In a ceremony at Fort Benning, Georgia, 18 Army Rangers who fought in the Battle of Mogadishu in 1993 received Silver Stars Friday, Oct. 1, for their actions in the mission known as Operation Gothic Serpent. The 15-hour gunfight that followed the crash of two MH-60 helicopters was immortalized in the movie Black Hawk Down, and the battle is often cited as the forged-by-fire event that launched the modern era of US special operations.
“Few missions have left as enduring a legacy as the mission we’re recognizing today,” Gen. Richard Clarke, commander of the US Special Operations Command, said.
The Rangers, who were with Company B, 3rd Battalion, 75th Ranger Regiment, in the infamous 1993 battle, had previously received lesser awards for valor. Now, almost 30 years later, those awards have been upgraded after a review.
“Put this in perspective: 18. Eighteen Silver Stars,” Clarke said. “Our nation’s third-highest award all being presented for one action, primarily from one company, over one 24-hour period.”
Each recipient was announced as he made his way across the stage in front of Fort Benning Rangers and regimental family members. Of the 18 Rangers who received upgraded awards, 10 were present at the ceremony. Five awardees were unable to attend, and three awards were accepted by family members on their behalf.
Retired Command Sgt. Maj. Sean Watson was a sergeant first class in Mogadishu. He said Friday he was honored by the upgrade but had been surprised to be included.
“It is truly an honor,” Watson said. “I believe that being an awardee is actually a representation of everybody. … They’re the ones who actually earned it for me.”
Watson was a platoon sergeant in Mogadishu. During the battle, he moved his element to an MH-60 crash site and secured the area until reinforcements arrived. Watson drew praise after the battle from fellow soldiers for being a calm leader, realizing earlier than most that the Rangers were in for a long fight, and instructing fellow soldiers to conserve their ammunition.
“I felt very fortunate that I never was in the extreme position that I was in in Somalia ever again,” Watson, who deployed three times to Afghanistan after the mission in Somalia, said. “Was I prepared for it? Yes, I was. I was very prepared. Some would say to extremes of preparation because, yes, it was a lot taken on personally from that experience.”
Retired Maj. Jeff Struecker served 10 years as an enlisted soldier in the Ranger Battalion. He won the Best Ranger Competition in 1996 before being commissioned as an Army chaplain and serving in the Ranger Regiment.
Struecker was looking to hear one name during the ceremony, and it wasn’t his own.
“My single greatest hero — the most courageous man I’ve ever seen in my life — his name was mentioned today,” Struecker said. “His name never gets mentioned in books, never gets talked about in movies, but without a doubt, Brad Paulsen is the most courageous man I’ve ever seen in my life.”
Paulsen was recognized for engaging multiple enemy positions from his HMMWV’s mounted machine gun. He provided suppressive fire, even after being wounded by a rocket-propelled grenade and falling debris.
“To hear that name and to hear him get the recognition that he deserves, for me, that made today all worth it,” Struecker said.
For Clarke, who assumed command over the 3rd Battalion from then-Capt. Mike Steele — who received an upgrade Friday — a few months after the battalion’s return from Somalia, the recognition of the men before him was long overdue.
“What I recall is sitting in this auditorium — I was about five rows back on the far left side — on March 28, 1994, when we first recognized the heroism,” Clarke said. “It is only appropriate that we gather back here today to recognize that same heroism.”
Clarke noted that a similar event was being observed at Fort Bragg, North Carolina, and that there would be another award ceremony with the 160th Special Operations Aviation Regiment in Kentucky soon.
Clarke spoke to the parents of a soldier who was killed in 2007 in operations in Iraq, he said. On the day the soldier was killed, he was wearing a wristband engraved with the name of Ranger Sgt. James Joyce. The soldier was inspired by Joyce’s actions in the Battle of Mogadishu.
“That’s what unites this great Ranger Regiment today as we remember our fallen comrades,” Clarke said. “We will always honor them.”
Sgt. Alan Barton, for maneuvering through intense enemy fire to secure the west side of the downed UH-60 crash site, where he evacuated casualties to a casualty collection point.
Sgt. John Belman, for maneuvering through intense enemy fire to secure the west side of the downed UH-60 crash site, where he helped evacuate casualties to a casualty collection point.
Staff Sgt. Kenneth Boorn, for providing covering fire for his squad while taking heavy enemy fire. When a member of his squad was wounded, he pulled the Ranger out of the line of fire and was himself wounded in the process.
Spc. James Cavaco, for repeatedly suppressing the enemy with his HMMWV’s mounted Mk 19 grenade launcher while trying to pull personnel out of a target area and an aircraft crash site. He never faltered, engaging the enemy until he was mortally wounded.
“Put this in perspective: 18. Eighteen Silver Stars. Our nation’s third-highest award all being presented for one action, primarily from one company, over one 24-hour period.”
Spc. John Collett, for engaging the enemy with accurate automatic fire from an exposed position. His actions allowed his fellow Rangers to retreat and evacuate two of their own.
Staff Sgt. Michael Collins, for maneuvering through enemy fire to secure the west side of the UH-60 crash site, where he helped evacuate casualties.
Sgt. James Joyce, for helping move critically wounded personnel to an evacuation site while under direct enemy fire. He then moved with his team to a helicopter crash site, where they came under heavy enemy fire and he was mortally wounded.
Pfc. Brad Paulsen, for engaging multiple enemy positions from his HMMWV’s mounted machine gun. He provided suppressive fire, even after being wounded by an RPG and falling debris.
2nd Lt. Larry Perino, for organizing his element and quickly moving to the MH-60 crash site. Perino and his men secured the aircraft until reinforcements arrived the following morning.
Spc. Robert Phipps II, for responding to a downed UH-60 Black Hawk and maneuvering through enemy fire to reach the crash site, where he began evacuating casualties.
Sgt. Dominick Pilla, for suppressing multiple enemy positions while under fire as his element worked to extract seriously wounded Rangers. His actions went beyond the call of duty, and he paid the ultimate sacrifice, giving his own life to save his fellow soldiers.
Sgt. Randall Ramaglia Jr., for leading his squad to the crash site of a downed UH-60 Black Hawk. Ramaglia and his men secured the crash site for nine hours until a relief force arrived.
Pfc. John Stanfield, for treating multiple Ranger casualties while under intense enemy fire. He was twice struck in the helmet while treating his fellow soldiers’ wounds.
Capt. Michael Steele, for occupying key positions surrounding the crash site and defending the perimeter throughout constant firefights and danger-close missions by friendly air support.
Spc. Richard Strous, for exposing himself to enemy fire to rescue his comrades, despite having been wounded himself. He repeatedly exposed himself to treat the wounds and save the lives of his fellow Rangers.
Staff Sgt. Jeffrey Struecker, for leading the mounted ground reaction force into Mogadishu three times through heavy enemy fire.
Spc. Joseph Thomas, for moving with his element to the MH-60 Black Hawk crash site and occupying critical positions around the perimeter while search and rescue teams worked to extract the body of a trapped pilot.
Sgt. 1st Class Sean Watson, for moving his element to an MH-60 crash site and securing the area until reinforcements arrived.