The camera closes in on an American soldier lying on his back in sand-colored rubble.
“Where’s the rescue squad?” he yells.
The not-so-reassuring answer: “We’re it.”
The reply comes from one of two American soldiers who’d dropped from the sky to protect the crew of downed Black Hawk helicopter “Super Six Four.” It crashed when the tail was struck by a rocket-propelled grenade.
The date was Oct. 3, 1993. The place, Somalia. The man asking the question was Chief Warrant Officer 4 Michael J. Durant.
The scene is from the movie “Black Hawk Down.” Durant suffered crushed vertebrae, a broken femur and sustained gunshot wounds.
During a firefight, the two outgunned Americans took out about 25 warlord mercenaries before running out of ammunition. The soldiers were overpowered and killed in the line of duty. Durant was captured by an angry mob.
Really? That’s how it happened? Like in the movie?
To get tickets
On Nov. 14 at 6 p.m., Blount Countians have a chance to hear from the source. Durant will be guest speaker at the Best of Blount Awards to be presented at the Clayton Center for the Arts at Maryville College. Tickets are available for $35 plus taxes and fees at the Clayton Center ticket office 865-981-8590, or online at www.claytonarts center.com/.
Durant can’t confirm the accuracy of every element in the movie.
“You know what? I think from my perspective there’s a lot of mistakes, but from the average viewer’s perspective those mistakes don’t matter. Things like a certain pilot was sitting in a different seat than the movie showed him at. That’s irrelevant really in telling the story, but it’s not technically accurate,” Durant said.
He noted that “Black Hawk Down” is ranked as one of the Top 5 most-accurate war movies ever made. He can’t vouch for that, but he does know he and others with firsthand knowledge of what happened had input. The filmmakers didn’t have a choice.
“They actually had to, which was a big surprise and typically not done on these kind of missions. But the Army Special Operations Command, which was the parent headquarters for our unit, granted access for my colleague (journalist Mark Bowden who was with The Philadelphia Inquirer) to write what started out as a series of newspaper articles, and was so popular it became a novel, and that was so popular it became an Academy Award-winning film.”
Durant can consider “Black Hawk Down” book author Bowden a colleague because Durant is a published author, too: “In the Company of Heroes” and “The Night Stalkers.”
Using his journalistic expertise, the process pursued by Bowden was well researched from the beginning.
“It was unusual, I didn’t expect him to be given all the access to all the information he was given access to,” Durant said.
“By the time I was asked to talk about it, everything was in the public domain. I don’t have to worry about my breaching any security limitations here. There’s still a few things that didn’t make it into the public domain, but 95% of everything that happened was already published. I’m just adding my personal perspective on it.”
Taking care of business
Which he realizes is what people want to hear. That was a process, too. He didn’t join the Army to become a speaker or a businessman, but now owns and is CEO and president of Pinnacle Solutions, an engineering services company based in Huntsville, Alabama. His firm specializes in aviation training and the development of sophisticated training devices.
The Best of Blount Awards are presented by the Blount Partnership and sponsored by Charter Spectrum, C2RL, DENSO, Cherokee Millwright, Blount Excavating and Massey Electric.
The experience is not something Durant dwells on, not even with those he shared it with.
“We’re all sort of scattered to the four winds now, but we get together. We’ve done reunions every five years. But you know, it’s not something we really talk about. For me, in my day-to-day life, I never talk about it. My kids have probably never heard me tell the story. I’ve tried to move on, but when people want me to tell it, I’ll tell it. I certainly won’t bring it up just in a casual conversation.”
Sharing his story at public appearances has been a kind of therapy, he has said. So he keeps doing it. “After the fact, it seems like it was the right thing to do.”
People attending the Best of Blount Awards will be able to get a bird’s-eye view of “Black Hawk Down” from the ground up.
“In this case the story is known to a lot of people,” Durant said. Sometimes when he is introduced at a speaking event, the emcee will ask, ‘How many people have seen “Black Hawk Down?” Typically, it’s three-quarters of the audience that raise their hands. So people know the story. They’re interested in, first of all, validating it — is that really what happened? And hearing my perspective, which is one person’s perspective of hundreds, but it is unique.”
Among the awards presented to Durant: the Distinguished Service Medal, two Distinguished Flying Crosses, Bronze Star with Valor device, Meritorious Service Medal, three Air Medals, one with Valor device, the POW/MIA ribbon, the Army Commendation Medal with three Oak Leaf Clusters, and the Purple Heart. Durant was inducted into the Army Aviation Hall of Fame in 2008.