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Soldiers of the New World Order : Aggressive Peacemakers, U.S. Marines Draw Down the Warlords of Somalia and Write a Military Blueprint for Future Campaigns

June 27, 1993|MARK FINEMAN | Mark Fineman, The Times Nicosia bureau chief, covers the Middle East. His last article for this magazine was "The Wrath of Rama."

Sgt. Jim Church swivels in the elevated Hollywood seat of the battered Marine Humvee, scanning a blown-out urban nightmare more than 10,000 miles from home. He's shouting, "How ya doin', ladies?" as he passes a group of smiling Somali women carrying water jugs and tinting a landscape of death with their rainbow-colored saris. With his left hand, Church is flashing thumbs-up and waving to the clumps of kids who gather along the way as Lance Cpl. Daryl Desimone wrenches the steering wheel of the Humvee, jamming the three-man Marine patrol through sandy lanes, cratered roads and the gutted houses of unseen assassins. Not once through it all does Church's right index finger stray far from the trigger of the SAW-249, a mounted machine gun that can pour out 1,000 rounds a minute, cut a tree in half or kill a dozen Somalis any instant his brain registers "life-threatening danger."* Thunk! A rock slams into the side of the Humvee. Church swivels again in the turret. His finger stays put. A few minutes later, crack! crack! crack! "Gunshots, 9 o'clock," Church shouts, swiveling in their direction. "A hundred, maybe 200 yards off." Desimone drives on. Church's finger moves gently onto the trigger, but no farther. * Just another day on the beat at the cutting edge of the New World Order. * "Hell, this is standard stuff," says Sgt. Mike Kowalski, who's riding shotgun in the passenger seat. "You shoulda seen it during the riots a few days ago. They threw burning tires at us. Burning sticks. They stoned us. Threw grenades at us. Shot at us."*"Scared the shit out of me," Desimone chimes in. "Church got it the worst," he adds. "He got a rock in the--well, it's a sore subject. It kind of gave a sense of futility--for me, at least. I've wanted to go home since I got here, but the rocks, the riots, well, it made me want to a whole lot more so."* Church isn't laughing anymore as he half-listens and half-watches. Every few minutes, he's making a split-second decision that could cost the lives of people he was sent out to East Africa to save--and maybe his own. Yet, even when the rock slammed into his crotch the other day, he laid off the trigger. "A rock isn't gonna kill me, though I wished I was dead for a few minutes there," he explains later. "But as time goes on, it gets harder and harder to maintain composure. And if I do kill somebody over here, that follows me home; it follows me the rest of my life."* "You see," says Kowalski, the leader of this typical two-hour patrol, one of thousands the Marines would run through the lethal Green Line that separates warring Somali clans in Mogadishu, "we under-stand our mission. We understand what we're supposed to be doing. And I do believe there was a need for us to be here. It needed to be done. * "But I don't see any reason for us to be here any longer. We're not humanitarian troops. We're combat troops. And now, it's time for us to go home."

SGT. KOWALSKI AND HIS COLLEAGUES IN THE ANTI-ARMOR PLATOON, Weapons Company, 1st Battalion, 7th Marines, would not go home that day--nor any day soon after. Along with more than 12,000 other U.S. Marines and thousands of U.S. Army soldiers, they stayed on in Somalia for two more months after those dark days of late February. It was then, in the blaze of burning tires, Somali hatred and slogans of "Marines, Go Home," that America's bold experiment to use its men of war to enforce peace in a nation that had self-destructed appeared on the brink of ending the same way. The prototype campaign of tomorrow's U.S. military was being put to the test.

Today, Kowalski, Church and Desimone are finally out of Africa. They're back at their base in Twentynine Palms, along with the thousands of other Somalia veterans based there and at Camp Pendleton. Most of them are still trying to make sense of their tour in a faraway land of anarchy and ingratitude, well after their commanders had declared them heroes and their mission an unconditional success. The soul-searching that filled Sgt. Kowalski's Humvee that day illustrates the many fine lines America's soldiers were forced to straddle in imposing the New World Order in Somalia.

Somalia was a laboratory for the U.S. high command. From the Pentagon to NATO headquarters, the campaign was deemed a successful blueprint for a world that increasingly views the United States and its unparalleled might as the ultimate referee of regional anarchy, ethnic warfare and civil disintegration.

Operation Restore Hope, a mission that included more than 25,000 American troops at its peak, left eight Americans dead, only half of them from combat-related injuries. There were two courts-martial, Marine careers ruined for making the wrong split-second decision with a trigger or a fist. Time took a toll. Marriages broke up. Engagements collapsed. But most endured.

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