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The Daily Beast's second annual Hero Summit begins on Thursday when leaders and trailblazers, including General John Allen and Nobel laureate Wole Soyinka, will converge in Washington D.C. Stay tuned for live coverage throughout the day.
On Thursday, October 10, The Daily Beast will kick off the second annual Hero Summit: An Exploration of Courage, Character & Our National Security. Check out The Daily Beast homepage for full coverage starting at 8:30am, when Senator John McCain will sit down for a conversation with Tina Brown. The entire event will be streamed live on The Hero Summit. Check out the full summit agenda here, plus follow our twitter account for panel start times and special announcements. Keep checking The Daily Beast homepage throughout the day for breaking news and scoops from panels with guests including Bob Woodward, Ray Kelly, and Senator Olympia Snowe.
Twenty years later, the battle still echoes in America’s top policy circles. As the U.S. sets foot in Somalia again, men who fought in 1993 tell Daniel Klaidman what still haunts them.
Danny McKnight’s trip began in a tiny New England cemetery on Saturday, September 28, 2013—a crisp, clear fall morning. He kneeled by the gravestone of Corporal James Cavaco and placed a rock on top of it. McKnight’s wife, Linda, had painted the rock black, and on it, he had written with a silver Sharpie, “An American Hero” and “RLTW”—Rangers Lead the Way, the elite infantry unit’s motto.
A child walks near the wreckage of an American helicopter in Mogadishu, Somalia on October 14, 1993. (Scott Peterson/Liaison, via Getty)
McKnight was at the outset of a pilgrimage to the gravesites of men who served under him in Somalia—his “kids,” as he calls them. They were part of Task Force Ranger, an American assault team assigned to capture Mohammad Farrah Aidid, an elusive Somali clan leader who held sway over the war-torn city of Mogadishu. On October 3, 1993, the team began what seemed at first to be a routine mission to detain two of Aidid’s top advisers. But after a Black Hawk helicopter was shot down, the operation shifted to a far more dangerous rescue mission—what would become the bloodiest U.S. combat engagement since the Vietnam war.
Cpl. Cavaco, “Vaco” to his friends, was a gunner in a convoy that McKnight led through the dusty, blood-stained streets of Mogadishu that day. Known for his devastating accuracy, Cavaco fired round after round into a second-story window from which the convoy was taking fire. But on the streets of “Mog,” Somali bullets and RPGs seemed to be coming from every direction at a terrifying volume. He was hit by a bullet in the back of the head and died instantly. In the end, the 18-hour fight left 18 American soldiers and airmen dead, and 73 wounded. As many as 1,000 Somalis were killed, by some estimates.
Today, thanks to Mark Bowden’s best-selling book Black Hawk Down, and a blockbuster movie of the same name, the battle is one of the best-known episodes in American military history. And like many pivotal historical events, it has, over time, acquired a number of meanings. To the public at large, the episode became synonymous with raw, almost inconceivably selfless battlefield bravery. The movie, coming right after 9/11, when Americans were rallying around their armed forces, was itself a cultural moment.
In the policy arena, the incident left a profound imprint on a generation of national security decision makers, making them skittish about sending small groups of soldiers into chaotic situations. “It was the policy equivalent of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder,” a recently retired U.S. general told me. (Just this past weekend, Navy Seals staged a daring raid on the seaside villa of a senior Islamist leader in Somalia. Yet the fact that the American Commandos retreated under fire without capturing their target—to avoid civilian casualties, officials say—suggests there is still trepidation about the possibility of another Black Hawk Down.)
For those who fought there, the legacy of Black Hawk Down is more complicated. Partly, it’s about the loss of their comrades and the traumatic experience of combat; it’s also about the pride of having faced the most extreme of human tests, and measuring up. Yet for many combatants, the battle’s legacy is about bigger questions as well. Had their friends died in vain? How could future Black Hawk Downs be prevented? And who gets to control the lessons of what happened on the battlefield?
