Nightstalker Pilot's Account of 03/04 Oct 1993


running up that hill
Jan 3, 2007
in Wonderland, with my Alice
Kind of old, but still worth reading.

During the last few days many pilots have come up to me and asked me if I had seen the movie "Blackhawk Down." I don't mind talking about the movie, and I welcome the opportunity to talk about the heroism and valor of my friends. I just wanted to post some comments here about the movie and my impressions. Also I wanted to try to answer some frequently asked questions.

First of all, I and many of my friends that also flew on the mission thought that the movie was excellent! It is technically accurate and it is dramatically correct. In other words, the equipment, lingo and dialogue are all right on. By dramatically correct, I mean that it very effectively captured the emotions and tension that we all felt during the mission. It did this without being a cartoon, (like TOP GUN) or being over the top, (like FIREBIRDS). It's true that the screenwriters had to consolidate two or three people into one, but this was necessary because otherwise there would have been too many principal characters to keep track of. Also in the actual mission we had nearly 20 aircraft in the air that day.

In the movie they had 4 Blackhawks and 4 "Little Birds". The unit could not afford to commit the actual number to the filming of the movie. However, through the magic of the cinema, they were able to give the impression of the real number. Our force mixture was as follows: Super 61 - Lead Blackhawk Star 41-44 Little Bird Assault Super 62 - Trail Blackhawk These aircraft made up the assault force. Their mission was to go into the buildings and capture the individuals who were the target of the day. Super 61 was shotdown, killing both pilots. (They were CW4 Cliff Wolcott and CW3 Donovan Briley. The three of us shared a room at the airfield.) Star 41 landed at the crashsite and the pilot CW4 Keith Jones ran over and dragged two survivors to his aircraft and took off for the hospital. Keith re-enacted his actions in the movie. Super 62 was the Blackhawk that put in the two Delta snipers, Sergeant First Class Randy Shughart and Master Sergeant Gary Gordon. They were inserted at crashsite #2. Shortly after Gary and Randy were put in Super 62 was struck in the fuselage by an antitank rocket. The whole right side of the aircraft was opened up and the sniper manning the right door gun had his leg blown off. The aircraft was able to make it out of the battle area to the port area where they made a controlled crash landing. (This is not depicted in the movie.)

Next was the Ranger Blocking Force. This consisted of 4 Blackhawks: Super 64 (CW3 Mike Durant, CW4 Ray Frank) Super 65 (Me, Cpt Richard Williams) Super 66 (CW3 Stan Wood, CW4 Gary Fuller) Super 67 (CW3 Jeff Niklaus, CW2 Sam Shamp)

The mission of the blocking force was to be inserted at the four corners of the objective building and to prevent any Somali reinforcements from getting through. In the movie there is a brief overhead shot of the assault. My aircraft is depicted in the lower left hand corner of the screen. This is the only part of the film where I come close to being mentioned. As the assault is completed, you hear the Blackhawks calling out of the objective area. When you hear, "...Super 65 is out, going to holding..." that's my big movie moment. There is also a quick shot of an RPG being shot at a hovering Blackhawk. I did have one maybe two fired at me, but I did not see them or the gunner. I only heard the explosions. We were not able to return fire, although some of the other aircraft did. Make no mistake. I am fully aware of my role in this mission. My job was the same as the landing boat drivers in "Saving Private Ryan." Get the troops in the right place in one piece. I am very proud of the fact that my crew and I were able to do that. After having done this in Grenada, Panama and Somalia, I can identify with the bombardiers of World War Two. You have to ignore all of the chaos that is going on around and completely concentrate on the tasks at hand. That is holding the aircraft as steady as possible so the Rangers can slide down the ropes as quickly and safely as possible.

Okay, Okay, enough about me. Super 64 was shot down also with an RPG (Rocket Propelled Grenade). They tried to make it back to the airfield, but their tail rotor gave way about a mile out of the objective area. They went down in the worst part of bad guy territory. The dialogue for the movie appears to have been taken from the mission tapes as it is exactly as I remember it. (This was the hardest part of the movie for me to watch). The actions on the ground are as described by Mike Durant, as he was the only one from the crew to survive the crash and the gun battle. It was here the Gary and Randy won their Posthumous Medals of Honor.

