I will never forget the day in January of 2002 when I watched the film Blackhawk Down in a movie theatre in Roswell, New Mexico. It was during what Steve and I have affectionately come to call the “bug-on-the-windshield” era of our lives, when “nearly everything had gone splat.” Steve was seriously ill; we were in Roswell living with friends and trying to get him well. And 9/11 had happened 4 months previously. The threat of jihad was on everyone’s mind, but that night over movie popcorn and listening through a surround sound system, I had to think about something that I genuinely had never previously considered: my stepson, Kim, and my son, Gabe, were still of military service age. The kind of thing that happened in Mogadishu in 1993 had just invaded my emotional space in no uncertain terms, and frankly I was kind of shaken. Neither of our sons had volunteered to serve in the armed forces, which certainly was and still is a privilege in our nation, but I had to wonder, could this ever be something they would face, and if so, how would I handle it?
Fast forward to 2004, the first of the three years that I lived in Iraq during Operation Iraqi Freedom. Now I was surrounded by “soldier sons” who were facing down people like Abu Bakhr al-Baghdadi, the recently killed leader of ISIS. Blackhawk Down was still an iconic cultural reference point regarding an actual event, and I must have showed the fictional but moving film, Tears of the Sun, at least 20 times when I was on Radwaniyah. The prospect of people making the ultimate sacrifice for strangers was now a real and sometimes surreal thing that has stayed with me.
After I came home from Iraq and wrote my book, I had the great privilege of hearing General Jerry Boykin speak in a church near Moulton, and heard him talk through tears about the Blackhawk Down incident. Boykin was one of the original members of Delta Force, and has seen many high-profile operations. We exchanged books and chatted for awhile. Clearly all these years later, the Battle of Mogadishu was tough to talk about, as he had lost some of his men, and perhaps that loss could have been prevented. That complicated incident has stayed with him.
On November 8, the people of our dear city of Athens get to hear the story of Blackhawk Down from the one who lived it as a POW, CW4 (Ret) Michael Durant. Michael, who was shot down, held for 11 days, and recovered from a broken back and femur, has gone on to tell many audiences (as only people who see the value in going through horrible things are able to do) that what happened in Mogadishu has turned out to be ultimately positive in spite of tremendous loss. He lives “next door” in Madison, and is the founder of Pinnacle Solutions, an aerospace company based in Huntsville. Pinnacle has a motto worthy of adopting: Mission First, People Always. They also have crafted a workplace culture that is rare in the aerospace industry, one of empowerment, excellence, and positivity.
As part of our city’s celebration of Veterans’ Day, the Athens State University Center for Lifelong Learning is sponsoring a breakfast free of charge and open to the public featuring Durant as the speaker. It will be held from 8:30 to 10 a.m. at the Center, which is located at 121 S Marion St in Athens. It is part of the CommUNITY Breakfast series, and when we went to print, there were about 25 spaces left. You MUST register on Eventbrite, and more information is available by calling the Center at 256-233-8260. Make it a point to go, and if you get the chance, thank Chief Durant for his service.
By: Ali Elizabeth Turner