The Army is upgrading combat decorations for 60 special operations soldiers almost 30 years after they fought in Operation Gothic Serpent, a fierce firefight in Somalia more commonly known as “Black Hawk Down,” a chaotic clash that took the lives of 19 U.S. troops and left a deep mark on U.S. military operations and security policy for years to come.
On Thursday, Army officials said awards for 58 participants in the firefight were bumped up to Silver Stars while two others had theirs upgraded to Distinguished Flying Crosses. The Silver Star is the third-highest military combat award and is awarded in recognition of combat valor performed under enemy fire. The Distinguished Flying Cross is awarded in recognition of heroism while participating in aerial flight.
The upgrades are a result of an October 2020 directive from former Secretary of the Army Ryan McCarthy, who instructed the Senior Army Decorations Board to “reevaluate” previously approved awards for valor, officials said.
The award “ceremonies will be held at the unit in which the soldier served at the time of the operation,” said Bonita Ridley, chief of media relations for Army Special Operations Command, and will be held “sometime later this year.”
Army officials said they wouldn’t be disclosing the names or units of those involved until they confirm the soldiers want the information to be released to the public. Over the years, many of the details of the 15-hour running battle have been made part of the public record.
Operation Gothic Serpent was commanded by U.S. special operations forces from August to October 1993 during Somalia’s bloody civil war. Coming soon after the end of the Cold War and the rout of Saddam Hussein’s Iraqi forces during Operation Desert Storm, many Americans were convinced the U.S. military was simply impregnable.
But the mission to send elite soldiers from the Army’s 75th Ranger Regiment and the 1st Special Forces Operational Detachment-Delta, better known as Delta Force, into downtown Mogadishu to capture top lieutenants of Mohammed Farrah Aidid, a Somalia warlord, was troubled almost from the start.
“No one was expecting the kind of fighting that took place in Mogadishu. It came as a double surprise, given that the Somalis were essentially just mobs of armed militia,” journalist Mark Bowden, whose best-seller “Black Hawk Down” became the basis of a hit Hollywood movie, told Military.com in a May 2019 interview. “The images of dead American soldiers being dragged through the streets [were] a tremendous shock.”
The initial part of the raid was a success. But as U.S. troops were loading the captured Somali fighters into trucks, they suddenly came under fire from all quarters. Soon after, a pair of MH-60 Black Hawk helicopters were shot down, changing the operation into a rescue mission.
Master Sgt. Gary Gordon and Sgt. 1st Class Randall Shughart, both Delta Force snipers, were killed after volunteering to protect the wounded crew at the crash site. Both men would later be posthumously awarded the Medal of Honor.
The battle was considered a defeat for the U.S. military and a strategic victory for the Somali forces. It resulted both in the resignation of former Secretary of Defense Les Aspin and the eventual termination of the United Nations mission in Somalia.