INQUIRER STAFF WRITER
November 29, 1997
PVT. ED KALLMAN, who had felt such a surge of excitement an hour earlier when encountering battle for the first time, now felt a cold sweat of panic behind the wheel of his humvee toward the rear of the lost convoy. So far, neither he nor anyone in his vehicle had been hit. But he watched with horror as the convoy disintegrated before him. He was a soldier for the most powerful nation on earth.
If they were having this much trouble, shouldn't somebody have stepped in? Where was a stronger show of force? It didn't seem right that they could be reduced to this, battling on these narrow dirt streets, bleeding, dying! This isn't supposed to be happening!
Men he knew and admired were dead or bellowing in pain on the street with gunshot wounds that exposed great crimson flaps of glistening muscle. They were wandering in the smoke, bleeding, dazed, their clothing torn off. Those who were not injured were smeared with the blood of others.
Kallman was young and new to the unit. These were men he looked up to and felt good about going into battle with, men who knew how to fight and would keep him safe. If these experienced soldiers were getting hit, sooner or later he was going to take a hit, too. And all this dangerous driving wasn't even taking them back to the base. They were supposed to be rescuing the two Blackhawk pilots who had been shot down, Cliff Wolcott and Mike Durant, along with their crews. Now they were going to be out in this horror all night!
As Kallman slowed down to let the humvee in front of him clear an intersection, he looked out the open window to his left and saw a smoke trail coming straight at him. It all happened in a second. He knew it was a rocket-propelled grenade and he knew it was going to hit him. It did. Kallman awoke lying on his right side on the front seat with his ears ringing. He opened his eyes and was looking directly at the radio mounted under the dash. He sat up and floored the accelerator, and the vehicle took off, fast. Up ahead he saw the convoy making a left turn, and he raced to catch up.
The grenade had hit Kallman's door. He and the others inside had been saved by a combination of the metal door and the bulletproof glass inside it. Because the window was rolled down, the point of the grenade hit first steel and then the reinforced glass.
BY NOW THE EFFORTS to direct the convoy had turned to black comedy. It was complicated by the fact that a second convoy had been dispatched from the airport base to attempt a rescue at Mike Durant's downed Super 64, and those vehicles were under fire, too.
Lt. Col. Danny McKnight, the convoy commander, struggled to make sense of the directions rattling over the radio. Here, the instruction from Command refers to the second crash site, while McKnight's convoy was actually searching for the first:
Danny, I think you've gone too far west trying to look at the second crash. You seem to have gone about four blocks west and five blocks south. Over.
Uniform 64, this is Romeo 64. Give me a right turn. Convoy, right turn! Right turn!
You need to go about four blocks south, turn east. There is green smoke marking the site south. Keep coming south.
At one point a voice came over the busy command frequency begging for order.
Stop giving directions! . . . I think you're talking to the wrong convoy!
Uniform 64, this is Romeo 64. Next right. Next right! Alleyway! Alleyway!
They just missed their turn.
Take the next available right, Uniform.
Be advised they are coming under heavy fire.
Goddamn it, stop! Goddamn it, stop!
Right turn! Right turn! You're taking fire! Hurry up!
Sgt. First Class Matt Rierson kept radio lines up with the Little Birds, relaying the convoy's status and calling in air support. Things had deteriorated so badly that officers in the command helicopter were considering just releasing what they called ``all the precious cargo'' - the 24 Somalian prisoners.
Ahmen Warsame was among the handcuffed prisoners in a five-ton truck. They were stacked tightly into the space, laid out on their sides. Under the din of gunfire he heard the sound of muttered prayers, until the Somalian man praying was shot dead. There was no telling who had fired the shot. Told to be silent, the frightened prisoners began talking among themselves until a Ranger clubbed one of the Somalis in the head.
This is Uniform 64. You've got me back in front of the Olympic Hotel.
McKnight was ready to pack it in. There were far more dead and wounded in the convoy than there were at the two crash sites.
When the shooting let up for a few moments, the convoy stopped. McKnight and some of the ranking noncoms huddled in the street to assess their situation - how they had gotten lost, and where they should go now. They set off a purple smoke grenade to mark their position.
McKnight got on the radio.
We've got a lot of vehicles that will be almost impossible to move. Quite a few casualties. Getting to the crash site will be awful tough. Are pinned down.
Danny, I really need to get you back to that crash site. I know you turned left on Armed Forces [Blvd.], what's your status?
But McKnight and his men had had enough. They had made a courageous effort, but casualties were piling up. They were going to give up on reaching either crash site. The colonel answered:
I have numerous casualties, vehicles that are halfway running. Got to get these casualties out of here ASAP.
They started back to base, but they weren't home yet.
Chapter 15: A desperate ride through a shooting gallery.