Kyle Lamb is one of the world’s leading tactical training experts. So how did a farm boy from “the middle of nowhere, South Dakota,” end up in such a respected position? Well, first of all, he’s no slouch. Retired Sgt. Maj. Kyle Lamb quickly soared through the ranks of the Army and made it into the most elite special operations unit by the time he was 24. He also credits his time in the Battle of Mogadishu with teaching him to take training much more seriously.
Oct. 3, 2020, marks the 27th anniversary of that infamous fight in Mogadishu, Somalia, that inspired the book and blockbuster movie Black Hawk Down. It all started in 1992, when American troops were sent on a humanitarian mission to secure trade routes to get food to starving Somalians as part of Operation Restore Hope. Their efforts were quickly thwarted by warlord Mohamed Farrah Aidid, who attacked and killed peacekeepers and continued to control the city’s resources. On Oct. 3, 1993, an elite task force made up of Army Rangers and Delta Force operators set out to capture two top lieutenants of Aidid. The mission was estimated to take less than an hour but turned into an overnight battle, leaving 19 Americans dead and 73 injured.
Coffee or Die Magazine spoke with Kyle Lamb to learn more about his career history and experience in the Battle of Mogadishu.
COD: Can you give me an overview of your time in the military?
KL: So, when I joined the military, I didn’t really know what I was getting into. I ended up at the 82nd Airborne, which was a blessing. I got to jump out of planes. I was a 31 Victor, which is tactical communications, when I first came in the military. I was in an infantry outfit, but I was carrying a radio. I was the radio guy that ran around with either a captain or a colonel, with a radio.
My very first leader was a sergeant named Jack W. Feltz. I remember that because whenever we would go out and do jumps, they would call you out by your name — “Kyle E. Lamb,” “Jack W. Feltz.” He inspired me to do something more than just be a paratrooper. So, at that time I decided to try out, and I went through Special Forces Assessment and Selection. I was selected to attend the Special Forces qualification course. I went there and became a Special Forces Communications Sergeant. I also went through Morse code, the whole nine yards. After the Q course I went to Arabic language school. While I was in Arabic language school, Desert Shield kicked off. I knew I was going to go directly to the Special Forces group at Fort Campbell, Kentucky, and then I would be deployed downrange with them. I went to Desert Shield/Desert Storm for six months, which was interesting work — but it didn’t last long. It wasn’t too exciting, but it was a good experience for me.
When I came back from that, I decided that I would try to do something else to try to go to the next level. So, at that point I tried out for a special mission unit. I went to their selection and in the fall of 1991, I ended up going to that special mission unit. I stayed there pretty much all those years until I retired. I had one year that I went to First Special Forces group at Fort Lewis. I took a break from the unit and did that. In the unit I was an assaulter, a sniper, sniper team leader, assault team leader, primary shooting instructor for the unit for a couple of years, and then I ended up being a troop sergeant major.
I did five tours to Iraq for the current war. Before that, I actually went to Somalia for the whole Black Hawk Down deal. I was a member of C squadron. I went over and did a few months in Mogadishu, Somalia, and got to partake in the festivities of the 3rd and 4th of October back in 1993. This became a kind of a high and a low point in my career. I would say it was a point where, you know, it’s that high time because you’re learning a lot. You’re in combat. It’s also a low point because you’re losing your friends and you’re starting to realize what that’s like. Up until that point, I really hadn’t had any of the guys that I served with get killed. In Somalia, we lost 18 guys in our task force. Several of those guys were guys that I knew pretty well.
That was a new time in my career when I started to realize that this is the real deal. It made me a different person because it made me more serious about my training. I still like to have fun, but I got really, really serious about the tactical and the firearms training because I could look back at what happened to me there and I could pick out defining points where I could have done better. I think that if we can go back in our lives and see where we failed, we can always step forward and do better the next time we get in that situation.
So, it took many years before I actually got put in that situation again. But the five tours to Iraq as a troop sergeant major, that allowed me to pass on some of those lessons learned to the younger guys. I could also learn from them, too, because a lot of guys I was serving with had a lot of combat experience. I did that up until my last couple of years, and then I went to be the Combat Development Directorate sergeant major for our unit, helping to figure out what the next piece of gear was that we’re going to get, that we would bring on — a pistol, a rifle, or ammo, or anything like that. So, that’s pretty much it. That’s my career in a nutshell. A lot of other things happened, obviously, along that road, but that’s pretty much it.
