Thomas DiTomasso, Class of 1989, played a leadership role in the 1993 Battle of Mogadishu, fighting alongside Michael Goodale, Class of 2009. DiTomasso says that there’s a lot missing from its depiction in the book and film Black Hawk Down—most importantly the values of trust, friendship, and selfless service that he learned as a Norwich cadet.
In 1993, Somalia was entrenched in a civil war that resulted in an urgent humanitarian crisis. The United Nations intervened in order to secure the region so that food and supplies could be brought to the starving population. The situation escalated when militia leaders challenged the presence of the U.S.-led U.N. troops.
At 26 years old, Lieutenant Tom DiTomasso had been leader of his Army Ranger platoon for a year and a half. When they deployed to the Somali capital of Mogadishu, they were given little information about the mission. Feelings of excitement and fear comingled as they prepared for their first combat experience. Through it all, DiTomasso thought of his time at Norwich University, holding it up as the gold standard for selfless leadership that would be essential in the days to come.
The mission was to capture two leaders of the Somali National Alliance militia from a compound in the middle of bustling Mogadishu. DiTomasso’s platoon was responsible for descending on ropes from helicopters to secure the building, while the targets were located and extracted safely.
Goodale was a member of another platoon with the same mission. He was serving as a non-commissioned officer at the time. His role as a forward operator was to communicate with attack aircraft and direct the men to their targets.
DiTomasso was about 400 meters away when the first Black Hawk helicopter was shot down. He and his team raced a Somali crowd to the crash site and stopped them from beating the injured soldiers inside the fallen helicopter. Trapped under heavy fire, they would defend the crash site until 5:00 the next morning, ensuring that the wounded could receive medical attention and the dead could be returned home with dignity.
Reflecting on the battle 23 years later, DiTomasso says that his experience that night can be summed up by the Norwich motto: “I Will Try.” He credits the lessons of leadership that he learned as a cadet—how to be an example, how to take care of your people—as the reason he is alive today.
Goodale left the service in 1996 and embarked on a career as an educator that ultimately led him to the Master of Arts in Military History program at Norwich. After completing his degree in 2009, he now works in information security. He and DiTomasso have reconnected at Norwich alumni events, and we are very proud of the role that our two graduates played in this historic battle.
The Battle of Mogadishu is depicted in the book by Mark Bowden and subsequent film entitled Black Hawk Down. Tom DiTomasso also wrote a detailed report on the battle that is available online from the Donovan Research Library at Fort Benning.