By Brad Hughes
The 1999 book and 2001 movie, Black Hawk Down, focuses on an 18-hour battle between U.S. Army rangers and Somali militia during Operation Restore Hope, a United Nations campaign in the war-torn African country.
While the book and movie told the story of the battle, Matt Eversmann lived it. During Sunday’s closing brunch of the KSBA annual conference, the retired Army 1st sergeant seamlessly wove moment-by-moment recollections of the battle with ideas about leadership.
Eversmann roped down from an UH-60 Black Hawk helicopter into the Battle of Mogadishu hours after his commander left the unit.
“I became officer in charge. Now I’m sending kids into a red zone, and I’ve just changed Christmas, Easter and birthdays and anniversary and brothers and sisters and the numbers of lives I’ve affected has grown exponentially,” Eversmann said. “I remember thinking, ‘This isn’t like training.’ Now it’s my decisions; that’s a tremendous responsibility. That’s a lot to ask of a young 26-year-old.
“I had to make sure of two things: that (the other rangers) knew what the intent of the boss was and their job. As long as they know that, that part of your task is completed,” he said. “The second is for you to ensure you can solve problems. Let them do their job, be a problem solver.”
When Eversmann hit the ground, he found that another ranger had been critically injured. His radio was out, his unit was taking fire from Somali fighters, and they were separated from the main American force.
“I’ve thought about it over time,” he said. “When you’ve got two problems, you really can’t give undivided attention. Three problems, you’re hoping you can give medium attention. Four problems, you’ve got nothing. You can’t give four answers at once.”
After instinctively giving an order to two soldiers, who acted on their training, “I realized, ‘We’re gonna be alright. You’re focused on the wrong stuff, you’re a problem solver. Do your thing. Solve those problems.’
“We like to think leaders give this great guidance. The life of that private wasn’t saved because Sgt. Eversmann was a good leader,” he said. “It was because those two sergeants were selfless servants. It’s better to have a team of selfless servers who put the needs of others first. If left to our own devices, only bad things happen. You better be a selfless server and you as a leader have got to promote and reward that selfless service.”
Eversmann, who retired in 2008 after a tour of duty in Iraq, said effective leaders help those they work with deal with “strategic shocks” that can and do happen daily.
“You’ve got to be courageous. You all have it in you – the moral courage to do it when you’re scared. You have to fulfill your obligations,” he said. “You’re in a big battle. We’ve got to find the great teachers. We’ve got to motivate the kids to grow into future leaders.
“People don’t say ‘Thank you’ very often,” Eversmann said. “To you all, this group in the most noble of causes, the grooming of our future leaders, there is not a whole lot more we can say about the importance of your job. So I say, ‘Thank you,’ for what you are doing for our kids who will be our future leaders.”