In October 1993, Delta Force snipers Randy Shughart and Gary Gordon repeatedly asked for permission to hop off a circling helicopter onto the streets of Mogadishu, Somalia, to set up a perimeter around a downed airman.
Operation Restore Hope — to capture the leader of a Somali clan named Mohamed Farrah Aidid and provide security for relief organizations — had turned into a spectacular debacle.
A group of 90 Delta Force and Army Rangers were pinned down at a Black Hawk crash site, following a raid that went sideways.
Meanwhile, in another part of “Moge,” Deltas Shughart and Gordon were attempting to save crashed Army helicopter pilot Michael Durant from a heavily armed, besieging mob.
Twice they asked, twice they were turned down. A third request was finally accepted, with the caveat, that they would be on their own.
With the air crew killed in the crumpled UH-60 and his legs and back badly broken, Durant found the personal weapon that was lying next to him and prepared to make his final stand against impossible odds — when suddenly, his rescuers arrived.
At great cost. As the big Black Hawk dropped off the pair, an RPG blew the door gunner’s leg off and several crew members were wounded, the pilot had a bullet wound to his shoulder and his co-pilot was unconscious. Somehow, the pilot made it safely back to the base.
Meanwhile, gunfire raged all around the downed helicopter, as Durant recalled the way Gordon and Shughart kept completely calm, setting up a perimeter and making radio calls.
The brave pair held off the mob for a time, exchanging volleys of gunfire with the Somalis who had surrounded the chopper. But the prospect of a successful rescue slipped away with each passing moment.
Durant said the relief he had felt when the two Delta Force operators showed up dissolved the moment Gordon was shot.
“It’s like being shot down initially,” he said, “because now one of the guys you thought was indestructible has just been taken down.”
Seconds later Shughart came to Durant and gave him Gordon’s CAR-15 and last magazine and uttered only two words, “good luck.”
He then went back to his post with his M-21 sniper rifle and fought for another 10 minutes, until he ran out of ammunition, fighting on with just his pistol.
“The volume of gunfire was unbelievable,” he said. “I kind of knew there was no way he could hold them all off.”
Then the shooting stopped, and Durant knew Shughart was down.
Durant would be held captive by a local warlord for 11 days. Both Shugart and Gordon were awarded the Medal of Honor for their actions that day.
Altogether, the 18-hour urban firefight, later known as the Battle of Mogadishu, left 18 Americans and hundreds of Somalis dead, including three other Delta operators.
The story would eventually make its way into a book, and then a popular movie, entitled Black Hawk Down.
What makes men strive to become Delta Force, and face such insurmountable odds? Tossed into some of the world’s most dangerous places and situations, and asked to do the impossible?
Nicknamed “the unit,” its existence remains ritually unacknowledged by the US government. They are, the best of the best, yet they are also expendable.
However, the Delta Force remains extremely flexible — having previously taken part in hostage rescues and covert missions working directly with the Central Intelligence Agency and even offering protective services for high-ranking officials.
Currently, the Delta Force receives its recruits from all across the Army, including many candidates from the Ranger Regiments and Special Forces Groups, NI reported.
To initially qualify, recruits must be enlisted in the Army, be male, have at least four years in service and two and a half years of service left on enlistment, and is within the rank of E4-E8.
To get started, one must attend infantry One Station Unit Training (OSUT), which combines Army Basic Training and Infantry AIT (Advanced Individual Training) in one fourteen-week course, NI reported.
If you pass that, then you will attend Airborne Training at Fort Benning. Special Forces troopers who eventually want to join Delta Force must qualify for and complete this particular training.
Next up is the Special Operations Preparation Course (SOPC), which can take four weeks and typically leads up to the Special Forces Assessment and Selection (SFAS) program.
If the boxes are all checked by now, then you will aim to pass the individual skills phase of training. During this period, soldiers are trained on specialized skills necessary to be successful in any Special Forces engagement, NI reported.
The training period is forty days long and covers land navigation, cross-country map exercise, and small unit tactics.
Taking up another sixty-five days is the Military Operational Specialty (MOS) training phase, which culminates with a mission planning cycle that will put your leadership skills to the test.
For the thirty-eight-day Collective Training Phase, soldiers are trained in Special Operations (SO) classes, Direct Action (DA) Isolation, Air Operations, Unconventional Warfare classes, and receive isolation training, NI reported.
This is considered one of the most mentally and physically challenging training one will ever face in the US military, or any military.
To offer some idea of what an individual must overcome to become Delta Force, here’s what author Eric Haney had to say about one particular long-distance hike in his book Inside Delta Force.
“I had covered just slightly over thirty miles by now, but still had more than twenty to go. It was getting more and more difficult to do speed computations in my head. My hands were tingling from the rucksack straps cutting into my shoulders, pinching the nerves and arteries, and restricting the blood flow to my arms.”
“I was bent forward against the weight of the rucksack. It felt like I was dragging a train behind me, and my feet hurt all the way up to my knees. I don’t mean they were just sore, I mean they felt like I had been strapped to the rack and someone had beaten the balls of my feet with a bat.
I tried to calculate the foot-pounds of energy my feet had absorbed so far today, but I had to give up the effort. I only knew that the accumulated tonnage of all those thousands of steps was immense. And it was only going to get worse.”Inside Delta Force: The Story of America’s Elite Counterterrorist Unit, Eric L. Haney
Of his special ops crewmates, Durant, the famed pilot from Black Hawk Down, would say:
“I was very fortunate (to be) in the Special Operations world. A great organization that without exception has great people.
“Retain them, you’ll get paid back tenfold.”
During the early years of the hunt for Bin Laden, Delta operators saw action in Afghanistan— at one point coming to the rescue of Afghan President Hamid Karzai after he was nearly killed by an errant laser-guided bomb, NI reported.
They also participated in numerous raids during the invasion of Iraq and the lengthy counterinsurgency conflict that followed.
Near the end of the US mission in Iraq in 2009, roughly half of all Delta operatives in Iraq had received Purple Hearts for being injured in combat.
And one can only speculate about all the missions that remain classified.
Sources: National Interest, CNN News, Inside Delta Force, Washington Post, Sofrep.com