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American hero to present multimedia show at VC

Nov. 13, 2011 at 5:13 a.m.


An authentic American hero is the third speaker in the 2011-12 Victoria College Lyceum Lecture Series scheduled for Thursday at 7 p.m. in the Victoria school district Fine Arts Center.

A retired helicopter pilot and member of the elite special operations unit known as The Night Stalkers, Michael Durant will deliver a multimedia presentation detailing his experiences in several high-profile military campaigns from the 1980s and '90s. While Durant is best known for his role in the "Black Hawk Down" episode during the Somalia civil war of the early 1990s, he also served as a Medevac pilot in Korea, was involved in the 1989 mission to Panama to arrest dictator Manuel Noriega, and took part in Operation Desert Storm, the 1991 campaign against Iraq and Saddam Hussein.

Durant has chronicled much of his professional life in two best-selling memoirs, "The Night Stalkers" (2008) and "In the Company of Heroes" (2006). The latter directly concerns his harrowing experiences in Somalia as the only American taken prisoner during the campaign, dubbed Gothic Serpent, to capture Somali rebel leader, Mohamed Aidid. Aidid was responsible for exacerbating famine in his war-torn country by hijacking United Nations food shipments and essentially declaring war on U.N. peacekeeping forces.

In late 1993, Somalia, a small country in the horn of Africa on the Indian Ocean, was in the third year of a devastating civil war that had resulted in widespread starvation among its people and the deaths of more than 300,000 civilians. An operation was set in motion involving a coalition of American Special Forces (the Army Rangers, Delta Force and Durant's unit, the 160th SOAR or Night Stalkers), purposed with capturing or killing Aidid to help alleviate the suffering in the country. It was launched in Somali's capital city, Mogadishu, in early October 1993 with Durant at the controls of "Super Six Four," one of the specially equipped Black Hawk helicopters charged with transporting men into the city in search of Aidid.

In the chaos of battle, plans don't always go as designed. Durant's helicopter was hit in its tail rotor by a rocket-propelled grenade and crashed to the ground, the second craft to meet the same fate. Durant and his crewmen were gravely injured in the crash - Durant with a compound fracture to his femur and two crushed vertebrae. Following a fierce firefight with an angry mob of Somali rebels, who killed his crewmates and two Delta Force operators who had come to their aid, he was taken prisoner.

"In The Company of Heroes" is Durant's account of his captivity, interspersed with flashbacks to prior campaigns in which he was involved. In vivid and captivating scenes - part Tom Clancy-like military procedural and part Homeric epic tales of battles between good and evil - he depicts heroism in the face of extreme adversity.

In often metaphorical language, he puts the reader in that time and place, allowing us to experience the sights and sounds of the city and of his prison (actually three different buildings to which he was moved to evade discovery by the American forces searching for him), and the pain he felt from his very serious injuries. He also introduces us to a fascinating cast of characters in this drama, from the compassionate Firimbi, his jailer, to Abdi, Aidid's Minister of Internal Affairs who schemed to use Durant for propaganda purposes, to his friends and comrades-in-arms with whom he shared an unbreakable bond.

Durant, though he was obviously capable of great bravery, also comes across in the book as eminently human. He thinks incessantly of his family, particularly his year-old son, and is not ashamed of admitting to fear during his captivity (of the unknown, of his fate, of the mob of Somalis whom he is sure will tear him limb from limb if given a chance). He also admits to weeping on several occasions from the pain of his injuries and upon learning of the deaths of several of his comrades.

Toward the end of the book, he speaks of post-traumatic stress disorder, a too-common affliction among our service people in the wars of the past decades, and admits to suffering himself.

He poignantly includes a letter from the widow of one of the Delta Force soldiers who defended his downed helicopter, in which she urges him not to suffer any guilt for having survived.

Please plan on attending the Lyceum on Thursday to hear, and see, Durant's inspiring story about loyalty, duty and doing what's right in the most adverse conditions imaginable.

Dave Ticen is the chairman and long-time member of VC's Lyceum Committee. Ticen works as a librarian in charge of user education at the VC/UHV Library.

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