Leadership Lessons from the Movie Black Hawk Down


Mark Bowden's 1999 book Black Hawk Down: A Story of Modern War details the failed US attempt to capture Somali Warlord Mohamed Farrah Aidid
.  Bowden's book became a primer for modern urban warfare as well as a modern military classic.  

The critically acclaimed movie Black Hawk Down, directed by Ridley Scott, is based directly on Bowden's book and accurately depicts the action as it occurred on the ground.  Both the book and movie are musts for all Marines in leadership positions and the movie is an excellent lead into a PME on the both the tactical and operational levels of war. 

Here are some thoughts to consider as you critique the movie:

-QRF - Prepped and ready to move ASAP
-Cultural Training
-Contingency Planning at all levels Plan B, Plan C?
-Plan to be there longer than you think you will
-Information and Intelligence sharing. Dissemination to the lowest levels
-Lack of time for proper planning, preparation, rehearsals etc.)
-Lack of coordination with (Coalition, Joint, and Agency) 
-Complacency Kills
-Never underestimate your enemy
-Don't overestimate yourself (elitist mentality)

Thoughts on the movie by Col. David Hackworth

By David H. Hackworth

The five-star movie Black Hawk Down smacks you right between the eyes with the sheer brutality of infantry combat, however magnificently portrayed by film maestro Ridley Scott. But while it showcases the professionalism and bravery of our U.S. Army Special Operations warriors in Mogadishu, it's far too light on the lessons to be learned from that terrible disaster.

In December 1992, I went to Somalia. On a much smaller scale, the conditions were like those in Vietnam: snipers, mines and booby traps were killing and wounding our soldiers, and we had a hard time finding the guerrilla enemy - who fought only on their terms.

This time, I was looking at the battlefield as a war correspondent, but there was no way to take the young soldier out of the old reporter. My style was to hang out with one of the rifle platoons for five days and then send in my copy. Pretty soon, eating and sleeping with the grunts, I became just a guy who'd been around a war or two. It wasn't long before, "Hey, Hack, does this machine gun have a good field of fire?" and, "What do you think of this patrol formation?"

I was tagging along with Maj. Martin Stanton of the 2/87th Infantry, an old pal, when he asked me to give a class on how we used choppers in Vietnam. "Are you sure?" I asked. "Remember, I'm bad news as far as the Army's concerned. What's the Pentagon going to say when they hear you've got me teaching a class?"

Stanton was sure. I gave a two-hour lecture on airmobile operations in a guerrilla environment. "This is how we did it in Vietnam," I told them.

Most looked at me with blank faces as if I were talking "Star Wars" to the moon. I realized with an electric shock that these fine young 10th Division soldiers were like explorers in an unknown land without a map or compass, and one single cram session on airmobile missions wasn't going to be much help. All of the lessons paid for so dearly from Vietnam had disappeared.

After I left Somalia, a Ranger Task Force, some of the best warriors going, deployed to Mogadishu. They conducted six chopper operations, all using identical tactics and techniques, during which they dropped into the objective, conducted a raid and returned to base. On their seventh raid, they were tasked to capture Mohammed Aidid, a clan guerrilla leader. But because their leaders hadn't factored into the equation that Aidid's boys were watching - the way smart terrorists do - they ended up surrounded, trapped and, except for their courage and fighting skill, would have been destroyed to the man.

Besides employing a bush-league tactical plan, the general in charge, William Garrison, had no contingency plan to bail out his boys if the op turned bad. No USAF tactical air support. No tanks ready to break through to the besieged Rangers - even though Marine tanks were close, the Army didn't want the Marines to ride to the rescue because of inter-service rivalry. And so our warriors were severely bloodied - 18 died, and more than 100 were wounded, a rout that caused the sole surviving superpower to beat feet out of Somalia, dragging its tail.

For personal and professional reasons, I went to Walter Reed Hospital in Washington, D.C., to talk to the wounded, then to Fort Benning, Ga., to meet with some of the Rangers who'd been in the fight. They told me officially and again unofficially at night over beers how they'd been sucked in and then out-guerrillaed, outmaneuvered, outsmarted. A detailed assessment of the debacle is in my book, Hazardous Duty.

As today's top military leaders go up the chain, like most executives in large organizations, they develop a disease called CRN - Can't Remember Nothing - and forget what it's like to be at the bottom. Somewhere along the line, they stop listening to the grunts who do the fighting and dying, the ones who know what they need to defeat our enemies and survive.

We must protect the troops in Afghanistan by applying what we learned the hard way in Somalia, starting with sending some tanks into Kandahar ASAP.

http://www.hackworth.com is the address of David Hackworth's home page. Sign in for the free weekly Defending America column at his Web site. Send mail to P.O. Box 11179, Greenwich, CT 06831.

© 2001 David H. Hackworth

Thoughts and comments on the book and movie?  Share them with your fellow Marines below.

Additional Resources

Battle of Mogadishu (Wikipedia)

The History Channel, True Story of Black Hawk Down

The Original Newspaper Series by Mark Bowden Online

Black Hawk Down: A Story of Modern War

Black Hawk Down DVD


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