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Colorado veteran honors friends lost in Somalia

Sunday, May 29, 2016



 By Sally Mamdooh

DENVER - The sounds of the water falling in retired Army Col. Lee Van Arsdale’s backyard is a lot different than what he heard in the streets of Mogadishu, Somalia, 22 years ago.

"There was firing going on almost from the first second we landed there,” Arsdale told Denver7 reporter Sally Mamdooh. “It was a total mess."

On October 3, 1993, Van Arsdale watched Operation Gothic Serpent unfold from the Joint Operation Center. It’s the operation many people have come to know from the movie Blackhawk Down.

"We knew we were going into a hornets nest which is all more reason you get in and out as quickly as possible," Van Arsdale remembered.

With little intelligence, Task Force Ranger captured two of Mohamed Farah Aidid’s lieutenant’s that day, but the success of the mission is often overshadowed by the haunting images of a tragic loss of life of two pilots.

"They did everything that they needed to do, to bring that helicopter down in such a manner that the people in the back lived, but in so doing they gave up their own lives,"

The heroic actions of pilot Cliff Wolcott and co-pilot Donvon Briley helped save the lives of our Delta Force snipers.

A mile away, another selfless act. Outnumbered by thousands of militia swarming to another crash site, Gary Gordon and Randall Shugart kept on firing back to to their last breath. Their fight helped save pilot Michael Durant.

And as the 17-hour long battle went into the dark, Van Arsdale went out to the crash sites to ensure soldiers didn’t kill each other in confusion.

Eventually all the soldiers were picked up and brought back to the base.

Van Arsdale’s efforts that day earned him a silver star and a purple heart, but he says the true heroes aren’t here to tell their part of the story.  But he keeps pictures of them on the wall of his southern Colorado home to remind of their sacrifice and a mission well done.

"For me every day is Memorial Day and every day is Veterans Day, there is not a lot of time where I don't think of them."


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