By Lawrence E. Casper
Lynne Rienner, 2001
257 pp., $35.00
Reviewed by Scott R. DiMarco
The recent success of the film BlackHawk Down has spotlighted the controversial October 1993 Special Operations raid in Mogadishu, Somalia. The author of Falcon Brigade, retired U.S. Army colonel Lawrence E. "Larry" Casper, offers a unique perspective of both this event and the 1994 "almost" invasion of Haiti.
Colonel Casper relates his experiences during a two-year command tour of "Falcon Brigade" -- the 10th Aviation Brigade of the 10th Mountain Division (Light Infantry) Fort Drum, NY. Casper was in charge from September 1993 through October 1995, when the Falcon Brigade played a critical role in two major military operations. While providing the reader with examples of recent American military involvement, Casper also illuminates what the "new" Army (presently in transition) is like and gives us a glimpse of what future conflicts might entail in terms of both planning and execution. Casper repeatedly sends home the message that we won't be fighting the "last war" again.
As the commander of the Quick Reaction Force (QRF), Casper personally directed the overall rescue of the trapped Delta Force "operators" and Rangers, after the failed raid to capture several key lieutenants of Somali warlord Mohammed Farah Aideed. What makes this especially interesting is that the United Nations QRF in Somalia was under Casper's command at all. It contained an infantry battalion task force under the direct command of an aviation brigade headquarters during combat operations. Most accounts, including the Blackhawk Down book by author Mark Bowden, don't really go into the role of the 10th Mountain Division.
The themes that Casper illuminates in this 27-chapter book are interesting. First, he describes the challenges of command in extraordinary circumstances. By showing the heroic actions of the soldiers and telling their actual stories in the context of broader events, Casper reveals the human side of the participants. He deals with other themes of modern military operations, such as unity of command, the impact of political leadership, rules of engagement, and the media.
Operation Uphold Democracy is an event that has received less attention. In September 1994, Haiti's General Raoul Cedras narrowly avoided a an 82nd Airborne combat jump. Instead, the 10th Mountain Division launched a helicopter insertion from the deck of the USS Eisenhower. This was an example of the professionalism and intelligence of these soldiers in a difficult and unusual situation. He shows how they overcame obstacles, such as getting aviators deck-qualified, in a straight forward but interesting manner.
One would hope that Falcon Brigade would become widely read by the members of our transitioning military for the many lessons it has to offer, and especially by those decision-makers who send the armed forces into harm's way. The bulk of military operations in the future will most likely be closer to these types of operations then the landings at Normandy.
Scott R. DiMarco is Director of Library Services for Herkimer County Community College in New York.