The Johns Hopkins Gazette: October 14, 2002
October 14, 2002
VOL. 32, NO. 7


Behind the Movie: A Soldier Puts a Human Face on War

By Greg Rienzi
The Gazette
Johns Hopkins Gazette Online Edition

At face value, Matt Eversmann bucks the big-screen stereotype of an Army sergeant--the barrel-chested, square-jawed male with a flattop, stubby neck and a Howitzer bark. Master Sgt. Eversmann is tall and lanky, with a quick smile and the voice and charm befitting a person who grew up in a place called Natural Bridge, Va.

In his opinion, he's not quite "Hollywood material."

Maybe. But his story certainly turned out to be.

Matt Eversmann, a master sergeant for the Hopkins ROTC program, with student cadets watching 'Black Hawk Down.' Eversmann was a key figure in the Somalian mission depicted in the film.

On Oct. 3, 1993, Eversmann took part in a daring military mission played out on the civil war-torn streets of Mogadishu, Somalia. He led a squad of 12 U.S. Rangers, flown in by helicopter, who were part of a larger force ordered to capture top aides of a renegade Somalian warlord. The ill-fated mission, which left 18 soldiers dead and another 73 wounded, would become the subject matter for the book and movie 'Black Hawk Down.'

Currently an active-duty master sergeant for the Hopkins Army ROTC program, Eversmann will discuss his role in the Battle of Mogadishu at a talk to be held at 7 p.m. on Wednesday, Oct. 16, in Homewood's Shriver Hall. The event, sponsored by the ROTC program, is free and open to the public.

Eversmann, who came to Hopkins in August, says he and the rest of the ROTC leadership decided to present the talk because they felt his harrowing combat story was a timely one that could put a human face on war and, like the book and movie, help break some of the misconceptions of the modern soldier.

"Certainly, I think this talk is relevant in that our country is at war now, that being the 'war on terror.' And the possibility of a future war with Iraq exists," Eversmann says. "So, for a number of reasons, I think we can at least shed a little bit of light using this story of 'Black Hawk Down' as to what soldiers do and who they are, to let people realize they are just average guys who wear a different uniform to work."

This particular average guy comes from a somewhat military family. His father served in the Army for four years, his older sister was an Army nurse, and one of his two older brothers was a captain in the Marines.

For Eversmann, the Mogadishu mission came five years into an Army career and was his only combat mission. After leaving Somalia, Eversmann stayed with the elite 75th Ranger Regiment until March 2000, when he was assigned to the Army War College in Carlisle, Pa.

Now at Hopkins, Eversmann says his primary obligation is to educate, mentor and develop the student cadets. However, he says, the secondary function of all ROTC officers is to help promote the military, both to future cadets and to those who will never serve.

"Whether or not a person comes into the military, they are still going to be voters; they are still citizens of this country," he says. "And it's important for them to have an idea of what our military is about. Here at the ROTC we have walking and talking military encyclopedias in our ranks, and we want to be visible on campus and tell people what we do here."

In large part, Eversmann says that Mark Bowden's book, and producer Jerry Bruckheimer and director Ridley Scott's movie, accurately portrayed both the Mogadishu mission and the soldier's life. To assist the filmmakers with details, Eversmann spent time with both Bruckheimer and Scott in preproduction meetings and was invited to the location shoot in Morocco. He also had several phone conversations with the film's star, Josh Hartnett, who portrayed him.

"Everyone I know who was a participant in the battle has said the movie is good," he says. "Of course, there are certain things that people disagreed with, like 'that person in real life doesn't act like that,' or 'he never did this.' But generally everyone felt pretty good about their depictions."

In reference to war movies, Eversmann says what generally annoys him and many military professionals are writers and directors who seem to hold a very negative impression of soldiers, inaccurately portraying them as a group of people who are not committed to their profession.

"Now understand, I'm a big fan of action movies. I like to watch bullets fly and things blow up just like the next guy. But what I find embarrassing is the absurdity of showing the stereotypical, overweight sergeant barking off orders and looking like a rag bag. Those kinds of caricatures really hurt," he says. "Or, the diabolic, scheming general at the Pentagon who will send soldiers into action with no regard to the proper constitutional law."

In the case of 'Black Hawk Down,' Eversmann says here was one time where Hollywood got it right.

"Number one, it doesn't show everybody in a kind of Oliver Stone fashion--like, let's smoke dope and break the rules because that is what soldiers do," he says. "The 'Black Hawk' movie shows soldiers as good young men, from a lot of different backgrounds, who did some very brave things, and also made some big mistakes. It was a tribute to them, as opposed to showing guys who are just impervious to bullets."

Eversmann says he will be careful in his Wednesday night talk not to romanticize military life or the Mogadishu mission but to show the proper respect for men who made the ultimate sacrifice for their country. He says the film's producers displayed a similar level of respect.

"Regardless of how everyone feels about the movie, it is a visual depiction of somebody's last moments on Earth. That is an awfully big responsibility to get right," he says. "If they are not shown in the true light in which these young men gave their lives in battle, then you have done irreparable harm."