Adventures in War Zones and Disaster Areas for Journalists and Relief Workers

Category Archives: Memoir

The Day the Navy Delivered Beer to War Battered Mogadishu

I see that the Australian Navy made a special “beer run” for trapped residents of a town in wildfire ravaged Australia the other day.

Mallacoota, a small coastal town in the state of Victoria, was isolated from the rest of the country when a devastating bushfire destroyed much of the area on New Year’s Eve 2019, destroying homes and cars, and cutting off the one road in and out.

The Australian Navy sent in some supplies for the residents but when it was learned that one and only pub in the cut off town was out of beer a special delivery of 800 gallons was donated by a brewery.

“The pub is at the heart of regional communities, and after what Mallacoota residents and firefighters have been through the least we would do is make sure they could enjoy a beer.”

The news item recalled for me the time that the Canadian Navy came to the rescue of CARE Canada relief workers in the midst of the invasion of Mogadishu in the early 90’s.

The hallucinogenic savagery and chaos of Somalia following its civil war had finally reached the point where the international community could no longer stand-by doing nothing as an entire country murdered its way into the stone age. As a result, just before Xmas 1992, an international coalition of various militaries, led and dominated by the United States, came ashore on the beaches of Mogadishu City where I was working with the relief group CARE International, also led and dominated by the United States.

The shore landings were quick and under a dense cover of helicopter gunships and F-18 fighter bombers from an aircraft carrier beyond the horizon.

The city came to a halt as Marines, Seals, Rangers, SAS, and god knows what other military units plowed ashore and just dared, dared, the local Somali thugs and gangs to start something.

We didn’t dare anything either and stayed in the walled CARE compound.

The mad mixture of both — untrained Somali fighters and their left over Soviet era weapons, high on the amphetamine like drug from the khat plant they constantly chewed, and the visibly nervous and trigger happy coalition troops, made for a highly dangerous situation. It was what I thought the old lawless wild west must have been like.

And although most of us didn’t look anything like the midnight black Somali fighters and perhaps could have hoped for some protection from the whiteness of our skin, we all had first hand knowledge of what had happened on the morning of the landings.

Aerial view of the Port of Mogadishu. Three cargo ships, large, medium and small sized vessels are moored to the docks. A tugboat is heading out of the port. A US Marine UH-1N "Huey" helicopter flies left to right at the right of the frame. The port played an important role in the support of Operation Restore Hope.

Aerial view of the Port of Mogadishu. Three cargo ships, large, medium and small sized vessels are moored to the docks. A tugboat is heading out of the port. A US Marine UH-1N “Huey” helicopter flies left to right at the right of the frame. The port played an important role in the support of Operation Restore Hope.

Most of us had been on the long concrete docks of the port as the troops came ashore there. With us were about a dozen or so foreign journalists, camera people, and producers.

One very well known and respected New York reporter had been on the main docks in the port when the first wave of hard running and storming American troops swept out of the sea.

A U-S hovercraft beaching at Mogadishu. The is capable of speeds of over 40 knots and loads of 60 tons.

A U-S hovercraft beaching at Mogadishu. The is capable of speeds of over 40 knots and loads of 60 tons.

In seconds, one teenage soldier, whether Marine or otherwise I couldn’t tell had rushed up to the reporter, put one hand on the side of her neck and threw her to the concrete. His other hand held some sort of Star Wars looking piece of lethal gun which he shoved into her face.

“Don”t you move, you motherfucking fucker!” He screamed this and the rest of use just froze in our spots feeling our bowels loosen.

But then another loud, (I think soldiers get voice training for this) booming voice, the kind of voice I imagine has been heard in battles since the time of the Roman Legions, silenced the dock.

“Let her go you asshole! Does she look like a Somali? How many Somalis have blonde hair and are WHITE!”

Another reporter, a white man from New York, gets thrown face down onto the dock and spread eagled by a Marine using the barrel of his specialized “blow them away” weapon to push his limbs further apart. “You move one fucking inch and I’m going to blow your fucking head off! Sir.”

Then the squad leader did his job and the soldiers pulled back.

Sure, it was all apologies and friendly pats from then on but none of us wanted to be anywhere near our liberators until they had settled down so we headed for our armed compound. And that was another problem for us.

All of our guards at the compound were locally hired Somalis. Some of them were even members of the local warlord’s army who we were forced to take on and pay as a form of protection scheme.

Obviously, the foreign troops would take them as targets and we relief workers simply did not like the idea that we might be sitting at the centre of an F-18 launched missile strike to take them out.

So, for a bunch more money we paid them all off and sat behind our not very strong concrete walls and waited for things to calm down.

Through the next day, a day of utter silence, so unlike the months of cracking gunfire and whomps of far off explosions as the gangs fought each other over what was left of once a major African city, we waited for . . . well we didn’t know what we waited for.

The coalition soldiers we knew were out securing various parts of the city and key road installations.

Already the contingent of French Legionnaires brought down from Djibouti had made a name and a legend for themselves in the hours of the invasion by trotting from the landing beach in full gear and in daytime heat of about 40 degrees Celsius up the long hill to a major intersection where they stopped every bus and truck carrying people, women and children, and pretty well did them all in with fist punches and rifle butt swings just to show Mogadishu that the Legion was there.

They had no real choice to act like that though because as a military unit the French Foreign Legion has built itself a reputation of being out and out sadistic psychopaths and they needed to remind everyone of that.

