|Private David Robertson (18 Years Old)|
Somalia is not just a job for
Army brings adventure, sense of direction
Oxford leader editor
When Dave Robertson graduated from high school last June
1992) ( he knew he had some growing up to do.“I lacked a lot of discipline and I
knew I needed it,” he said. Now, after joining the Army and
spending 100 days in Somalia, he's found what he was looking for. Robertson
was put on alert for Somalia just after completing basic training. ,
Story by SSgt. Elroy Garcia
SOMALIA wasn't always like this. Even under the brutal dictatorship of Siad Barre from 1969 until 1991, Mogadishu, the nation's capital, “was a pretty city,” said Capt. Michael Bittrick, and African foreign area officer for the Army Intelligence and Threat analysis Center in Washington, DC.
“It was a hub of activity,” he said. “It had a port, active markets, nice buildings, well paved streets.”
By mid-January 22,568 American servicemen and women, including 5255 soldiers were in Somalia -- a land where anarchy rules. In the major cities, it looked as if every Somali man, woman and child woke up one morning and suddenly realize they had nothing to do.
They gathered by the hundreds on the sides of the roads, from dawn to dusk. They gathered in unruly mobs at the American compounds at the port of Mogadishu, and at the US Embassy down the road. They reached into slow-moving vehicles to snatch eyeglasses off the faces of reporters and relief workers. They taunted the armed American guards at the compounds. Many of them waved and smiled at the soldiers and Marines. Others threw rocks and told the Americans to go home.
|Armed and Ready for anything|
The thieves and gunmen - the ones hurt most by the American presence - sometimes fired on the troops. US forces suffered their first fatality January 12 when a Marine Pfc.
shot dead. He was on patrol near the Mogadishu airfield when
his unit was ambushed by Somali gunmen. A Navy medic was wounded hours later in
another part of the city. was
Soldiers who had been in Somalia for more than a month said the shootings were inevitable. They talked about how things could get worse. The Somali gunmen, they said, were getting bolder with each day.
On January 7, Marine
helicopters treated American troops in Mogadishu
deadly serious fireworks display, their missiles lighting up the clear
in an attack on Somali gunmen just outside the embassy compound.
soldiers and Marines scrambled from their cots to watch and cheer. A
January 11th raid in Mogadishu netted enough Somali weapons to fill
seven 5-ton trucks. The
booty included everything from missiles, mortars and machine guns to
ammunition. Near Bale Dogle the same night, military police from Fort
N.Y., set up all night roadblocks and confiscated 11 small arms, two
served weapons and two mortars. cobra
Averaging trip outside the US Embassy compound became an adventure. No one entered the city without a flak jacket, at least two Humvees and an “A-driver” for each vehicle. The A-driver’s sole purpose was to protect the convoy. Weapons were locked and loaded the moment the vehicles passed through the concertina wire at the compound gates.
US military personnel were not at war in Mogadishu. But for the soldiers and Marines, Mogadishu was one dangerous town.
|Guard Tower at 24th Transportation Compound, |
towns, where most Somalis welcome the soldiers the saviors in land the
dying nation, there was trouble. In Wanlaweyn, soldiers of the 10th Mountain
Division’s 2 for nd brigade in to quell a riot at a Red Cross
food warehouse. The soldiers rushed to the scene after receiving reports that
more than 8000 villagers have overwhelmed were called Somali in charge of guarding
the food. Warning shots were fired by the Americans to help keep the villagers
back. a lone
“It was pretty bad,” said Pfc. Eric Morris of Company E, 2
87th infantry Regiment. “Thank God
we didn't have to fire at anybody.” nd
Morris said the warning shots help keep the looters under control during the early stages of the riot, but “after a while they knew we weren't going to shoot them and they just laughed at us.”
|"The Candy Man"|
Col. William Ward, the 2
nd commander, called the riot “tense” but
his soldiers handled themselves well.
“The crowd was pushing the soldiers,” he said. “There was no sniper fire that we could say was directed at
us, but we could clearly hear gunfire.”
The Army eventually called in helicopters, using the rotor wash to
disperse the crowd. brigade
The brigade task force's missions were to make the Bale Dogle area safer humanitarian relief convoys, and to search out villages that needed help. “Before we got here, everyone had guns,” said Ward. “Every checkpoint was man with ‘technicals’ - the four-wheel-drive vehicles equipped with heavy weapons - and every time a food convoy came through, it had to give up something in order to gain passage.”
|International Red Cross Feeding Center|
US forces joined those of other coalition countries - some with sizable numbers of troops and others represented by liaison teams. Next to the United States, Italy and France contributed the bulk of the manpower, each with more than 2000 troops deployed, while Australia deployed 900 soldiers. Pakistan, meanwhile, maintained its 500 man peacekeeping force in Mogadishu, working under UN authority as it had before Operation Restore Hope.