Get ready for The Daily Beast's Hero Summit, this Thursday in Washington DC. Catch the event streamed live on The Daily Beast site.
The Daily Beast's Hero Summit: An Exploration of Courage, Character & Our National Security -- this Thursday in Washington, D.C. -- just confirmed additional speakers including: Senator John McCain, who will kick off the day at 8:30am on the government shutdown and the crisis in Syria; former Senators Olympia Snowe and George Mitchell along with Bob Woodward of the Washington Post in a flash debate moderated by Walter Isaacson about the loss of political courage in our nation's capital; and journalist Richard Engel comes in from his overseas beat to describe his harrowing kidnapping in Syria. The October 10th event will be live-streamed on The Daily Beast. Follow the Hero Summit to see the complete rundown for the summit.
The visa program for Iraqis who worked with U.S. forces has been broken since it began in 2008 and is about to expire. Peter Meijer argues for Congress’s responsibility to act.
If Congress doesn’t act, on October 1 the State Department will dismantle the Special Immigrant Visa (SIV) program for Iraqi refugees. The program was introduced in 2008 as a way to provide special immigration status to some of the tens of thousands of Iraqis who served alongside U.S. forces at great danger to themselves and their families, during our eight-year occupation. Today, five years after the original legislation passed, less than a third of the 25,000 allotted visas have been distributed and the charter is set to expire. Will this be just another broken promise to the people of Iraq?
J. Scott Applewhite/AP
Reauthorization for the Iraqi SIV program and its 17,000 remaining visas is in the National Defense Authorization Act but it will not pass before October 1 when the current mandate expires. And the continuing resolution, the legislation that keeps the government running until the budget passes, fails to reauthorize the program. As a result, the last hope for Iraqi refugees stands to disappear. If he hasn’t been killed by a car bomb or Shia thugs, somewhere in Baghdad my interpreter Omar* is laughing that he proved me wrong again.
I remember our conversation clearly: it was around midnight in early January of 2011. Our timeline for withdrawal from Iraq was set, and the diminishing troop presence drove home the fact that we would all be gone within the year. On our joint Iraqi Army base in downtown Baghdad, smoking in the hallway outside my office, I asked Omar about his attempts to apply for a visa to the U.S. and his hopes for the future.
A college student by day, he was barely 20 years old, spoke perfect English, knew several programming languages, and was smart enough to read the writing on the wall. Chiding me with a lighthearted laugh, he answered:
“There is no hope here.”
As the American in the conversation, the keeper of the flame for the huddled masses yearning to breathe free, great-grandson of an immigrant who came with nothing and built a new life in a new land, I tried to sell him hope. I told Omar that tomorrow would bring new opportunities. I still believed then that I would find a way to leave Iraq better than I had found it. Omar only laughed again and said:
“It’s okay, I don’t blame you. We did this to ourselves.”
When she returned from Iraq and went back to school there was no one to help. Now Kiersten Downs is on a mission to raise money and awareness. Sandra McElwaine tells her story.
When Kiersten Downs, an Air Force veteran and graduate student, decided to bike 3,800 miles from San Francisco to Washington DC last summer she had no idea what she would run into.
It was a perilous trip - nasty drivers who blew her off the road, a 13,000 foot climb through the Sierra Nevadas, terrifying thunder storms, a series of vicious dogs, record breaking desert heat, a pulled quad muscle, tire blowouts and and a variety of other mishaps that threatened to end her journey.
But despite the problems and setbacks she pedaled on, averaging 70 miles a day.
Her cross-country trek was taken to raise awareness and funds, more than $50,000, for Student Veterans of America (SVA), a national group that helps vets transition from the military to campus life on over 800 colleges and universities across the country.
The trip, which began on June 1 and ended in Washington on August 5th, took her through 13 states and was “a huge personal journey” for the 30 year old vet, a doctoral student at the University of South Florida.
