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The Big Question

Q: Is War Hell?

Hopkins ROTC Master Sgt. Matthew Eversmann, who led a squad of U.S. Rangers in a daring -- and ultimately ill-fated -- military mission in Mogadishu in October 1993, later depicted in the movie Black Hawk Down.
Photo by Bill Denison
A: "It can be. When people ask me about battle, they're usually asking after they've seen Black Hawk Down. Jerry Bruckheimer and Ridley Scott did a pretty authentic job of depicting our experience in Mogadishu, Somalia. It was violent, and noisy, and confusing -- all those things wrapped up into one. Every soldier will tell you that you go through an entire spectrum of emotions over and over again throughout the battle. You witness fear, unbelievable exhilaration, back to fear, and even something almost funny sometimes. What I found during the battle -- as a guy who'd been in the Army six years by that time and was being thrust in charge for the first time in combat -- was that all the actions I saw men take were a direct result of their good training. No one had to stop and think about how to perform. You do it on instinct and that's vitally important, because when people are shooting at you and you're very, very scared, the simplest tasks become very difficult.

"In the squad of 12 Rangers that I led, one Ranger died and four were injured. Overall, though, we lost 18 U.S. soldiers on that mission in Mogadishu and another 73 were wounded. That's the obvious bad side of war -- that soldiers die. It's very tough to witness. Those soldiers made the ultimate sacrifice. Taking a big picture approach, though, as a soldier participating in a directive from the President, to be, literally, on the front line of foreign policy -- well, that's tremendously satisfying and gratifying.It puts a real stamp on the significance of our profession.

"I certainly am fortunate to have survived a significant battle in our Army's history. There are great leaders in this Army who have never seen combat and yet are developing strong leaders for future battles. I don't bring anything different to Johns Hopkins ROTC than my other colleagues in the Cadre do. What I can add is the obvious firsthand insight as to what works and what doesn't work when you're in the heat of battle. I've found that young cadets and students here at Hopkins are really curious about this; they're always asking me questions about Somalia, particularly in light of the current situation in Iraq.

"And I can tell you from experience, that what we're teaching here absolutely does work."

Return to April 2003 Table of Contents

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