telephone poles leaned at ominous angles like voodoo totems topped by stiff sprays of dreadlocks—the stubs of their severed wires (long since stripped for sale on the thriving black market). Public spaces displayed the hulking stone platforms that once held statuary from the heroic old days of dictator Mohamed Siad Barre, the national memory stripped bare not out of revolutionary fervor, but to sell the bronze and copper for scrap. The few proud old government and university buildings that still stood were inhabited now by refugees. Everything of value had been looted, right down to metal window frames, doorknobs, and hinges. At night, campfires glowed from third-and fourth-story windows of the old Polytechnic Institute. Every open space was clotted with the dense makeshift villages of the disinherited, round stick huts covered with layers of rags and shacks made of scavenged scraps of wood and patches of rusted tin. From above they looked like an advanced stage of some festering urban rot.

In his bird, Super Six Seven, Eversmann rehearsed the plan in his mind. By the time they reached the street, the D-boys would already be taking down the target house, rounding up Somali prisoners and shooting anyone foolish enough to fight back. Word was there were two big boys in this house, men whom the task force had identified as “Tier One Personalities,” Aidid’s top men. As the D-boys did their work and the Rangers kept the curious at bay, the ground convoy of trucks and Humvees would roll in through the city, right up to the target house. The prisoners would be herded into the trucks. The assault team and blocking force would jump in behind them and they would all drive back to finish out a nice Sunday afternoon on the beach. It would take about an hour.

To make room for the Rangers in the Black Hawks, the seats in back had been removed. The men who were not in the doorways were squatting on ammo cans or seated on flak-proof Kevlar panels laid out on the floor. They all wore desert camouflage fatigues, with Kevlar vests and helmets and about fifty pounds of equipment and ammo strapped to their load-bearing harnesses, which fit on over the vests. All had goggles and thick leather gloves. Those layers of gear made even the slightest of them look bulky, robotic, and intimidating. Stripped down to their dirt-brown T-shirts and shorts, which is how they spent most of their time in the hangar, most looked like the pimply teenagers they were (average age nineteen). They were immensely proud of their Ranger status. It spared them most of the numbing noncombat-related routine that drove many an army enlistee nuts. The Rangers trained for war full-time. They were fitter, faster, and first—“Rangers lead the way!” was their motto. Each had volunteered at least three times to get where they were, for the army, for airborne, and for the Rangers. They were the cream, the most highly motivated young soldiers of their generation, selected to fit the army’s ideal—they were all male and, revealingly, nearly all white (there were only two blacks among the 140-man company). Some were professional soldiers, like Lieutenant Larry Perino, a 1990 West Point graduate. Some were overachievers in search of a different challenge, like Specialist John Waddell on Chalk Two, who had enlisted after finishing high school in Natchez, Mississippi, with a 4.0 GPA. Some were daredevils in search of a physical challenge. Others were self-improvers, young men who had found themselves adrift after high school, or in trouble with drugs, booze, the law, or all three. They were harder-edged than most young men of their generation who, on this Sunday in early autumn, were weeks into their fall college semester. Most of these Rangers had been kicked around some, had tasted failure. But there were no goof-offs. Every man had worked to be here, probably harder than he’d ever worked in his life. Those with troubled pasts had taken harsh measure of themselves. Beneath their best hard-ass act, most were achingly earnest, patriotic, and idealistic. They had literally taken the army up on its offer to “Be All You Can Be.”

They held themselves to a higher standard than normal soldiers. With their buff bodies, distinct crew cuts—sides and back of the head completely shaved—and their grunted Hoo-ah greeting, they saw themselves as the army at its gung ho best. Many, if they could make it, aspired to join Special Forces, maybe even get picked to try out for Delta, the hale, secret supersoldiers now leading this force in. Only the very best of them would be invited to try out, and only one of every ten invited would make it through selection. In this ancient male hierarchy, the Rangers were a few steps up the ladder, but the D-boys owned the uppermost rung.

