12/01/13 — Mount Olive veteran says real story of 'Black Hawk Down' untold

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Mount Olive veteran says real story of 'Black Hawk Down' untold

By Josh Ellerbrock
Published in News on December 1, 2013 1:50 AM

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Former Staff Sgt. Thomas Oates, left, runs through a drill with other members of a U.N. Peacekeeping Force stationed at the Egypt-Israel border. The other soldiers pictured took part in the Battle of Mogadishu, the conflict portrayed in "Black Hawk Down."

According to former Staff Sgt. Thomas Oates, Hollywood got it wrong.

Oates wants his former fellow solders recognized for their part in the infamous fight portrayed in the movie "Black Hawk Down," saying the movie version of the battle in left out the important role played by his fellow comrades in the Army's 10th Mountain Division and instead focuses on the action of Army Rangers.

It has been just over 20 years since the actual fight took place in the streets of Mogadishu, Somalia. Rebel insurgents shot down two Black Hawk helicopters and killed a number of the American troops involved, later dragging their mutilated bodies through the streets. U.S. troops eventually moved into the city in force and rescued the survivors.

Nineteen U.S. servicemen were killed.

But the movie, released in 2001, did not capture the real story, said Oates, a Mount Olive native, who was a drill instructor for the troops involved.

"They didn't even show them going in. The Rangers got the credit," Oates said. "When the Rangers got pinned down, these guys went in and rescued them."

To help see that the proper credit is given, Oates said he plans to send a set of photographs to Fort Drum, N.Y., the fort where the 10th Mountain Division is stationed, to provide a more personal, and accurate, view of his former comrades.

Some of Oates's photos show a group of men relaxing in Sinai, Egypt, enjoying some down time before they were sent into action.

Oates himself was not involved in the battle, but because he knew the troops who fought it so well, he said, he felt constrained to do what he could to help set the record straight.

"I lived in the barracks with them as a senior. All these guys I know," he said, adding that he did not learn of the battle until well after it was over.

"When in drill sergeant school, we didn't have time to watch TV," he said.

Oates joined the military in 1986.

"I just wanted to get out of Mount Olive, travel and do something. The military was my way out," he said.

Oates, now 52, left the military in 1993 and has since returned to his hometown.

During his time in the military, Oates was stationed in Honduras, Panama, Alaska, Egypt, and finally in Iraq for Operation Desert Storm, where he helped guard a number of Hawk missile sites.

"To see these guys, 'Wow, that was them,' the real men," Oates said, pointing to the photos. "They see the movie, but they don't know who rescued the Rangers."