Retired Marine uses lessons learned from Somalia to teach new lessons

26 Aug 2011 | Cpl. Michele Watson 1st Marine Logistics Group

When Ret. Col. J.B. “Irish” Egan stepped foot in Somalia in 1992, little was known about how missions would be carried out.

Leaders and commanders received a period of instruction based on the principals of Operation Restore Hope, the Somalia humanitarian relief effort, at the Staff Noncommissioned Officer Club here, Aug. 26.

Humanitarian efforts were needed in 1991 when Somali President Siad Barre, was overthrown by an alliance of factional clans, explained Lt. Col. William N. Pigott, staff judge advocate, 1st Marine Logistics Group, who scheduled the training.

He further explained, the clans attempted to form an interim government in Mogadishu. This effort failed and fighting broke out between two dominant factions of the United Somali Congress. The fighting caused widespread starvation and the collapse of all government institutions.  In April 1992, the United Nations Security Council authorized the dispatch of unarmed UN peacekeepers to Somalia to monitor a UN brokered cease fire. United States involvement in Somalia started with Operation Provide Relief, which in August 1992 began to airlift supplies and the first UN peacekeepers into Somalia. Eventually, a force of 500 Pakistani peacekeepers was deployed to Mogadishu. Inadequately staffed, trained, and equipped, they were unable to take control of the airfield. In the absence of a legitimate government, fighting soon resumed in and around Mogadishu. Even with the fighting, food poured into Somalia from relief agencies and countries worldwide. However, despite an ever increasing amount of food arriving in country, the actual amount of food reaching the population decreased due to widespread looting. The situation on the ground continued to deteriorate and by November of 1992 half a million Somalis had died as a result of fighting and starvation in two years of civil war.

Retired Col. J.B. “Irish” Egan, an experienced Marine who served during Operation Restore Hope, visited with staff noncommissioned officers and officers to share those experiences and relate them to today’s war, and missions of the future.

“If you want a new idea, read an old book,” said Egan. “There’s not a lot of new stuff out there. We’re a lot different now than we were then.”

Though Somalia efforts occurred over a decade ago, the information obtained was used to bring a new perspective to actions taken in operations today.

“From my experience, everything we do is from past experience,” said Master Gunnery Sgt. Roderick W. Coleman, staff noncommissioned officer-in-charge of group safety, Combat Logistics Regiment 17, 1st Marine Logistics Group. “History teaches us because we are always growing. We can look at previous wars and how it was fought, and compare it to how we fight today.”

In addition to discussing language barriers, non-government organizations, and the logistical role of Marines during the humanitarian crisis in Somalia, he also spoke of obstacles that Marines ran into including a lack of laws, the amount of refugees and starvation.

“In Colonel Egan’s view, Operation Restore Hope validated the Marine Corps and its modern amphibious doctrine,” said Pigott. “No other force would have conducted such a clean and rapid withdrawal from a potentially dangerous situation.”

Every seat in the house was filled as Marines and sailors listened to the guest speaker share his story.

“It’s good to bring back former leaders because there is a mass of experience,” said Coleman, 47, from Galveston, Texas. “Everything is not in books. When you have someone who has actually lived something and they bring that back to you, it only helps you to learn.”

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