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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Tuesday, January 22, 2002

Hawai'i Ranger trained men portrayed in 'Black Hawk' film

 •  Review: 'Black Hawk Down' is this century's 'Saving Private Ryan'

By William Cole
Advertiser Military Writer

Maj. Trey Johnson, an Army Ranger, was on his way to a new assignment in Hawai'i in 1993 when he heard the news: his former unit — Bravo Company, 3rd Ranger Battalion from Fort Benning, Ga. — was in a heavy firefight in Somalia.

U.S. Army Maj. Thomas "Trey" Johnson III is an enrollment officer for the ROTC at the University of Hawai'i.

Eugene Tanner • The Honolulu Advertiser

Details were sketchy at first.

"Our missions are always risky, and the news that some helos had gone down and we had taken some casualties didn't surprise me," said Johnson, a University of Hawai'i ROTC enrollment officer. "My first concern was the return of all our Rangers and Special Operations guys."

Soon, the scope of the battle in the streets of the Somali capital of Mogadishu would become clearer. Rangers and Delta force soldiers were sent in to snatch two top lieutenants of warlord Mohamed Farrah Aidid in what was supposed to be a one-hour mission ended up waging the biggest firefight since the Vietnam War against mobs of heavily-armed Somalis.

Johnson, 37, who trained five of the Rangers who took part in the fighting and worked with the company and battalion commanders who were there, understands better than most the type of heroism shown under fire in the Oct. 3, 1993, raid, and now being shown in the movie, "Black Hawk Down."

The $90 million Sony Pictures film about the raid and the effort to rescue the crews of downed Black Hawk helicopters was tops at the box office last weekend.

"I definitely felt I was with the guys I had worked with," Johnson recalled yesterday. "You always wish you are there once you are part of a unit (like the Rangers). These units are all volunteer. I would have gladly served in that conflict, but I'll never question fate."

After leaving Bravo Company about a year before the Somalia battle, Johnson was an attack helicopter fire support officer on the demilitarized zone in Korea. He was heading to a new assignment at Schofield Barracks when the firefight in Mogadishu broke out.

A photo of Bravo Company, 3rd Ranger Battalion includes, third from left, then-Private 1st Class Mike Goodale; fifth from left, then-Private 1st Class Raleigh Cash; and far right, 1st Lt. (now major) Trey Johnson.

Trey Johnson photo

Lt. Jim Lechner, the Ranger who took Johnson's place as fire support officer at Fort Benning, was taking cover on a dusty street next to a tin shack in Mogadishu when several bullets ripped through the thin wall. One shattered his shinbone and ankle.

At Fort Benning, Johnson developed a close relationship with a number of Rangers depicted in the movie and in the book on which it is based by Philadelphia Inquirer reporter Mark Bowden.

Johnson later became a battery commander at Schofield Barracks, and in 1999 took the assignment at UH, where he is also football assistant strength coach with the Warriors.

A koa-framed photograph of Johnson and six of his fellow Rangers from Fort Benning sits on his desk and includes then-privates first class Mike Goodale and Raleigh Cash.

Both sergeants by the time they saw duty in Somalia, Goodale was wounded in the leg, while Cash looked after his friend at a soccer stadium at the north end of the city that had been converted into a field hospital.

"I was very proud of them," Johnson said. "I had trained them in their initial tour in the Rangers, and saw them progress as sergeants."

The arrival of American soldiers in Mogadishu, Somalia, is shown in the movie "Black Hawk Down."

Columbia Pictures

Both were accurately depicted in the book and movie, he said. Cash was the more carefree of the two, while Goodale was a "little more reserved and concerned about others" in particular, the practice of Somali gunmen using women as human shields.

Johnson also knew Delta Staff Sgt. Daniel Busch, who was killed in action, from his former days as a Ranger. Eighteen American soldiers died as a result of the fighting, and more than 70 were wounded. More than 500 Somalis were killed.

What started as a humanitarian mission in Somalia culminated with the Oct. 3, 1993, firefight and America's subsequent pullout from the country.

Johnson remembers questioning at the time if AC-130 gunships — used with deadly effectiveness in Afghanistan — had been called in. As it turned out, they were not available in Somalia, a controversy that would become part of follow-up investigations to determine what went wrong with the mission.

What was never questioned — and what is portrayed in both Bowden's book and the movie "Black Hawk Down," is the bravery of the Rangers and Delta Force soldiers involved.

"I think he (Bowden) was objective, and he did comprehensive research and first-hand interviews with Rangers, Delta, aviators and Somalis," Johnson said.

The book and the movie are effective in setting the record straight, Johnson said — without delving into the political side of the firefight.

"That's what I think is the key to the whole thing, and that's what (the movie producers) and what Mark Bowden was after — accurately portraying the dedication and valor of those who fought there."

Reach William Cole at wcole@honoluluadvertiser.com or 525-5459.