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Black Hawk Down... Reacounting from one of the pilots

Rick

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Gerry is a Captain at Comair. He flew one of the UH-60s on
the mission that is depicted in "Blackhawk Down."
During the last few days many pilots have come up to me and
asked me if I had seen the movie "Blackhawk Down." I don't
mind talking about the movie, and I welcome the opportunity
to talk about the heroism and valor of my friends. I just
wanted to post some comments here about the movie and my
impressions. Also I wanted to try to answer some frequently
asked questions.

First of all, I and many of my friends that also flew on the
mission, thought that the movie was excellent! It is
technically accurate and it is dramatically correct. In
other words, the equipment, lingo and dialogue are all right
on. By dramatically correct, I mean that it very
effectively captured the emotions and tension that we all
felt during the mission. It did this without being a
cartoon, (like TOP GUN) or being over the top, (like
FIREBIRDS). It's true that the screenwriters had to
consolidate two or three people into one, but this was
necessary because otherwise there would have been too many
principle characters to keep track of.

Also in the actual mission we had nearly 20 aircraft in the
air that day. In the movie they had 4 blackhawks and 4
"Little Birds". The unit could not afford to commit the
actual number to the filming of the movie. However, through
the magic of the cinema, they were able to give the
impression of the real number. Our force mixture was as
follows: Super 61 - Lead Blackhawk Star 41-44 Little Bird
Assault Super 62 - Trail Blackhawk These aircraft made up
the assault force. Their mission was to go into the
buildings and capture the individuals who were the target of
the day.

Super 61 was shot down, killing both pilots. (They were CW4
Cliff Wolcott and CW3 Donovan Briley. The three of us
shared a room at the airfield.) Star 41 landed at the crash
site and the pilot CW4 Keith Jones ran over and dragged two
survivors to his aircraft and took off for the hospital.

Keith re-enacted his actions in the movie. Super 62 was the
Blackhawk that put in the two Delta snipers, Sergeant First
Class Randy Shughart and Master Sergeant Gary Gordon. They
were inserted at crash site #2. Shortly after Gary and Randy
were put in Super 62 was struck in the fuselage by an
antitank rocket. The whole right side of the aircraft was
opened up and the sniper manning the right door gun had his
leg blown off. The aircraft was able to make it out of the
battle area to the port area where they made a controlled
crash landing. (This is not depicted in the movie.)

Next was the Ranger Blocking Force. This consisted of 4
Blackhawks:
Super 64 (CW3 Mike Durant, CW4 Ray Frank)
Super 65 (Me, Cpt Richard Williams)
Super 66 (CW3 Stan Wood, CW4 Gary Fuller)
Super 67 (CW3 Jeff Niklaus, CW2 Sam Shamp)

The mission of the blocking force was to be inserted at the
four corners of the objective building and to prevent any
Somali reinforcements from getting through. In the movie
there is a brief overhead shot of the assault. My aircraft
is depicted in the lower left hand corner of the screen.
This is the only part of the film where I come close to
being mentioned. As the assault is completed, you hear the
Blackhawks calling out of the objective area. When you
hear, "...Super 65 is out, going to holding..." that's my
big movie moment. There is also a quick shot of an RPG
being shot at a hovering Blackhawk. I did have one maybe
two fired at me, but I did not see them or the gunner. I
only heard the explosions. We were not able to return fire,
although some of the other aircraft did.

Make no mistake. I am fully aware of my role in this
mission. My job was the same as the landing boat drivers in
"Saving Private Ryan." Get the troops in the right place in
one piece. I am very proud of the fact that my crew and I
were able to do that. After having done this in Grenada,
Panama and Somalia, I can identify with the bombardiers of
World War Two.

You have to ignore all of the chaos that is going on around
and completely concentrate on the tasks at hand. That is
holding the aircraft as steady as possible so the Rangers
can slide down the ropes as quickly and safely as possible.

Okay, Okay, enough about me. Super 64 was shot down also
with an RPG (Rocket Propelled Grenade). They tried to make
it back to the airfield, but their tail rotor gave way about
a mile out of the objective area. They went down in the
worst part of bad guy territory. The dialogue for the movie
appears to have been taken from the mission tapes as it is
exactly as I remember it. (This was the hardest part of the
movie for me to watch). The actions on the ground are as
described by Mike Durant, as he was the only one from the
crew to survive the crash and the gun battle.

It was here that Gary and Randy won their Posthumous Medals
of Honor. Super 66 was called in at about 2000 hours to
resupply the Rangers at the objective area. Some of the
Rangers were completely out of ammunition and were fighting
hand to hand with the Somali militia men. (Also not
depicted in the movie). Stan and Gary brought their
aircraft in so that they were hovering over the top of the
Olympic Hotel with the cargo doors hanging out over the
front door. In this way they were able to drop the ammo,
water and medical supplies to the men inside. Stan's left
gunner fired 1600 rounds of minigun ammo in 30 seconds. He
probably killed between 8 to 12 Somali militia men. As Stan
pulled out of the objective area, he headed to the airfield
because his right gunner had been wounded, as had the two
Rangers in the back who were throwing out the supplies.
Once he landed, he discovered that he'd been hit by about
40-50 rounds and his transmission leaking oil like a sieve.
Super 66 was done for the night.

