Holed up in an abandoned house on a war-torn Somali street, in pain after being shot in the back and surrounded by an unknown number of enemy militia members, it dawned on Chris Faris that he would never see his family again.
“When I accepted the fact that I was going to die in the relatively near future, I was engulfed by the greatest peace and calm I ever felt in my life,” says Faris, now the command sergeant major of U.S. Special Operations Command. “I looked at my wedding band, told my wife of two years and two little girls goodbye and thought, ‘Please God, don’t let them see my body being dragged through the street.’ After that, I was all good.”
That was 20 years ago today. Faris, then a sergeant first-class with the vaunted Delta Force, was one of 78 troops wounded during a two-day fight beginning Oct. 3, 1993, that would see 19 Americans killed. The Battle of Mogadishu, immortalized in Mark Bowden’s book “Black Hawk Down” and by a movie based on the book, forever changed how and when the United States gets involved in humanitarian disasters.
And it forever changed Faris, who turns 52 next month and now serves as the bridge between operators in the field and Adm. William McRaven, the commander of Socom.
“Accepting my death became the mechanism for me being in combat,” says Faris, who went on to fight in Afghanistan and Iraq and received more than three dozen military awards and citations, including a Purple Heart and seven Bronze Stars. “In hindsight, I realize that in order for me to maintain that mechanism, I always did keep a degree of separation between myself and my wife and daughters.”
In the late summer of 1993, Somalia was gripped by a brutal two-year civil war that led to one of the planet’s worst famines ever. Efforts by the United Nations to deal with the crisis were disastrous, with 24 Pakistani U.N. troops massacred in a single attack, leading eventually to a U.N. resolution to go after Gen. Mohamed Farrah Aidid, one of Somalia’s most notorious warlords.
Near the end of August, Chris Faris and the rest of his Delta Force squad joined Task Force Ranger, a joint effort between Deltas and Rangers, to hunt down Aidid. They set up shop in a hangar on an airfield at Mogadishu Airport.
“I remember the first couple of weeks was quite boring,” said Faris in a telephone interview from his office at MacDill Air Force Base. “We didn’t have the technology that we have today.”
After arriving in Somalia, the task force went on five or six missions looking for Aidid and his lieutenants. “We got in several firefights,” Faris said. “We got mortared a lot at the hangar.”