Closing Breakfast--Conference closes with a hero's tale.

Author:Comey, Philip
Position::2005 Winter Conference Phoenix - Michael J. Durant's survival of prison in Somalia

Michael J. Durant, chief warrant officer 4, U.S. Army (retired) and the author of the book In the Company of Heroes which inspired the movie Black Hawk Down, spoke of his terrifying experience as a soldier and prisoner of war in Mogadishu, Somalia, and discussed what could be learned from the 1993 experience at the Closing Breakfast. "There is a lot to learn from Somalia in terms of leadership, how to set people up for success, courage and heroism," Durant said.

Aside from the personal survival aspect of his story, Durant expressed that the most important lesson taken from his experience was the understanding that if one thing goes awry with regards to decision making, especially in a military setting, every other aspect of the operation will be affected, sometimes significantly. Acutely illustrating his point, Durant showed a picture of his helicopter crew. "The only person alive from that photo is the person that is standing with you today," Durant said.


Durant became a prisoner of Somalian insurgents after his helicopter was clipped on the tail by a rocket-propelled grenade and sent crashing toward the ground. In the midst of troubled times, thousands were dying of starvation in Somalia, and with warlords attempting to control donated food, the U.S. military intervened in 1992 with the hope of helping people receive that food. While the mission began successfully, botched attempts to kill warlords left civilian Somalis dead and a change of attitude toward the United States resulted.

Insurgents and rebels began to attack U.S. forces, which had been reduced from 28,000 to 1,500. "Somalis began to believe we weren't there to help them, but that we were there to kill them and to take over their country. It went from strongly pro-U.S. to vehemently anti-U.S," Durant said.

After Durant's aircraft went down, he was captured and held prisoner. Durant explained that completing survival school helped him deal with captivity and survive the ordeal.

Durant connected his story with current events, explaining that it is becoming clear how difficult dealing with terrorists and insurgents can be, even for the world's most powerful military.

According to Durant, the experience also taught him that "the key to success is people, not equipment." Durant also said that leadership was essential, but not just at the top of the command chain. "When you say leadership, most people think about CEO or the commander, and they lose sight of a...

To continue reading