One hundred or so U.S. Army Rangers had been surrounded on that day 20 years ago by heavily armed followers of Somali warlord Mohammed Aideed.
The Rangers had gone in to capture two high ranking lieutenants of Aideed and had succeeded up to a point.
The elite Delta Force Rangers were in trouble, and two Black Hawk helicopters had been brought down by enemy fire. Somebody had to help.
The rescue fomented the book “Black Hawk ‘Down: A Story of Modern War” by Mark Bowden, and the film “Black Hawk Down,” directed by Ridley Scott.
That’s when the U.S. Army’s 10th Mountain Division based in Fort Drum, N.Y., came to the rescue, said Andrew Flores, an Army Specialist in the 2nd Batallion, 14th Infantry, with the division that saved the Rangers.
Flores was in Refugio on Thursday, Oct. 24, to give a talk to the Refugio Police Department at the invitation of Police Chief Andy Lopez Jr.
“My unit was part of the element that went in to rescue the downed Rangers,” he said.
Flores said about 100 personnel, including those in a company and part of the Delta detachment, were surrounded by heavily-armed Aideed forces, not to mention anti-American Mogadishu residents.
Flores said his force was a light battalion and others, numbering about 500.
He said in such an extraction, safety is of the utmost consideration.
“In the military, we call it watching each other’s sixth (sense),” he said.
Gut feeling also describes it well.
“If something’s not right, something’s not right,” he said.
“At some point in time, you’re going to make a decision in life that will affect you forever,” he added.
Flores said the rescue went well, although 18 lives were lost and 72 were wounded.
He had prepared himself for the rescue by keeping his M249 SAW (squad automatic weapon) consistently cleaned.
His preparedness paid off.
During the rescue, he and his fellow soldiers got pinned down behind a three-foot berm.
He said other weapons jammed or stopped working.
“Mine and one other weapon were the only ones operational,” he said.
Flores said most of the time, he and his SAW were atop a 5-ton or 2 1/2-ton.
Today, Flores, a Rockport native who still lives there, said he works in Portland at Taggart Motors.
Recently, he attended the 20-year reunion in Plano where soldiers of the 10th Mountain Division and other units who participated in Mogadishu were present.
“I got to meet the other half – the guys we went in to pull out,” he said.
Whatever the case, Flores reminded Refugio police staff that decisions in such situations will affect you forever.
“You might have to kill somebody. It’s just like we did over there. I could always depend on my buddies. Training was always watch your buddy’s back,” he said.
In a war, he said it’s hard to explain what you feel inside and what your mind set is.
“At the time, I was 20 years old,” he said.
With training and being prepared, Flores said something happens when you enter a war.
“It comes natural when that stuff happens,” he said.
He likened it to instinct.
Bullets whizzed by and then popped like popcorn, he said. He couldn’t help but wonder why he wasn’t the one struck instead of the fellow soldier by him.
“Stay alert, stay alive and watch each other’s sixth,” he said.
“Trying to explain it is hard,” he said.
Still when the job in Mogadishu was done, Flores had to ask himself: “How did I accomplish that?”