Millions of moviegoers flooded theaters across the globe in late 2001 and early 2002 to see the nine-figure blockbuster hit “Black Hawk Down.”
Eight years prior to the release of the Oscar-winning film, Talladega native Cliff Hall had a front-row seat for the Battle of Mogadishu — one of the eye events in Somalia represented in the film and numerous books.
Then a sergeant in the U.S. Army, Hall served as a support communicator with the 160th Special Operations Aviation Regiment, nicknamed the “Night Stalkers.”
“In the 160th, you’re deployed at a moment’s notice,” Hall said. “They would issue us beepers, and when a secret code came across those beepers, you knew that you were about to deploy in three hours. You had to be there in one hour, but within three hours, you had to be on the aircraft ready to taxi down the runway and go to wherever. So when I went to Somalia, my wife didn’t know where we were going.”
Hall recalled the events of Oct. 3, 1993, where two UH-60s were brought down by enemies firing rocket-propelled grenades (RPGs).
“I, as a communicator, remember hearing over the radio as one of the aircraft was going down, the pilot was calling, ‘This is Super Six Four! I’m going down! I’m going down!” Hall said. “I lost a couple of friends who were crew chiefs on that aircraft.”
The two crew chiefs, U.S. Army Staff Sgt. Bill Cleveland and U.S. Army Sgt.Tommy Field, posthumously received a Silver Star, Bronze Star, Air Medal with Valor Device, and Purple Heart for their heroism.
The day of the attacks, Hall said he was on his way to meet with his promotion board for staff sergeant, where he saw Field.
“He went to the board with me that morning, and he died that afternoon during the conflict,” Hall said.
Hall forged his friendship with Cleveland during physical training.
Though the men died in a military action, Hall remembers them as work buddies, "just like your normal friends at work. It’s always a tragedy to look back on things like that.”
Though Hall’s role may not have been as intense as a combat sniper or Special Forces member, it didn’t mean he was safe from the onslaught during the battles to come.
“My wife would try to call out there to us,” Hall said. “I was talking to my wife on the phone, but at the same time, I’m under the table because we’ve got RPGs that’s being shot in at us. I’ve got my flak vest on sitting under a table, but trying not to let her know because I didn’t want her to be worried that we were being attacked at that time. You never know when someone’s going to be shooting something at you, so you just have to continue on with your job and take cover as you can.”
Hall delivered his impressions of both the book and movie “Black Hawk Down.”
“The book just tells a very large-range story,” Hall said. “It tells about a lot of different people in there. The movie itself, I went to see it one time with my wife, and I haven’t seen it again because it really did portray it close to what actually happened. Of course, there’s always something that’s going to be expanded or blown out on a lot of movies, but it was really close. The movie was really close to what actually happened.”
Following his time serving with the “Night Stalkers,” Hall continued to serve until his retirement in 2006 as a master sergeant.
Hall now works as a winder operator at Resolute Forest Products and manager of Pop the Top Soda Shop, a store owned by his son, Ryan Hall, but his Army experience still resonates within.
“Being in the military and being in units like that make you think more disciplined,” Hall said. “It allows you to have a better respect of life and being in the United States compared to the hardship that a lot of other countries have. When I landed, I kissed the ground because I was thankful to be back in the United States.”
Contact Shane Dunaway at email@example.com