Without guards for our compound we foreign relief workers were well and truly scared stiff of getting a visit from the Legion.

And eventually we got a visit but it wasn’t clear for a while just who they were.

None of us could identify the military unit since all the troops seemed to wear the same sort of shapeless camouflage clothing.

They came in what we knew to be American military vehicles but without markings. Since the Foreign Legion hated the Americans more than any other nationality on earth we knew that they would never drive in American vehicles and we breathed a little easier.

As Team Leader, and as a former British Army officer, Rodney strode out of our main building and stood in the courtyard while the vehicles parked. The rest of us managed to cower without looking entirely like the spineless jellies that we felt like as we waited to see what was going to happen to us.

I couldn’t hear Rodney talking to the officer and I felt my heart stop entirely when he turned around and beckoned me over to them.

One thing about being a coward. You are usually more afraid of being found out as a coward than acting like one. It’s odd I know, but true. You can have shaking knees and liquid bowels from fear and fright but you will do everything to look more like Sir Galahad in front of your friends than a mewling coward.

I walked forward to be greeted with a wide smile from the officer. “Canadian eh? Where from?” he said as he reached out his hand to shake mine.

I said Ottawa, and we played the “Do you happen to know so and so, and, I have a cousin in . . “

In a few minutes we were all in the main living room, more than a dozen of we internationals and about half a dozen of them.

They were Canadian Navy off the resupply ship Preserver sent to support the Canadian contingent of the coalition.

HMCS Preserver was one of two resupply ships, the other being HMCS Protecteur, used by Canada for many years. They are being replaced.

We offered them water at first but they had lots of their own so someone suggested a beer.

“It’s pretty warm.” I said. “The refrigerators aren’t working. The generators have failed.”

Loud laughs from the Navy.

“That’s why we’re here. We’re checking on all the Canadians and other internationals to see if we can help out with stuff like fridges and generators.”

With that, two of the sailors got one of us to take them to the generators. Two others disappeared back to their vehicles.

“How are your computers? Need any cooking gas? We can let you have some Tim Horton’s coffee beans if you like.”

At that we Canadians with CARE gasped with pleasure. At the time, before the company got taken over by a Brazilian hedge fund and run into the ground, Tim Horton’s coffee was as Canadian as maple syrup and adored from coast to coast to coast.

And then the two sailors that had gone out to the trucks returned pulling two hand trucks loaded with Canadian beer.

“It’s still cold from the ship guys. Pass them around.”

And that is how Canada won the invasion of Somalia as the nicest military of all.

Too bad that several months later a Canadian Army unit got done in for torturing Somali prisoners at a forward base in Belatwayne up country.

A U-S hovercraft beaching at Mogadishu. The is capable of speeds of over 40 knots and loads of 60 tons.

HMCS Protecteur, sister ship to Preserver which resupplied troops and relief workers during Operation Hope in 1992 in Somalia

 

Somalia In The Great Famine – It’s About Drugs And Guns

An excerpt from The Disaster Tourist by Rick Grant (in production)   Thursday Sept 24/92  Wilson Airport, Nairobi Wilson is said to be the second busiest airport in Africa after Johannesburg.  It’s busy because of the profits to be made from the dying in the north, and profits in supplying the drug Khat to theContinue

Baked Chicken for Breakfast in Albania

  As I was working today on the draft for The Disaster Tourist — How Journalists and Relief Workers Survive and Thrive in War Zones I came across a photo I had taken in Kukes Northern Albania during the Kosovo War when tens of thousands of refugees flooded into Albania. I was working as a spokespersonContinue

Notes From a Trip to the North Pole (Part One)

This is part of a section of what will become “The Disaster Tourist – How Journalists and Relief Workers Seek Danger, Booze, and a Reason for Life” Part One Four hours north of Resolute and nine o’clock at night.  For the past two hours I’ve been aware that the sun has been getting higher inContinue

Mogadishu – A City in Hell

  I spent something like six months in Somalia in the run-up to the arrival of foreign troops in a failed attempt to restore order. Those six months in 1992 and 93 felt more like six years, or perhaps the entirety of my life. When every day is a fever dream of madness, time stretchesContinue

Living Conditions in War Zones–(I wouldn’t keep a dog that way)

In mapping out the chapter sections for my forthcoming book, The Disaster Tourist: How Journalists and Relief Workers Survive in War Zones and Disaster Areas, While Still Being Able to Find Beer, I see that these broad chapter outlines are useful as blog entries in their own right.   For anyone whoever wanted to growContinue

Reporting in the High Arctic

Here’s a snippet of what I might slip into the book The Disaster Tourist  I outlined the book in the post right before this one.     “I should take some lead pencils with you.  Bloody cold where you’re going and pens freeze don’t you know.”  Parting advice from my Managing Editor in CBC Radio NewsContinue

The Disaster Tourist – A Soon To Be Published Book

While I continue to work on my Adventure Thrillers such as Cobra Flight, I am also developing some Non-Fiction projects. In active development now is a quirky, irreverent, and most likely scandalous look at how relief workers and journalists conduct themselves in war zones and humanitarian disaster areas. It also turns a jaundiced and witheringContinue

The Day I Photographed Yousuf Karsh

I was recently asked about the day that I photographed one of the 20th century’s preeminent portrait photographers. Yousuf Karsh burst into global celebrity when in 1941 he took this photograph of then British Prime Minister Winston Churchill. For the next several decades the world’s mighty and famous clamoured for his talents. His waiting listContinue