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Miller shares lessons of Mogadishu, raises toast to fallen soldiers

ROBIN TRIMARCHI rtrimarchi@ledger-enquirer.com 
 Maj. Gen. Scott Miller, Commanding General for Fort Benning and the Maneuver Center of Excellence, presents opening remarks to start the Maneuver Warfighter Conference at McGinnis-Wickam Hall Tuesday. The annual conference includes talks by U.S. Army leaders from across the country, breakout sessions and an exhibition hall displaying new technologies. The conference banquet will feature The Doughboy Boy Award, presented by the Chief of Infantry, and the Gold Medallion, presented by the U.S. Cavalry and Armor Association. 09.09.14
ROBIN TRIMARCHI rtrimarchi@ledger-enquirer.com Maj. Gen. Scott Miller, Commanding General for Fort Benning and the Maneuver Center of Excellence, presents opening remarks to start the Maneuver Warfighter Conference at McGinnis-Wickam Hall Tuesday. The annual conference includes talks by U.S. Army leaders from across the country, breakout sessions and an exhibition hall displaying new technologies. The conference banquet will feature The Doughboy Boy Award, presented by the Chief of Infantry, and the Gold Medallion, presented by the U.S. Cavalry and Armor Association. 09.09.14 rtrimarchi@ledger-enquirer.com

Maj. Gen. Scott Miller raised high a shot glass of Jack Daniels as Friday afternoon was turning to night.

Still in uniform, Miller was in a golf course clubhouse on Fort Benning, the Army post he now commands. In that room were soldiers and students from across Fort Benning's wide-ranging units, including Rangers, infantrymen and students in Officer Candidate School.

Also in that room were seven of Miller's military brothers, nearly 22 years to the moment removed from the Battle of Mogadishu, an event in their lives that was chronicled by author Mark Bowden's 1999 book "Black Hawk Down: A story of Modern war," which was made into a major motion picture.

These were not actors. These were men assigned to Task Force Ranger, an elite group of soldiers and aviators from across the military who set out on "Operation Gothic Serpent" Oct. 3, 1993, to capture two Somali warlords. The battle cost 18 American lives and left more than 70 soldiers wounded.

As Miller offered the toast, he told those in the room, many of them still toddlers when the battle took place, the significance of that tiny glass of Tennessee whiskey.

Mike Durant, a Black Hawk helicopter pilot, was held hostage for 11 days after his aircraft was one of two shot down in the city as the battle began. When Durant was released, Miller and others were at the airfield as Durant, with a broken back and many other broken bones and injuries, was evacuated.

"They released him with no demands, only asking that we keep those men at the airfield out of town," Miller said.

Durant's release essentially ended the battle in which more than 1,000 Somalis were killed and hundreds more injured.

"Out of nowhere, these plastic cups filled with watered-down Jack Daniels appeared," Miller said.

They drank a toast that day.

And they drank a toast Friday, but not before Miller and the seven men -- Ron Russell, Matt Eversmann, Tony Rinderer, Dan Jollota, Brad Halling, Stan Wood and Rob Phipps -- recited the names of those who died in that battle.

Miller then said, "To our fallen comrades."

With those simple words, everyone in that clubhouse threw back the shot Miller had bought for them.

Miller, who was commanding the elite and secretive Delta Force unit on the ground that day as a young captain, brought the seven men to Fort Benning to talk about leadership and lessons learned.

They also came for a reunion, as have soldiers in the past whose lives have been forged together by a common experience as significant as The Battle of Mogdishu.

Before retiring to the golf course, more than 2,000 soldiers gathered in Marshall Auditorium and listened to the men discuss the battle.

Rinderer, a helicopter pilot from east Tennessee, told the soldiers how quickly things changed that day. He flew the 3-minute flight transporting soldiers from the airfield into the heart of the city, then returned to the airfield. When he flew back into the city, the mission had turned into a battle.

"Have you ever been watching a movie, gotten up to fix a sandwich, come back up and it is a totally different movie?" Rinderer asked. "You go, 'What's going on?' That's what it was like here. There was a lot happening in that 6 to 8 minutes. When you come back into that, you are trying to figure it out."

In a situation like that, you have to be smart, Rinderer said.

"You have to be smarter than the bad guys, but sometimes you have to be smarter than yourself," he said.

Miller, a West Point graduate who has spent most of his career in the Special Operations community involved in small unit battles, was blunt when he addressed the Fort Benning soldiers on Friday.

"... All of a sudden when the guy next to you goes down, you realize it hurts when you get shot," Miller said. "Bad things happen when someone gets shot. You watch the guy next to you get shot, that gets your attention."

At that point, your training and instincts kick in, said Miller, who was holed up in a Mogadishu building next to one of the downed helicopters.

"What you have to figure out is how to work your way through it," Miller said. "I will tell you, I never thought we would get overrun. I know there were some people there who thought we were close to getting overrun. I never thought that, not with birds coming into the zone putting rockets in 10 or 15 feet away from us."

It wasn't so much military power as it was his relationships with those fighting alongside him, Miller said.

"When Stan Wood is willing to fly into a zone and I can listen to his aircraft getting peppered, I said, 'We're going to be OK because of these people I am associated with,'" Miller said.

Another thought went through his head that day. And, it too, was fueled by the relationships he had built with those in his unit.

"I also said if something does happen and I get killed -- something happens to me out here and I am done -- I know I am going home," Miller said, "that someone was going to get me home and my family was going to see me again. That was about relationships."

Miller said preparation, both mental and physical, is a big part of surviving the battle. Since he arrived at Fort Benning more than 15 months ago, he's Miller been preaching fundamentals, and on Friday he told the soldiers that basic skills like marksmanship matter.

"You miss, it's your life," Miller said. "Rod Phipps, after he has been hit, has the composure, skill and core competency to eliminate that threat. I was never more tired than I was that day. We were all exhausted."

That experience has stuck with Miller as he's risen through the ranks.

"I saw those that were able to physically handle the situation, they performed very well -- those who were not physically able to handle those events didn't," he said. "I will never talk bad about anyone who was out there, but there were some people who physically could not do this. They couldn't climb a wall when someone was shooting at them. They could not climb a vertical obstacle because they had never done it. I will leave it at that."

Point made.

Eversmann, a Ranger and staff sergeant who led Chalk Four that day, stressed to leaders that they should know the soldiers they lead.

"There are a couple of things I have never forgotten as a young leader that day," Eversmann said. "The first thing is meeting a widow when you come home is a horrible thing to do. It's a horrible, horrible feeling to meet the widow of one of your soldiers for the first time. Just don't do it. What a foolish thing for a young man to do not to take the time meet a soldier's spouse."

Miller said a bond was forged that day that has strengthened over the last two decades and will continue to be strong.

"I know if I was to call these guys up and ask for a favor," Miller said, "they're coming."

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