Despite relatively little organized resistance, coalition forces maintain tight security as they fanned out across the countryside. Among the most hairy operations for the 10th Div. Was an error assault to Beledweyne, just 20 km from the Ethiopian border. These 2
nd ., 87 Bn th ., And
supporting elements conducted air assault into a wide open area that provided
no cover. SSgt. David Potter, technical security and NCO, said the assault
succeeded because soldiers “got in and got to their points Inf .” After securing the area - one of the
last to see a UN presence - the division turned it over to Canadian soldiers. fast
|Handing out M&M'S|
“So, how severe was the problem before we got here? We really don't know,” said Ward, the 2
nd . Commander.
“Did it exist? The answer is ‘yes.’ Has it stopped or at least reduced significantly? The answer
is ‘yes.’ Is more food getting out
to where it is needed? The answer
is ‘yes.’” Bde
Bye-bye mid-January, 350,000 Somalis had died of drought, famine and civil unrest. The daily death rate peaked last year at 300, until beefed-up security and increased food deliveries lowered the toll. A relief center in Wanlaweyn house about 100 sick people on any given day. Most suffered from malnutrition, diarrhea or malaria. Before the arrival of the Americans, relief workers said five or six people died at the center each day. Less than two months later, the number had dwindled to one or two.
Both soldiers had not witnessed
the mass firsthand saw on TV before
the deployment to Somalia. It took only a few minutes on the road to see the
widespread poverty and primitive living conditions. But starving kids? Some of
the Somalis on the streets - the ones who were drawn to the Army convoys like
metal to a magnet - were skinny, but most appear healthy. starvation they
|International Red Cross Feeding Center|
“Mostly we see older people who can't walk or move by themselves, and they're just laying there as we drive by on the road,” said Sgt. Gary Goss of Company E, 2
nd ., 87 Bn th . “But that's about it; I haven't really seen any
starving people.” Inf
Morris said he saw one starving child in a little more than a month in Somalia. “It was a pretty sickening picture; it made me want to do more than what
doing.” Still, Morris said he expected much worse. “I thought I'd see a lot more
starvation. I don't think these people are as bad off as what they show on TV;
I think reporters look for the worst possible things to make it look worse over
That's what Sgt. Stan Hayes thought, too, before he stopped in at a feeding center in Buuhurkaba, a town a few miles north of the Army compound in Bale Dogle. While the Somali situation has improved somewhat since the arrival of the Americans, starvation, he said, was still commonplace. It was evident in the dozens of fresh graves on the side of the road between Mogadishu and Bale Dogle, even more so in Buuhurkaba.
“I saw some things today that I didn't know existed in this country,” said Hayes, one of the few soldiers to go inside a feeding center in one of the hardest hit areas in Somalia. It was Hayes's job to escort a US State Department worker through the center.
I saw some children up there who were just pathetic - they were starved probably several weeks ago. There was a child there - he was probably eight or nine years old - and he didn't weigh more than 40 or 45 pounds. I was just looking at this child… If he lives another couple of weeks, I'll be amazed. He barely had enough strength to hold up is
Hayes saw another childhood looked like little more than a stick figure. “He didn't have the strength to sit up, let alone walk,” he said.
“I can see now why they wanted everybody here,” said Hayes, who was keeping a journal of his trip. After two weeks in Somalia, Hayes wrote: “I have yet to see a starving Somali. The people in Mogadishu, they are doing all right. The people down here at Bale Dogle, they're doing okay.”
But now, after Buuhurkaba, Hayes said he knows “the real story. I feel a lot better now about what
doing here. In the last couple of days, I've seen what's
actually going on, and if week could get a lot more of the soldiers out where
they can see this, they have a lot better feeling for what they're doing here.” were
Morris, the Pfc.
Company E, said he's seeing the improvement in Sally life since
December when the first Army troops landed in this country. He's worried,
though, that the situation will deteriorate once the US military pulls out. “I
think it might, because we go into towns and asked the people to take down the
checkpoints and we go through town the very next day and the checkpoints are
back up again,” he said. from
“Hopefully we can make a difference and the UN can go ahead and help these people get their government going again,” said Hayes, the Sgt.
saw firsthand the
starvation that most Americans have only seen on TV. “The government's been
gone for years now, so it's not going to happen overnight, but hopefully the
separate clans can get together because all they are doing right now is hurting
the population.” who