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‘With My Shield’: The Story of an Army Ranger in Somalia

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BOOK REVIEW by Susan Katz Keating

It all comes down to the fact that you have to trust the men to your left and right, knowing they are standing fast and will not break on you, just as you are doing for them.Jim Lechner in ‘With My Shield

The history of war often is told in layers, with new information and new perspectives emerging over the years to tell even well known stories. Jim Lechner’s account of the Battle of Mogadishu is one such layer, adding nuance to a familiar narrative. In With My Shield: An Army Ranger in Somalia, author Lechner tells his personal part of the 1993 fight that was made famous in the film Black Hawk Down.

While the popular movie introduced audiences to the battle writ large, Lechner shows his experience at the granular level, where American men fought desperately during horrific urban combat. 

Army Ranger Jim Lechner in Samarra, Iraq, 2004 (Courtesy, Jim Lechner)

Lechner was a lieutenant with the U.S. Army’s 3rd Ranger Battalion in 1993 when he was assigned to a special operations task force being sent to Mogadishu, Somalia. The task force was sent to capture an insurgent commander, Mohamed Farah Aideed, in the midst of the Somali Civil War and an induced famine. 

In early October of that year, the American mission went awry. While trying to rescue the crew of a downed helicopter, Lechner and his fellows were caught up in fierce urban fighting while deep inside enemy territory. There, the most elite soldiers in the world found themselves surrounded and outnumbered 100 to 1.

READ MORE from Jim Lechner: ‘I Miss the Battlefield’: A Warrior Longs for the Clarity of Combat

In a narrative that leads up with the story of how and why he became an Army Ranger, Lechner shows the reality of ground combat as it unfolds in the smallest of spaces. 

For each small group of Rangers in Mogadishu, the world became the size of a street corner or narrow segment of alley, Lecher tells us.

“The firing was so close that spent shell casings rained down on us and we could hear the shriek of the rocket motors before impact,” he writes.

This type of combat forces the fighter to focus on the immediate surroundings, Lechner notes.

“At the same time, you also know that the battle is raging well beyond your small piece of ground and the enemy is out there, closing in.”

At that point, it all comes down to trust in your fellows, “knowing they are standing fast and will not break on you, just as you are doing for them.”

The segment underscores what Lechner says was his greatest fear, which was not of being killed nor injured (he was in fact badly wounded during the battle). His greatest fear was of letting down the men who fought alongside him. 

Many of today’s American warfighters were not born when this battle raged on the streets of Somalia. The telling and retelling of such stories is important, not only for historians and analysts, but also for those who can draw important lessons for their own possible encounters with combat.

Jim Lechner’s With My Shield is a valuable addition to the body of war literature, and merits a well-earned place on military bookshelves. 

Susan Katz Keating is the publisher and editor in chief at Soldier of Fortune.

About Susan Katz Keating

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