Army Declares "Black Hawk Down" 'Authentic'
By Linda D. Kozaryn
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, Jan. 16, 2002 When Jerry Bruckheimer met with Gen. John M. Keane at the Pentagon, the Hollywood film producer told the Army vice chief of staff he planned to make a movie about the Army's 1993 battle in Mogadishu, Somalia.
At the Jan. 15 premiere here of "Black Hawk Down," Keane recalled: "He came into my office and said, 'General, I'm going to make a movie that you and your Army will be proud of.' He did that, so we thank him for it."
Actor Josh Hartnett, who plays Staff Sgt. Matt Eversmann in the new film "Black Hawk Down," signs autographs for fans at the film's Washington premiere Jan. 15, 2002. Photo by Linda D. Kozaryn.
(Click photo for screen-resolution image);high-resolution image available.
Bruckheimer's film, slated for national release Jan. 18, is based on Philadelphia Inquirer reporter Mark Bowden's book, "Black Hawk Down: A Story of Modern War." Both tell what happened when Army Rangers and Special Forces soldiers conducted a raid in Mogadishu on Oct. 3, 1993. The 18-hour battle against Somali militia loyal to warlord Mohamed Farrah Aidid killed 19 American soldiers and more than 1,000 Somalis.
Keane, whose military career includes command of the XVIII Airborne Corps, the Army's largest warfighting organization, said "Black Hawk Down" is an "authentic" and "graphic" portrayal of war.
"I don't think it's a movie you necessarily enjoy," he noted. "It's a movie -- particularly for those who have fought in a war -- that you experience."
The film accurately captures what it's like for soldiers in "the crucible," the general said. Whether in Somalia or Afghanistan, he explained, that's where soldiers on the ground "need one another to survive and to defeat an enemy." It's where "you have to call on your inner strength and overcome your natural fears."
Keane, Army Chief of Staff Gen. Eric Shinseki and Marine Corps Gen. Peter Pace, vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, were among the top brass at the debut. Vice President Dick Cheney, Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld and Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz and other civilian defense leaders also viewed the screening.
Army Secretary Thomas White gave the film a "thumbs up" and praised its "tag line," "Leave no man behind." This pledge, he noted, is appropriate both for the movie and the soldiers who serve today across the world and particularly in Afghanistan.
"It's been appropriate for the entire 226 years of the United States Army's history," White said. "We have certainly seen that spirit of heroism many times in the past few months."
The movie is based on actual events, but some liberties had to be taken, such as compositing characters. Nevertheless, White told the audience, "the values portrayed here are absolutely authentic. They represent the core Army ethic of courage and selfless service.
"I'm proud to say that same courage and selfless service can be seen today in Afghanistan and wherever American soldiers serve around the world in some 100 different countries."
Along with Bruckheimer, the Hollywood contingent included director Ridley Scott and actor Josh Hartnett, who plays Army Staff Sgt. Matt Eversmann.
Bruckheimer, whose credits also include "Pearl Harbor" and "Top Gun," said he chose to make "Black Hawk Down" to "set the record straight" and to change an impression created by the press.
"This was a very heroic mission for these young men," he said. "They don't set policy, they enforce it. They went in there and did an amazing job.
"I read Mark's book before it was published back in 1997 and thought it was an extraordinary tale of courage and bravery and heroism about these young men who fought so valiantly," he said. "The press labeled it a debacle. We wanted to set the record straight."
The producer introduced Eversmann, now a sergeant first class, and several other soldiers in the audience who participated in the Mogadishu raid. Eversmann, whose platoon was the first to reach the first of two downed Black Hawks, said he believed the producer had accomplished his mission.
"It's not a biography and it's not a documentary," he said. "It depicts the actions of soldiers very authentically, probably as realistically as we could expect without a real combat photographer on the ground during the battle."
But it's also a product of Hollywood," Eversmann noted. "There are some things that were done for the sake of filmmaking, and I understand that. So barring some of those little idiosyncracies, you look at the scenery, that's very authentic. You look at the way soldiers behaved, how they're outfitted, that's very authentic. The actions they take are very authentic. You put it all together -- I tell you, they did an unbelievable job."
Chief Warrant Officer Rodney 'Sam' Shamp of the Army's 160th Special Operations Aviation Regiment, piloted Black Hawk 'Supersix Seven' during the raid. He also lauded the film.
"From a human standpoint, it was absolutely fantastic," he said. "I believe they did an excellent job of capturing the emotions, the feelings and the camaraderie that comes from combat and the professionalism that existed.
"From a military standpoint," he added, "you never want to show absolutely everything the military does and how they do it, but the portrayal of what we did was quite excellent from a tactical standpoint."
Army Sgt. 1st Class Jeff McLaughlin, another soldier who was in Mogadishu that day, agreed that Bruckheimer told it like it was. McLaughlin, a member of the 75th Ranger Regiment at Fort Benning, Ga., verified the film's accuracy and said he's glad the film was made.
"It was pretty realistic," said the noncommissioned officer, who's just returned from Afghanistan. "There was a timing sequence that wasn't exactly right, but other than that and a few small, what I call 'Hollywoodisms,' it was really accurate. They did a good job.
"A lot of courageous things went on that day," McLaughlin concluded. "It's good that the public gets to see what some of those things were."