A self styled “activist” working on a PhD in anthropology, she served three tours overseas, including one in Iraq, and decided to use her athletic prowess to highlight the necessity of improving schools and educational assistance programs for returning vets. Her man aim was to facilitate change in the way we integrate veterans and address their unique challenges in higher education.
With this trip, she says she “knew there was the possibility that we could use media attention to push a very powerful message about student vets.”
The Daily Beast’s Hero Summit, Oct 10 in Washington, D.C., is an invitation-only live journalism event featuring panel discussions and interviews with some of the world’s most influential figures. The summit will showcase stories from military leaders and decorated veterans, Nobel Prize winners, politicians and journalists speaking about issues of service and heroism. The event will be streamed live on The Daily Beast site. Stay tuned for updates as the summit approaches.
John Herbst had been on the police force in New York for less than a year when he was deployed to Iraq in 2004. Not long into his tour, he led a successful counter-attack against an ambush on his unit and for his actions earned a Bronze Star with Valor, the military’s fourth highest combat award. Just two weeks after that ambush, John’s team was patrolling on the notorious Route Irish outside of Baghdad when his vehicle hit an IED and the ground blew up beneath him. Two members of his crew were killed in the attack. John was seriously wounded and medically evacuated back to the United States. He was the first New York City police officer injured in the war on terror and in New York, his story occasioned a few headlines and small news stories. The real story is how he’s still at it, still a cop and a soldier, still accepting as his own responsibility the safety of others and the calling of his nation.
John’s service could have ended in 2001 after his initial enlistment in the army ended and he had the chance to leave again in 2004 when he was wounded in Iraq, but he’s not looking for a way out. He loves his job as a cop and is intensely proud, though humble, about his military service.
In 2012, I served with John in Afghanistan. I know how much he loves his work because he tried persuading me to join the police force at least twice a day while we were overseas. I met up with him recently to talk about his service and ask him who his heroes are.
Heroes, leaders and trailblazers including General John Allen, Nobel laureate Wole Soyinka, and scholar Robin Wright join The 2013 Hero Summit. Stay tuned for the full list of presenters and the summit agenda coming soon.
GENERAL JOHN ALLEN,
U.S. MARINE CORPS (RET.); DISTINGUISHED FELLOW OF FOREIGN POLICY, THE BROOKINGS INSTITUTION
General John R. Allen, USMC (Ret.), is a 38-year veteran of the Marine Corps, having served in key command and staff assignments in the United States, Europe, the Middle East, and Asia, including combat tours in Iraq and Afghanistan. His final active duty assignment was as commander of U.S. and NATO forces in Afghanistan. Since his retirement, General Allen has affiliated himself with the Brookings Institution and the Washington Institute For Near East Policy. He is a permanent member of the Council on Foreign Relations.
EXECUTIVE EDITOR, THE DAILY BEAST
John Avlon is the executive editor of The Daily Beast and a CNN political analyst. He is the author of Independent Nation: How Centrists Can Change American Politics and Wingnuts: How the Lunatic Fringe Is Hijacking America as well as an editor of the anthology Deadline Artists: America’s Greatest Newspaper Columns. Previously he was a columnist and an associate editor for the New York Sun and chief speechwriter for New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani. He won the National Society of Newspaper Columnists’ award for best online column in 2012.
Alex J. Berliner
For the second year, The Daily Beast is convening the Hero Summit: An Exploration of Courage, Character & Our National Security. See what’s on tap at the October 10 event in Washington, D.C.
The Daily Beast is pleased to announce that the annual Hero Summit: An Exploration of Courage, Character & Our National Security—an influential gathering of some of the brightest minds and bravest individuals from America and abroad—will convene for its second power-packed year on October 10, 2013, in Washington, D.C.
Streaming Video and Live Coverage of The Daily Beast's Hero Summit. (Mindy Schauer / The Orange County Register-ZUMA-Corbis)
An invitation-only event that will be streamed live on The Daily Beast, the Hero Summit will analyze the essential elements of moral and physical courage, illuminate untold stories from the front lines, and consider the power of the service ethic.