Super 66 was called in at about 2000 hours to resupply the Rangers at the objective area. Some of the Rangers were completely out of ammunition and were fighting hand to hand with the Somali militia men. (Also not depicted in the movie). Stan and Gary brought their aircraft in so that they were hovering over the top of the Olympic Hotel with the cargo doors hanging out over the front door. In this way they were able to drop the ammo, water and medical supplies to the men inside. Stan's left gunner fired 1600 rounds of minigun ammo in 30 seconds. He probably killed between 8 to 12 Somali militia men. As Stan pulled out of the objective area, he headed to the airfield because his right gunner had been wounded, as had the two Rangers in the back who were throwing out the supplies. Once he landed, he discovered that he'd been hit by about 40-50 rounds and his transmission leaking oil like a sieve. Super 66 was done for the night.

The final group of aircraft were the 4 MH6 gunships, and the command and control Blackhawk and the Search and Rescue 'Hawk'. They were Barber 51-54 MH6's Super 63 C&C Super 68 SAR

In the movie, the gunships are shown making only one attack. In fact, they were constantly engaged all night long. Each aircraft reloaded six times. It is estimated that they fired between 70 and 80,000 rounds of minigun ammo and fired a total 90 to 100 aerial rockets. They were the only thing that kept the Somalis from overrunning the objective area. All eight gunship pilots were awarded the Silver Star. Every one of them deserved it!

Next is Super 68. The actions of this crew were very accurately portrayed. The only difference was that they were actually hit in the rotor blades by an RPG. This blew a semicircle out of the main rotor spar, but the blade held together long enough for them to finish putting in the medics and Rangers at the first crashsite. It was then that they headed to the airfield. What they did not know, was that their main transmission and engine oil cooler had been destroyed by the blast. As they headed to the airfield all 7 gallons of oil from the main rotor gearbox, and all 7 quarts from each engine was pouring out. They got the aircraft on the ground just as all oil pressures went to zero. They then shutdown, ran to the spare aircraft and took off to rejoin the battle. They were in the air just in time to affect the MEDEVAC of Super 62, which had landed at the seaport. The pilots of this aircraft were CW3 Dan Jollota, and MAJ Herb Rodriguez. Both men were later awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross. Major Rodriguez is retired from the Army now and he teaches middle school with my wife in Clarksville, Tennessee.

Finally there is the Command and Controll Blackhawk, Super 63. In the back of this aircraft was my battalion commander, LTC Matthews, and the overall ground commander, LTC Harrell.

In the movie, there is a scene where the men on the ground were begging for MEDEVAC. By this point in the battle we had 5 Blackhawks out of action, either shot down or shot up so much they couldn't fly anymore. Of the two assault force and four blocking force 'hawks', only myself and Super 67 were left. I fully expected LTC Harrell to send us in to try to get those men out. I jacked a round into the chamber of my pistol and my M16. I knew that the only way to do was to hover with one wheel balanced on the roof of the building. Then the Rangers would be able to throw the wounded in. I knew that we were going to take a lot of fire and I was trying to mentally prepare myself to do this while the aircraft was getting hit. My friends had all gone in and taken their licks and now I figured it was our turn. (Peer pressure is such a powerful tool if used properly.) Quite frankly, I really thought that we were at best going to get shot down, at worst I figured we were going to be killed. The way I saw it we had already lost 5 aircraft, what was 2 more? I had accepted this because at least when this was all over General Garrison would be able to tell the families that we had tried everything to get their sons,fathers or husbands out. We were even willing to send in our last two helicopters. Fortunately for me LTC Harrell realized that the time for helicopters had passed. The decision was made to get the tanks and armored personnel carriers to punch through to the objective area. Once again, the dialogue in the movie is verbatim. What you don't hear is me breathing a sigh of relief! I remembered thinking that maybe I was going to see the sunrise after all.

I guess I got a little carried away. I really didn't mean to write this much. People ask me if this movie has given me 'flashbacks'. I don't think you can call them flashbacks if that day has never been out of my mind.

