Former Ranger Remembers Battle of Mogadishu, Its Legacy

Former Ranger Remembers Battle of Mogadishu, Its Legacy

Book cover
Photo by: Courtesy

As a young lieutenant with 3rd Battalion, 75th Ranger Regiment, in 1993, James Lechner was selected for a special operations task force and found himself embroiled in the Battle of Mogadishu.

What began as a raid in Somalia’s capital turned into an 18-hour firefight, and Lechner and his fellow Rangers and Delta Force operators were surrounded and outnumbered after they came to the aid of two American Black Hawk helicopter crews shot down by insurgents. By the end of the battle, 18 Americans were killed and dozens more were wounded.

“I think [Task Force Ranger] stands for a lot of important themes that are … at issue right now, [including] brutal and realistic training. Civilians often see military training … as brutal, but there’s a reason for it,” Lechner, a retired Army infantry officer, said June 6 during an Association of the U.S. Army Noon Report webinar.

Unit cohesion is another key to enabling soldiers to withstand the “test of combat,” he said. “I think Task Force Ranger and its story is a testament to why those things are important.”

Lechner recounts his experiences during the Battle of Mogadishu, made famous in the book and movie Black Hawk Down, in his new book, With My Shield: An Army Ranger in Somalia. He served for 27 years in six wars, including operational deployments and tours in Sinai, Bosnia, Iraq and Afghanistan. 

After Somali insurgents downed the two helicopters, the raid shifted to a fight to survive.

“Less than 125 guys on the ground had to fight to secure that crash site against tens of thousands of Somalis, as we’d struck right in their stronghold in the middle of the day,” Lechner said. “Because we had to get the guys out of the helicopters … we [had] to stand all together like a shield wall, and we were not going to take a step back no matter what came at us. That’s the only way we could survive.”

Lechner pushed back against those who call the battle a defeat. “Just to take the … fact that 18 guys were killed, a high number of casualties, that does not translate to defeat,” he said. “From a tactical perspective, we achieved exactly what we wanted to achieve that day, we succeeded in our mission and captured all of our targets that we were after, and we successfully got out.”

Soldiers today must be ready to meet the demands of battle, Lechner said. “When combat becomes extremely adverse, … we’re going to be challenged, and our soldiers are going to be faced with adversity,” he said. “I never thought I’d be outnumbered. I never thought I wouldn’t have the overwhelming advantage. I’ve found myself in that situation a number of times now. Mogadishu was the first, and that's going to happen again.”