Republican U.S. Senate candidate Mike Durant was in Florence on Saturday to speak to the Shoals Republican Club. Durant is a retired U.S. Army helicopter pilot, best known for having been shot down over Mogadishu during the U.S. operations in Somalia – Operation Gothic Serpent.
“No man left behind,” Durant said. “Under Army values, we say we will never leave a fallen comrade behind. It is about having your comrade’s back.”
Durant is the author of the book ‘Black Hawk Down” about the mission and his role in it. Durant said his interest in serving the nation was really about flying helicopters.
“When I was a boy, I got to fly in a helicopter,” Durant said. “I asked the pilot if you can do that as a job and he said that I could.
Durant joined the Army when he was old enough and he was trained at Fort Rucker in south Alabama.
“I did well,” Durant said. “I got the only Blackhawk seat in that class. Black Hawks were really new. They were really advanced. It was like being given the keys to a Ferrari. I was 23 years old. I look at our children and I am not sure that I would give them the keys to the Ferrari.”
Durant said that he was deployed to Korea flying med-evac choppers. It was a real mission because you had lives on the line.
“Even though we were in peace, terrorism became a growing issue,” Durant said. “I applied to fly helicopter assets used by those elite units: Delta Force, SEAL Team 6, Army Rangers, etc...We went to war three times: the Persian Gulf, Panama, and then Desert Storm. We took the third largest army in the world and turned it into the second-largest army in Iraq.”
But on his fourth deployment in 1993, Durant said things turned out differently in Somalia.
“There were no strategic resources there, but the Somali people needed help,” Durant said. “It was just the right thing to do. They were at risk of losing seven million people. It was one of the most successful operations in history.”
Durant explained that there were terrorists in Somalia who were working with Al Qaeda.
“No one had ever heard of Al Qaeda before,” Durant said. “There was a list of 50 persons that we were to apprehend. The mission was going very successfully until the day that it wasn’t.”
Durant was the flight leader and he said his crew knew the mission would not be a normal mission. Durant explained that one Black Hawk was shot down, then two.
“The commander asks me to replace Super Six One over the target,” Durant said. “We just had two Black Hawks shot down in five minutes. I knew this day was not going to go well.”
Durant's helicopter had the tail rotor shot off.
“Having the tail rotor shot off is like you are going down I-65 and someone rips the steering wheel out," Durant said. “I survived and miraculously all four of us survived (the crash). I had a crushed vertebrate and my femur was broken.”
Durant remembered those terrifying moments and the heroes he came into contact with that day.
“We are in a bad place,” Durant said. “Two Delta Force snipers showed up.”
Sergeant First Class Randy Shughart and Master Sergeant Gary Gordon, “They asked to be dropped in.” Even the added firepower of the two Delta Force members was not enough to confront the angry Somali mob.
“We only had so much ammunition and in about 15 minutes we were overrun,” Durant said. “Everyone else was killed.”
Durant was beaten badly but was kept alive so the Somalis could have a prisoner. He was held for 11 days until Robert Oakley, the former ambassador, negotiated his release.
“The Somalis trusted Robert Oakley and they should have,” Durant said. “He talked to them and 48 hours later I was released.”
Durant said he isn't happy to see how some in the middle east are being treated.
“There are lots of people privately getting Afghans out of the country at great personal risk,” Durant said. “That is not right.’
Durant blasted the Biden Administration for its hasty departure from Afghanistan leaving many of our allies at the mercy of the Taliban.
He also blasted vaccine mandates.
“As a defense contractor, I cannot even give my people the option to work from home,” Durant said. “How stupid is that?
“If you have not been a business leader like I have, if you have not served on the battlefield like I have, you don’t understand how these decisions impact lives,” Durant said. “My dad used to spit when he said the word politician. He couldn’t stand them...I am doing this because it is the right thing to do."
Although Durant started his company 14 years ago, he will give up his position as CEO and President sometime within the next year to run for Senate. He said he will give ownership of the defense contractor company over to his 600 employees.
“May 24 is a key date,” Durant said. “For Alabama that is the most important date for this Senate race.”
Before committing U.S. troops to battle, Durant said that there are certain principles that should be met.
“First and foremost, it has to be in our national interest,” Durant said. “On the political side, it comes down to three things. It has to be possible. A ground war in China (for example) is not going to go well. Can it be done? Are we going to commit the resources to get it done? If you look at Vietnam, if you look at Somalia, if you look at Afghanistan we did not put in the resources to get it done. What does success look like?”
Durant faces a competitive Republican primary field that includes: Jake Schafer, former Business Council President and CEO Katie Boyd Britt, Mike Dunn, Congressman Mo Brooks (R-AL05), and Karla Dupriest.
The Shoals Republican Club normally meets on the first Saturday of each month at 8:30 a.m. at the historic Stricklin Hotel in downtown Florence near the campus of the University of North Alabama. The next meeting will be on Feb. 5.
The Republican Party primary will be held on May 24.
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