Rangers knew the surest path to that height was combat experience. So far, Mog had been mostly a tease. War was always about to happen. About to happen. Even the missions, exciting as they’d been, had fallen short. The Somalis—whom they called “skinnies” or “sammies”—had taken a few wild shots at them, enough to get the Rangers’ blood up and unleash a hellish torrent of return fire, but nothing that qualified as a genuine balls-out firefight.

Which is what they wanted. All of these guys. If there were any hesitant thoughts, they were buttoned tight. A lot of these men had started as afraid of war as anyone, but the fear had been drummed out. Especially in Ranger training. About a fourth of those who volunteered washed out, enough so that those who emerged with their Ranger tab at the end were riding the headiest wave of accomplishment in their young lives. The weak had been weeded out. The strong had stepped up. Then came weeks, months, years of constant training. The Hoo-ahs couldn’t wait to go to war. They were an all-star football team that had endured bruising, exhausting, dangerous practice sessions twelve hours a day, seven days a week—for years—without ever getting to play a game.

They yearned for battle. They passed around the dog-eared paperback memoirs of soldiers from past conflicts, many written by former Rangers, and savored the affectionate, comradely tone of their stories, feeling bad for the poor suckers who bought it or got crippled or maimed but identifying with the righteous men who survived the experience whole. They studied the old photos, which were the same from every war, young men looking dirty and tired, half dressed in army combat fatigues, dogtags hanging around their skinny necks, posing with arms draped over each other’s shoulders in exotic lands. They could see themselves in those snapshots, surrounded by their buddies, fighting their war. It was THE test, the only one that counted.

Sergeant Mike Goodale had tried to explain this to his mother one time, on leave in Illinois. His mom was a nurse, incredulous at his bravado.

“Why would anybody want to go to war?” she asked.

Goodale told her it would be like, as a nurse, after all her training, never getting the chance to work in a hospital. It would be like that.

“You want to find out if you can really do the job,” he explained.

Like those guys in books. They’d been tested and proven. It was another generation of Rangers’ turn now. Their turn.

It didn’t matter that none of the men in these helicopters knew enough to write a high school paper about Somalia. They took the army’s line without hesitation. Warlords had so ravaged the nation battling among themselves that their people were starving to death. When the world sent food, the evil warlords hoarded it and killed those who tried to stop them. So the civilized world had decided to lower the hammer, invite the baddest boys on the planet over to clean things up. “Nuff said. Little the Rangers had seen since arriving at the end of August had altered that perception. Mogadishu was like the postapocalyptic world of Mel Gibson’s Mad Max movies, a world ruled by roving gangs of armed thugs. They were here to rout the worst of the warlords and restore sanity and civilization.

Eversmann had always just enjoyed being a Ranger. He wasn’t sure how he felt about being in charge, even if it was just temporary. He’d won the distinction by default. His platoon sergeant had been summoned home by an illness in his family, and then the guy who replaced him had keeled over with an epileptic seizure. He, too, had been sent home. Eversmann was the senior man in line. He accepted the task hesitantly. That morning at Mass in the mess he’d prayed about it.

Airborne now at last, Eversmann swelled with energy and pride as he looked out over the full armada. It was a state-of-the-art military force. Already circling high above the target was the slickest intelligence support America had to offer, including satellites, a high-flying P3 Orion spy plane, and three OH-58 observation helicopters, which looked like the bubble-front Little Bird choppers with a five-foot bulbous polyp growing out of the top. The observation birds were equipped with video cameras and radio equipment that would relay the action live to General Garrison and the other senior officers in the Joint Operations Center (JOC) back at the beach. Moviemakers and popular authors might strain to imagine the peak capabilities of the U.S. military, but here was the real thing about to strike. It was a well-oiled, fully equipped, late-twentieth-century fighting machine. America’s best were going to war, and Sergeant Matt Eversmann was among them.