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"Black Hawk Down" Author Says Book Was Therapeutic (revised text)

By Staff Sgt. Kathleen T. Rhem, USA
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, Aug. 15, 2000 – The author of the best-selling book "Black Hawk Down" believes veterans of the deadly battle of Mogadishu, Somalia, found it therapeutic to talk to him about their experiences

"It seemed to me as though they had all been sitting around for three or four years waiting for somebody to give them the chance to talk about what they had been through," Mark Bowden said. "It wasn't the sort of experience that they could readily talk to their family about. It wasn't the kind of thing that they told me that they could talk to their buddies about because it came off like bragging."

The "Philadelphia Inquirer" reporter spoke recently to a group of military mental health experts, chaplains and commanders at a DoD conference on operational stress at Fort McNair here.

Bowden said he spent countless hours interviewing many of the soldiers involved in the pitched battle of Oct. 3, 1993. It was "the most traumatic thing that they'd ever been through," he said, and it was "extremely helpful" for them to sit down and talk about it.

"I think all -- at least the ones I talked to-- felt comfortable that they did what they had to do to survive, did what they had to do to do their duty. But it doesn't mean that they were unconflicted about anything," he said. "I think this was a chance to sit down with someone like me, without any agenda other than try to understand and have an opportunity to explain in detail what they had been through. It was enormously helpful. A lot of them ... wrote me later telling me how helpful it was for them to talk about all of this."

Bowden was a hit with the McNair group when he told them "stress seems too polite a term" for what those men went through. "I think 'terror' is a more correct terminology," he said.

The author said the roughly 160 men of Task Force Ranger definitely know what combat stress is, but their experiences with it as individuals wasn't significantly different from the experiences of veterans of other wars.

"I doubt that anything could fully prepare someone for being in that kind of a situation. You have the noise that was incredible. Confusion. You have blood and dismemberment to contend with. This all adds up, I think, to such an extreme level of fear that ... the word 'stress' seems too polite a term for it," he said.

"No matter how realistic or how difficult a training exercise, any sensible soldier or airman or Marine would realize that most of them are gonna make it. Probably all of them are gonna make it, because any training exercise where they didn't would be a pretty bad training exercise," Bowden explained. "(In combat,) you face a level of terror that no training exercise can really prepare you for. That's where we hear about the changes that people undergo in those sorts of circumstances. I don't think anybody can predict with certainty who is gonna rise to the occasion when that happens and who won't."

Bowden finished his speech by telling the group he believes society owes it to combat veterans to tell their stories. "It's a way of honoring them," he said. "It's a way of elevating their commitment and their sacrifice to a level where it belongs."

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