COD: I know you have so many years in service, but are there any particular anecdotes from your time that you like telling?
KL: One thing that happened, and if you watched the movie Black Hawk Down, which I’ve seen once — I went with the guys that I served with, but it’s probably not a movie that’s at the top of my list to watch. And in that movie, there’s a donkey that gets shot. In real life, we had a guy that had come up across an alleyway, and we had engaged him, and he goes down. Well, his buddies kept trying to run up and get his rifle so they could get in the fight. As they’d run up there, we’d try to shoot them as well. All of a sudden, here comes a six-legged donkey. So being from South Dakota, I know that donkeys don’t have six legs. So, I shot the donkey to try to get to the guy behind the donkey.
Of course, one of the guys on the team, he was upset because I shot. He was like, “He’s shooting that horse.” And we’re trying to actually shoot the guy behind it. But so that turned out, it was a little bit funny at the time. It probably became funnier years later but, yeah, so in that movie there’s more than one donkey that got shot. You know a six-legged donkey can’t be trusted.
COD: Why is that movie not at the top of your list to watch?
KL: Yeah, Black Hawk Down, I mean — I was there, so the true story is a little different than the movie. It’s not a National Geographic special, it’s a movie. It’s made to be exciting to watch, I guess. It just doesn’t portray everybody probably the way that they actually were. Some people were made more heroic than they probably were, and some people were made less heroic than they probably were. I’m not in the movie so I don’t have a dog in that fight. I’m just saying that if you were there, you probably don’t really care to relive some of those memories.
COD: What were some of the lessons you learned in Mogadishu?
KL: In Mogadishu, I was a pretty young fellow at that point. So, probably what I took away from there was the planning process. The planning process did not involve every member of the assault force. The team leaders and above would go and start to put together a plan, and they would bring that plan to us already in the helo, and the helo was already spun up. So, you can’t hear anything. It’s basically — we’re going to slide down a fast rope, and then we’re going to hit the first door, and then we’re going to just do what we do. That sounds like a good plan. But you can have a better plan than that.
Later on, when we were in Iraq, we would use the same amount of time to plan, but everybody was involved with that planning process. Everybody understood the plan before we actually went and got in a helicopter, and we did it faster. Becoming more efficient on the planning was probably one thing. The other thing is the gear that we’re issued. The thing that I learned was the gear that we had, at the time, was pretty good gear. We had helmets that wouldn’t stop bullets. We still don’t have helmets like that. There’s a few of them, they’ll stop frag but they’re not going to stop a direct shot from a rifle. There continues to be that quest for the right helmet to do that.
Having our night vision goggles with us all the time, that’s another one. Also, ever since then I’ve always had my plates in. In Mogadishu, a lot of us had taken our chicken plates out because it was so hot and our gear was pretty heavy at the time. So, having the front and rear plates, having your night vision goggles, and then being able to plan.
Probably the most important thing to me would be the tactical and firearms training. At that point, we had CAR-15s with an Aimpoint with a big, huge dot mounted on it. At distance, you just couldn’t shoot extremely accurately. The rifles were great rifles, but you had a big dot mounted too high. We probably didn’t have the best techniques — we thought we did. At the time, we were pretty cutting edge, but we’ve become much better since then. The entire military has become much better since those days.
COD: We recently spoke with Tom Spooner, also former Delta Force and co-founder of Warriors Heart. He said to ask you about the minigun they found?
KL: Oh yeah, I can talk about that. Tom Spooner had this interesting story about a minigun. And this is going to sound really crazy, but this is a kind of an emotional story for me because you think of what happened. There was a helicopter that went down in Mogadishu, and the guns were not recovered, and obviously the crews were killed, most of the crew.
Twenty-four years later, our guys, American special operations, the same kind of guys that were there in 1993, are conducting a mission in Mogadishu, Somalia. They go into the bad guy’s house, and guess what he’s got hanging on the wall as a memento? He has the minigun from one of those helicopters — and in pristine condition. Obviously, he can’t make it work because he doesn’t know how to and there’s no way to wire up and get this thing running. You need electricity and special tools to run those old miniguns. But those fellow special ops dudes repatriated that gun. They put that minigun in a box, just like a casket, to bring back one of our own. They also placed the flag over it and repatriated that minigun.
I’m telling you, I don’t know why that is emotional to me, but it’s a really special deal.