From the VETERANS series:
Somalia, Army, Surgical Technician
Dates of service: 1983-1993
[Sarah Mess was interviewed at her home in New Jersey in May, 2012.
Edited by Sophie Rand.]
You can’t unknow what you know.
Sarah Mess served on active duty in the United States Army from 1992-2000. Her MOS was a 91D, Operating Room Specialist, known in the civilian world as a Surgical Technologist. In April of1993, just a few short months after arriving to her first “permanent” duty station, she deployed to Somalia with 42nd Field Hospital under the Operation Restore Hope and Operation Continue Hope. She and her unit were told that they would be providing humanitarian assistance and relief in the war torn country. Little did she or her fellow Soldiers know that they would soon be arriving in the basement of hell, a place called Mogadishu, the capital of Somalia.
The 42nd Field Hospital was the second rotation into the city of Mogadishu. They were there to relieve the 86th Evac Hospital who provided medical services to US troops, UN coalition forces, and a limited number of Somalis. During the second rotation into Somalia troops had been largely scaled back. Mess served with just around 10,000 American troops on the ground in Somalia. Although Mess’ main job was working in the operating room during mass casualty situations she was also placed on a rotating roster of duties that included being placed combat roles. Those duties included guard duty, AIR guard (convoy guard), kp (kitchen police), and QRF (quick reactionary force), which she was called to her position once in the middle of the night when their compound came under fire. These were roles that she was not trained for, outside of M16 training.
The enlisted soldiers of the 42nd Field Hospital were armed with M16’s, with the officers carrying 9mm’s.
Mess and her fellow soldiers convoyed for supplies with only ONE 20 round magazine and an M16, not nearly enough ammunition to ensure survival if ambushed. There was also a new threat presented to US troops in Somalia, the IED, improvised explosive device. In the operating room Mess helped work on troops that had been ambushed by this device on the same roads that she herself convoyed on. They had no re-enforced vehicles, bullet proof vests, and many times convoyed with only 5 vehicles...death waiting to happen.
The troops of the 42nd Field Hospital had no idea that they would be landing in a war zone. They were lead to believe that they were on a “feel good” humanitarian mission. Landing in Mogadishu, they became immediately aware that they were in a very dangerous place. It wouldn’t be long after before they realized that they were right smack dab in the middle of a combat zone. Their tour there was riddled with almost constant sniper fire and punctured by periods of combat. About a month or so into the operations the ammunition increased from1 magazine to 3 magazines, a total of 60 rounds, once again not nearly enough ammunition to give much hope for survival if ambushed.