Hating the heat wave? Drinking a lot of water and still got a dusty throat? Tired of carrying your toolbox around the job site? Cheer up buddy, we don’t have it that bad. We don’t have to run the Mogadishu Mile today.
On October 3, 1993, members of various U.S. military branches participating in Operation Gothic Serpent conducted a raid in downtown Mogadishu. During the raid, a large firefight began between the American forces and irregular Somali militia. Two American helicopters were brought down and 18 American soldiers killed. The incident is known in some circles as the Battle of Mogadishu or the Battle of the Black Sea, but most Americans simply call it Black Hawk Down, the title of the 2001 movie depicting the battle (and title of Mark Bowden’s book, on which the film was based).
At the end of the movie, the 10th Mountain Division blast their way through the city, using armored vehicles borrowed from United Nations to reach strongpoint areas where members of Task Force Ranger and SFOD-D (Delta Force) have been fighting off Somali militiamen all night long. They load American dead and wounded into the vehicles along with as many troops as they can, but there just is not enough room for everyone. Some of the Delta and Ranger soldiers familiar to the audience are to walk behind the vehicles and use them for cover as the entire force shoots its way out of the city. The vehicles take off too quickly, leaving them behind, and they must run on their own to safety while occasionally dodging bullets and shooting bad guys. On their own, they fight their way to the Mogadiscio soccer stadium, where they are met by laughing children and friendly U.N. forces who tend to their wounds. This fighting withdrawal on foot, without vehicle support, became known as the “Mogadishu Mile.” The legend of the Mogadishu Mile has grown in the past decade. It is commonplace for organized 5k running events in the month of October to be named “Mogadishu Mile” runs in honor of the men who died in the battle. Likewise, military training runs in full “battle rattle” with heavy rucksacks and weapons are adopting the name, especially in high temperatures or if the trainees must carry simulated wounded troops. However, the real Mogadishu Mile did not go exactly the way that the movie makers portrayed it. Calling the retreat a “run” is an oversimplification, as the soldiers moved from cover to cover, often at a walking pace, and frequently paused to communicate and ensure that the element was staying together. Instead of going straight from the crash site to the Mogadiscio stadium, the Delta and Ranger troops actually started in the opposite direction. From the first crash site (UH60 Super 61), they had to move south to reach a rally point at the intersection of National Street and Hawlwadig Road, still in the heart of the city and only about five blocks south of the Olympic Hotel, where the raid had begun. There, they met additional tanks and armored vehicles waiting for them, and more of the men were able to transfer into vehicles. From that intersection to the soccer stadium, the combined convoy took a zigzag route out of the city center, avoiding the barricaded major roads overflowing with enemy. The actual distance traveled during the retreat from the intersection was somewhere between 4 and 4.5 kilometers, or 2.5 to 2.8 miles. For those who had started at the first crash site, the distance covered topped three miles. The dangerous retreat on foot was shared with troops from 10th Mountain who had given up their vehicle seats, as well as the SFOD-D and Rangers as portrayed in the movie.
These men had already been fighting the enemy for around 12 hours before the convoy arrived and the Mogadishu Mile began. Aside from one daring helicopter resupply run the night of October 3 (by Super 66, which barely made it back to the airfield with 3 wounded crew), the soldiers had access only to the food, water, and ammunition which they had brought with them to the initial raid. They were dehydrated before the run began, and had not slept or rested during the night. During the fight, they had carried with them their individual weapons, body armor, radios, rucksacks full of gear, helmets, and all other sorts of items, and now as they left the city they fought their way out, shouldering their weapons and using the last of their ammunition to engage targets and protect each other. Several soldiers were wounded by enemy small arms and RPG fire. Stopping to tend to them was impossible given the tactical situation, but leaving them behind was against the creed of their comrades. Without vehicles available, the wounded were helped along, and in some cases carried out by their fellow soldiers. They all fought for their lives.
So there’s a heat wave in town and the air conditioning in your truck is on the fritz. You’ve worked a hard eight-hour shift and you can’t wait to get home. When you finally do settle in front of the TV and pop open a cold one, take a second to remember the men of Delta, Task Force Ranger, and the 10th Mountain Division. It’s because of men like them that we’ve got it so easy!