I hope that when you do see the movie it will fill you with pride and awe for the Rangers that fought their hearts out that day. Believe me, they are made of the same stuff as those kids at Normandy Beach. When 1LT Tom DiTomasso, the Ranger platoon leader on my aircraft, told me that we did a fantastic job, I couldn't imagine ever receiving higher praise than that. I love my wife and children, but the greatest thing I've ever done is to be a Nightstalker Pilot with Task Force Ranger on 3-4 Oct 1993.

Thank you for reading this. I look forward to answering any and all questions anyone may have about the movie or the actual battle. I just thought that this might fill in some of the blanks. Thank you again.

Capt. Gerry Izzo (Super65) "NSDQ" Nightstalkers Don't Quit
Well I'm almost done with "The Night Stalkers", funny because I've just finished chapter 6: Mogadishu - Karl Maier's story. He was in the movie along with Keith, amasing men !
I had LTC Bob Johnson autograph my copy, when we met about him helping me to get my book published. Fantastic guy.
Proud to know him.
Thanks for the story.
It IS WELL WORTH THE TIME>>> It is a great read, to mil folks. The libs kinda slammed it in Amazon's critique page, but who cares, right?

It is a hard topic to get printed. Bob told me there was so much they wanted to put in the book, but much much more that never could be put in a book.

I give it a 10 out of 10.
My review:

Being a non military man I could only imagine what these men have gone through and what soldiers have to endure, especialy if we are talking about Special Operations. Because spec.ops require a special breed of men and thats what "The Night Stalkers" if focused on - the human factor.
Imidietly at the begining you are thrown into the unique world of men of NSDQ. The chapters have slowly shown how the Night Stalkers came to be the elite of military aviation, and how they became the best in the world.
Every chapter tels a story of a individual Night Stalker and I especially enjoyed the ones about the Little Birds and its pilots.
One of the most interestin and must I say very new to me is the role of the support troops of the 160th "sometimes holding a rifle in one hand and a wrench in the other".
Finaly, it is impossible to tell all the amasing tales of heroizm that is the embeded with the men of the 160th since its creation after the failed operation "Eagle Claw".
The english dictionary does not have the words that can express the level of heroizm and patriotism that these men show every single day, yet I belive that there are only four words strong enough to vizualize what it is to be a Night Stalker:


12 out of 10

"The Lord knows the way I take, and when He has tested me, I shall come forth as gold" JOB 23:10
Special Operations has always been based on the "human factor". We do it for each other, the guy on yer left and right. It is not written anywhere, it just happens when you have been accepted into the Brotherhood.

I have hundreds of the day I was shot down with an SA-16. The fellas picked us up and we attacked...for 6 hours.

"Never shall I fail my Comrades" is what we live and die by.
Thanks for posting Gerry Izzo's account, Ravage. It was very interesting to read: I have forgotten much of Blackhawk Downas I haven't read it in five years (Wow, has it really been that long?). I will have to re read BHD, and also get a hold of The Night Stalkers...

I have hundreds of the day I was shot down with an SA-16. The fellas picked us up and we attacked...for 6 hours.
That sounds like an eventful day, 6 Guns...
I just finished The Nightstalkers, I give it a thumbs up. It goes into greater detail about the origins of the unit, with some background on the men who have served in it.

The chapter entitled "From the Jaws of Death" piqued my interest in particular, as we were preparing to head into Iraq from the Rafha AO a day after Mr. Crisafulli pulled off one of the most daring missions of the war. I had heard about both that mission and one other to extract an SF team that had been compromised, but this account went into much greater detail.

I have no doubt they would, as they expressed in the book, launched the mission even without permission. As it was, they made it there just in time. Those three men would have been overrun for sure if they had arrived even a couple of minutes later.
This evening on the Military Channel they ran the show about the Grenada Raiders. Gerry Izzo (one in the same, I presume) gave an account of the helicopter crashes that took the lives of four brave men.
Wow! Didn't know my ol Commander in Germany Maj Herbert Rodriguez was in Super 62. I was in Desert Storm as well as Just Cause with the Mh-47's same compounds.. "Right on Capt. Rod." I was his Guidon bearer in Wiesbaden when 4th Assault Hel. Co. turned Regt. at Mainz - Finthen8th ID. -NDSQ!!!-