The final group of aircraft were the 4 MH6 gunships, and the
command and control Blackhawk and the Search and Rescue
'Hawk'. They were Barber 51-54 MH6's Super 63 C&C Super 68
SAR

In the movie, the gunships are shown making only one
attack. In fact, they were constantly engaged all night
long. Each aircraft reloaded six times. It is estimated
that they fired between 70 and 80,000 rounds of minigun ammo
and fired a total 90 to 100 aerial rockets. They were the
only thing that kept the Somalis from overrunning the
objective area. All eight gunship pilots were awarded the
Silver Star. Every one of them deserved it!

Next is Super 68. The actions of this crew were very
accurately portrayed. The only difference was that they
were actually hit in the rotor blades by an RPG. This blew
a semicircle out of the main rotor spar, but the blade held
together long enough for them to finish putting in the
medics and Rangers at the first crash site. It was then
that they headed to the airfield. What they did not know,
was that their main transmission and engine oil cooler had
been destroyed by the blast. As they headed to the airfield
all 7 gallons of oil from the main rotor gearbox, and all 7
quarts from each engine was pouring out. They got the
aircraft on the ground just as all oil pressures went to
zero. They then shutdown, ran to the spare aircraft and
took off to rejoin the battle. They were in the air just in
time to affect the MEDEVAC of Super 62, which had landed at
the seaport. The pilots of this aircraft were CW3 Dan
Jollota, and MAJ Herb Rodriguez. Both men were later
awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross. Major Rodriguez is
retired from the Army now and he teaches middle school with
my wife in Clarksville, Tennessee.

Finally there is the Command and Controll Blackhawk, Super
63. In the back of this aircraft was my battalion
commander, LTC Matthews, and the overall ground commander,
LTC Harrell.

In the movie, there is a scene where the men on the ground
were begging for MEDEVAC. By this point in the battle we
had 5 Blackhawks out of action, either shot down or shot up
so much they couldn't fly anymore. Of the two assault force
and four blocking force 'hawks', only myself and Super 67
were left. I fully expected LTC Harrell to send us in to
try to get those men out. I jacked a round into the chamber
of my pistol and my M16. I knew that the only way to do was
to hover with one wheel balanced on the roof of the
building. Then the Rangers would be able to throw the
wounded in. I knew that we were going to take a lot of fire
and I was trying to mentally prepare myself to do this while
the aircraft was getting hit. My friends had all gone in
and taken their licks and now I figured it was our turn.
(Peer pressure is such a powerful tool if used properly.)

Quite frankly, I really thought that we were at best going
to get shot down, at worst I figured we were going to be
killed. The way I saw it we had already lost 5 aircraft,
what was 2 more? I had accepted this because at least when
this was all over General Garrison would be able to tell the
families that we had tried everything to get their sons,
fathers or husbands out. We were even willing to send in
our last two helicopters.

Fortunately for me LTC Harrell realized that the time for
helicopters had passed. The decision was made to get the
tanks and armored personnel carriers to punch through to the
objective area. Once again, the dialogue in the movie is
verbatim. What you don't hear is me breathing a sigh of
relief! I remembered thinking that maybe I was going to see
the sunrise after all.

I guess I got a little carried away. I really didn't mean to
write this much.

People ask me if this movie has given me 'flashbacks'. I
don't think you can call them flashbacks if that day has
never been out of my mind. I hope that when you do see the
movie it will fill you with pride and awe for the Rangers
that fought their hearts out that day. Believe me, they are
made of the same stuff as those kids at Normandy Beach.

When 1LT Tom DiTomasso, the Ranger platoon leader on my
aircraft, told me that we did a fantastic job, I couldn't
imagine ever receiving higher praise than that. I love my
wife and children, but the greatest thing I've ever done is
to be a Nightstalker Pilot with Task Force Ranger on 3-4 Oct
1993.

Thank you for reading this. I look forward to answering any
and all questions anyone may have about the movie or the
actual battle. I just thought that this might fill in some
of the blanks. Thank you again.

Capt. Gerry Izzo(Super65)
"NSDQ"
Nightstalkers Don't Quit
 






Rick

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This is was forwarded to me in e-mail. So as far as sending him questions... don't.
 






spiper

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That was one hell of a good movie. As a old ground poundin' grunt and former Ranger, those rotor heads were often a better sight than a playboy center fold. I am sincerly grateful that I was not assinged to the 3d RGR BN at that time. Those men are true heroes.
 












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