War­riors’ widows re­call Mo­gadishu

Ac­cept hus­bands’ brav­ery award

The Washington Times Daily - - FRONT PAGE - BY BEN­JAMIN WOLF­GANG

Stephanie Shughart didn’t know where her hus­band had gone, nor was she privy to the ex­treme dan­ger he and his fel­low soldiers were in.

It was only af­ter the Bat­tle of Mo­gadishu had claimed the lives of 19 U.S. ser­vice­men that she learned the full ex­tent of Amer­i­can in­ter­ven­tion in Somalia and of the un­be­liev­able courage her hus­band, Randy, dis­played dur­ing one of the most grue­some and of­ten-over­looked events in Amer­i­can mil­i­tary his­tory.

“We were not told where our hus­bands were go­ing, no dis­cus­sion of where they were go­ing, what they were go­ing to do,” Ms. Shughart told The Wash­ing­ton Times on Thurs­day. “Most Amer­i­cans did not know there was a prob­lem in Somalia. … They never gave the sense they were go­ing to be in im­mi­nent dan­ger.”

Ms. Shughart and Car­men Gor­don, whose hus­band, Gary, also was killed dur­ing the bat­tle, on Thurs­day night ac­cepted on be­half of their late hus­bands the De­fender of Free­dom award from the Free­dom Al­liance, a Wash­ing­tonarea group that of­fers fi­nan­cial aid and sup­port to stu­dents whose fa­thers have been killed or se­ri­ously in­jured in the line of duty.

The or­ga­ni­za­tion also hon­ors ser­vice mem­bers such as Shughart and Gor­don who give up their lives for their coun­try.

Hours be­fore ac­cept­ing the award, an emo­tional Ms. Gor­don told The Times that the pain lingers 25 years af­ter the bat­tle.

“You ques­tion hu­man­ity,” she said. “It’s not just that we lost our hus­bands. That’s hard enough. It’s all that went with it. Those hor­ri­ble me­mories get brought up, and for me per­son­ally … I was al­ways try­ing to find some sense of clo­sure. My hus­band was re­turned in a box. I never even got to see him.”

Much like the Amer­i­can pub­lic, Ms. Shughart and Ms. Gor­don were un­aware of the de­tails sur­round­ing U.S. mil­i­tary op­er­a­tions in Somalia. By Oc­to­ber 1993, about 1,200 U.S. troops were in the coun­try un­der or­ders from Pres­i­dent Clin­ton. Their mis­sion was to cap­ture or kill So­mali war­lord Mo­hamed Far­rah Ai­did, who had drawn the at­ten­tion of the U.S. and the United Nations while rul­ing the area in and around Mo­gadishu with an iron fist and turn­ing swaths of the coun­try into violent, law­less ter­ri­tory.

On Oct. 3, Randy Shughart, Gary Gor­don and other soldiers with Army Task Force Ranger em­barked on a mis­sion to cap­ture sev­eral of Ai­did’s top aides. The bat­tle — em­bla­zoned in pop cul­ture with the book and film “Black Hawk Down,” a ref­er­ence to the U.S. he­li­copters shot down dur­ing a fire­fight with Ai­did’s forces — quickly went south, with 19 Amer­i­cans killed and more than 70 wounded.

It’s dif­fi­cult to over­state the sheer brav­ery dis­played by Shughart and Gor­don dur­ing the bat­tle. The two men vol­un­tar­ily ex­ited their he­li­copter and hit the ground to set up a pro­tec­tive perime­ter around the crash site of a downed Black Hawk.

The like­li­hood of es­cap­ing the sit­u­a­tion alive was low, and they knew it.

“When they left that he­li­copter, they knew the dire cir­cum­stances they were en­ter­ing into,” Ms. Shughart said.

Be­yond the per­sonal sac­ri­fices, the events in­flu­enced Amer­i­can for­eign pol­icy for the next decade.

With im­ages of U.S. soldiers be­ing dragged through the streets of Mo­gadishu on TV screens and mag­a­zine cov­ers, Mr. Clin­ton quickly pulled Amer­i­can troops out of the coun­try, ef­fec­tively ced­ing much of Somalia to war­lords such as Ai­did.

Much of the coun­try hasn’t fully re­cov­ered, and Somalia has be­come a breed­ing ground for ter­ror­ism. The U.S. once again has a mil­i­tary pres­ence in the coun­try. One sol­dier was killed and four oth­ers wounded in June in a fire­fight with al-Shabab mil­i­tants, one ex­am­ple of con­tin­ued hos­til­i­ties in the na­tion.

For Ms. Shughart and Ms. Gor­don, their hus­bands were among the first vic­tims of a decades­long bat­tle with ex­trem­ism.

“I care to this day,” Ms. Shughart said. “The salient point is that we are still fight­ing the same en­emy and it is al­most three decades later. … The war on ter­ror did not start on 9/11.”

“It took our hus­bands that day,” Ms. Gor­don added.

Free­dom Al­liance Pres­i­dent Thomas Kil­gan­non said hon­or­ing the me­mories of Shughart and Gor­don is im­por­tant and that Amer­i­cans need to be re­minded of the sac­ri­fices made dur­ing con­flicts that no longer com­mand con­stant me­dia at­ten­tion.

“Even 25 years later, it’s still painful,” he said. “We have to un­der­stand that those who are fight­ing to­day and serv­ing and sac­ri­fic­ing, that just be­cause the con­flict is not on the front page it doesn’t mean the pain doesn’t ex­ist. That’s im­por­tant to un­der­stand.”

The pain of los­ing a hus­band in com­bat, Ms. Shughart and Ms. Gor­don said, is un­speak­able. But it was made worse by the non­stop me­dia cov­er­age of the events, par­tic­u­larly the bru­tal im­ages of dead Amer­i­cans be­ing pa­raded though the streets.

“How can hu­mans be so cruel to one an­other?” Ms. Gor­don said. “You never for­get that. I re­mem­ber be­ing in an air­port, hav­ing to go to a me­mo­rial [ser­vice], and see­ing a mag­a­zine, and see­ing one of the soldiers on it and think­ing … ‘Whose hus­band is that?’”

The women said Thurs­day night’s award hon­or­ing their hus­bands’ brav­ery and sac­ri­fice helps ease the pain of their loss.

“It’s like you had this huge gun­shot wound in your chest, in your heart,” Ms. Shughart said. “And then, over time, it gets smaller and smaller. And then, for me, that wound has be­come a scar. And of­ten­times I could just vis­ually imag­ine run­ning my thumb across that scar, and that scar just re­minds me of the won­der­ful love we shared.”

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