On October 3, 1993, a composite force of United States Army Rangers and select members of the Army’s elite 1st Special Forces Operational Detachment-Delta set out on a 30-minute mission in Mogadishu, Somalia, to assault a building where suspected warlords were discussing the plans of Mohamed Farrah Aidid. What followed was a pitched two-day urban battle that would leave 18 Americans and hundreds of Somali rebels dead, two posthumous awards of the Congressional Medal of Honor and the indelible images of American bodies being dragged through the streets by a frenzied mob. Though unknown to all at the time, what America saw and the soldiers experienced was the emerging face of tribal and radical Islamic terror in Africa. Attacks on the USS Cole, U.S. Embassy bombings in Africa and ultimately 9/11 would follow. Years later, Osama bin Laden and Al Qaeda would take credit for training and supporting the Somalis involved in the Battle of Mogadishu.
After the battle, a swirling political controversy ensued and within six months U.S. forces were removed from the region. Official military and media accounts of the battle would follow, along with a book and movie entitled Black Hawk Down. But like most historical events, facts and details can be bent or lost according to the motivations of those telling the story. If Hollywood steps in, dramatic license can change the reality of the events in the minds of the masses, permanently. However, there are always those who were there who know the truth. Master Sergeant Paul Howe was on the ground and in the fight throughout those violent days in October of 1993. Rarely in our sound-bite-driven world do we get both historical context and firsthand experience in the same articulate package. In The Battle of the Black Sea: MSG Paul Howe’s Untold Story of Black Hawk Down, viewers will learn of Howe’s experiences, his viewpoints on what went wrong and why, and the lessons that should be learned by our country, its politicians and its military leadership.
Howe’s Battle History
In addition to spending 20 years in the U.S. Army, 10 of which were in Special Operations, Howe holds a master’s degree from Stephen F. Austin State University and is the founder and owner of CSAT (Combat Shooting and Tactics). Also the author of several books on tactical training, Howe’s perspective on Somalia is not simply a memoir of a former soldier but a methodical dissection of events, outcomes and lessons. The Battle of the Black Sea is largely a first-person monologue of Howe’s analysis of the events leading up to the deployment to Somalia, the intricate details of the fight and ultimately the clarity and consequences only 20 years of historical context can bring. Viewers will gain insight into what it was like to live in Mogadishu, hunt Mohamed Farrah Aidid and many operational details of Operation Gothic Serpent. In addition to Howe’s account, the Panteao Productions DVD provides actual footage and photos of the battle in Somalia, along with maps and graphics of the urban battlefield.
The Battle of the Black Sea is both a cautionary tale and a historical examination of the events of October 1993. But to view this DVD as only a military history account would be to lose its larger importance. As a senior non-commissioned officer of America’s most elite fighting unit, Howe sits in the unique position to critically examine the political landscape, senior military leadership and the company-level soldiers who fought next to him. Viewers get Howe’s unvarnished and pragmatic candor regarding all elements of the operation as well as the decisions that created the circumstances in Mogadishu. Howe relays his own firsthand description of the tactical details, from the small-unit level as well as the complexities of operating in a multi-unit force. In several parts, Howe delivers a bullet-by-bullet account of movements and engagements, friendly casualties, enemies defeated and the frustrations of hearing calls for help on the radio that could not be answered.
Well aware of the imprint the movie Black Hawk Down had on the general understanding of the battle, Howe interjects factual corrections to the film portrayal of events and individuals in the movie. A primary source for Mark Bowden’s book of the same name, Howe gives credit to Bowden for vetting and correlating accounts and facts that no single person in the battle could have possessed.
Ultimately, the real value to the viewer is a deeper understanding of what is properly viewed as the first major battle in the United States’ 20-year war against terror. Howe’s account and perspectives provide both a historical benchmark and a reminder of what can, and frequently does, happen when U.S. foreign policy puts troops into hostile environments, but only halfheartedly supports their requirements for fear of political repercussions. Howe points out that one positive lesson learned was the ultimate creation of a mandatory checklist requiring commanders to better brief the mission’s definition, expected outcomes, resources, and an endgame and timetable prior to our politicians sending troops into harm’s way.
Howe states, “We have many more battles to fight in the future. It is essential that we are honest enough with ourselves to identify and fix problems. Integrity and candor are critical, as they impact every part of the political and military cycle. I made this film to, once and for all, get the facts on the table and hopefully document the lessons we learned for future leaders and decision makers.”
The Battle of the Black Sea (with an MSRP of $29.99), as well as several instructional videos by Paul Howe, can be purchased at panteaoproductions.com. The film was recently awarded two Bronze Telly Awards for Best Internet/Online Video and Documentary Internet/Online Video. Additionally, information on Paul Howe’s CSAT can be found at combatshootingandtactics.com.