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November 14, 2023

Training for War Is Deadly Business

A Black Hawk crash that claimed five elite warriors on Friday reminds us of the risk, the sacrifice, and the necessity of military service.

Yesterday, the Defense Department released the names of the five special-operations warriors who died Friday night when their Black Hawk helicopter crashed in the eastern Mediterranean off the coast of Cyprus.

“The MH-60 Black Hawk was conducting aerial refueling training when the aircraft experienced an in-flight emergency resulting in the crash,” the Pentagon said Monday, adding that there were “no indications” that the crash was caused by enemy or hostile actions.

The five U.S. Army crew members were Chief Warrant Officer 3 Stephen R. Dwyer, 38, of Clarksville, Tennessee; Chief Warrant Officer 2 Shane M. Barnes, 34, of Sacramento, California; Staff Sgt. Tanner W. Grone, 26, of Gorham, New Hampshire; Sgt. Andrew P. Southard, 27, of Apache Junction, Arizona; and Sgt. Cade M. Wolfe, 24, of Mankato, Minnesota. They were assigned to the 1st Battalion, 160th Special Operations Aviation Regiment at Fort Campbell, Kentucky. The 160th SOAR is also known as the Night Stalkers for its pioneering work and unmatched proficiency in nighttime attack, assault, reconnaissance, infiltration, and exfiltration in support of our nation’s elite special operations units.

Perhaps nowhere is the gritty and harrowing work of the Night Stalkers better captured than in Chief Warrant Officer 4 Michael Durant’s book In the Company of Heroes. Durant was the pilot of “Super Six Four,” the second of two Army Black Hawks shot down by RPGs in Mogadishu, Somalia, on October 3, 1993 — the site of a battle in which 18 Americans were killed, including the two Delta Force special operators, Gary Gordon and Randy Shughart, who earned posthumous Medals of Honor for their efforts to save the gravely wounded Durant, who ended up being taken captive and held for 11 days by Somali warlord Mohammed Farah Aidid.

Friday’s Black Hawk crash made for a gut-wrenching Veterans Day weekend at Fort Campbell and all across our nation’s tight-knit special ops community. It was, according to the brief Department of Defense press release, “routine flight training,” but there’s nothing “routine” about nighttime aerial refueling, nor is there anything routine about the deadly serious business of training for war. “Routine” is driving to work or going to the grocery store or picking up the kids from school.

A Congressional Research Services report casts a light on the human cost of military service: “From 2006 through 2021, a total of 19,378 active-duty service members have died while serving in the U.S. Armed Forces. Of those who died, 24% were killed while serving in in what the Department of Defense (DOD) categorizes as Overseas Contingency Operations (OCO) — primarily within the territories of Iraq and Afghanistan. The remaining 76% died during operations categorized as Non-Overseas Contingency Operations (Non-OCO). The categories with the highest number of active-duty service member deaths were accidents, self-inflicted wounds, and illnesses or injuries.”

But if we as a nation want peace, our warriors must train for war. Si vis pacem para bellum, as the Latin goes.

“We mourn the loss of these five incredible soldiers, each of them a national treasure,” said Lt. Gen. Jonathan Braga, commander of the U.S. Army Special Operations Command. “They hail from rare patriotic families with deep military service ties that span multiple generations and formations.”

Braga continued: “This is devastating news that reverberates across the entire Special Operations community. Every loss is tough, but in this case, service to the nation is truly a family business and it’s hard to express the amount of sorrow that we all feel right now. Our thoughts and prayers are with their families, their loved ones, and their fellow soldiers. Like the Special Operations community always does, we will wrap our arms around them, grieve with them, and promise to never forget them.”

At the end of his riveting book, Mike Durant includes a piece of Scripture, Isaiah 6:8, just below a picture of the Night Stalker memorial wall at Fort Campbell: Then I heard the voice of the Lord saying, “Whom shall I send? And who will go for us?” And I said, “Here I am. Send me!”

Send me. Send me. These are fitting words for capturing the spirit of service and the selfless sacrifice of our nation’s all-volunteer military.

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