The summit will open the morning of October 10 with panel discussions and interviews with top U.S. military officials, experts on counterterrorism and national security, leaders in politics, and veterans of the U.S. Armed Forces who will share their incredible stories of heroism and loyalty. In the evening, Ron Meyer, Vice Chairman NBCUniversal and former Marine, will be joining Tina Brown in hosting a buffet dinner and an exclusive screening of the brilliant new movie from writer/director Peter Berg, Universal Pictures’ Lone Survivor, starring Mark Wahlberg,Taylor Kitsch, Emile Hirsch, Ben Foster, and Eric Bana. After the screening, Brown will be joined for a panel discussion by Foster, Kitsch, Berg, and retired Petty Officer 1st Class Marcus Luttrell, Lone Survivor author and former Navy SEAL.
Speakers at the summit include U.S. Army Chief of Staff General Ray Odierno, Gen. Michael Hayden (USAF Ret.), film and television producer Jerry Bruckheimer, New York City police commissioner Ray Kelly, retired U.S. Marine Corps four-star Gen. John Allen, Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper, Nobel laureate Wole Soyinka, journalist and author Robin Wright, and New York Times columnist David Brooks.
We will explore the challenges American servicemen and women face transitioning back to civilian life—and how the skills acquired in the military can be leveraged beyond the battlefield to vigorously impact business, politics, and civil service. Conversations also will explore the core principles of courage with police officials making our streets safer, political leaders innovating change, and entrepreneurs championing inspired solutions to the challenges we face today as a nation.
We salute our corporate sponsors, Jeep, IBM, and AT&T, all of whom are committed to supporting veterans and without whom this summit would not be possible.
And we are partnering once again with six esteemed nonprofit organizations: The Congressional Medal of Honor Foundation, The Intrepid Fallen Heroes Fund, The USO, The Mission Continues, Team Rubicon, and Student Veterans of America.
Admiral McRaven talked David Petraeus; Madeleine Albright, Bernard-Henri Lévy, and Ryan Crocker remembered fallen Ambassador Chris Stevens; Tina Brown interviewed Aaron Sorkin and Tony Kusher; and more highlights from The Hero Summit.
Newsweek and the Daily Beast's first annual edition of The Hero Summit produced a series of powerful and touching moments over two exhilarating days in Washington D.C. at the United States Institute of Peace and the Newseum. The event brought together luminaries, statesmen, and military leaders including Adm. William McRaven, Madeleine Albright, Bernard-Henri Lévy, Gary Kasparov, Tony Kushner, Aaron Sorkin, and Bono, who interviewed New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof, along with a host of service members, veterans, diplomats, and journalists, and others in a stirring conversation on the nature of courage and character.
The summit, hosted by Newsweek and The Daily Beast editor in chief Tina Brown, was presented by Jeep, along with IBM, USAA, and Mary Kay—and included as solution partners the Congressional Medal of Honor Foundation, The Intrepid Fallen Heroes Fund, The Mission Continues, Student Veterans of America, and Team Rubicon.
After rousing opening remarks on Wednesday evening from USIP President Jim Marshall, a former congressman and member of the U.S. Army Ranger Hall of Fame, Brown set the tone for the conference when she spoke of "this disconnect between those who've served and those who haven't ... When you talk to people in the military, there's a sort of quiet rage about that. They feel they have so much to talk about and so much to offer, but they're not really being heard and everyone just doesn't get it."
The night then kicked off with journalist Charlie Rose interviewing Adm. McRaven, who commanded the raid on Osama bin Laden's compound. McRaven called resigned CIA Director David Petraeus "the finest general" he had served under. He also disclosed a new detail about the bin Laden raid, saying that while America did not inform the Pakistani government because it seemed inconceivable that the world's most-wanted man could be holed up so close to the country's prestigious military academy without their knowledge. But, he said, that assumption proved unwarranted: “We have no intelligence to indicate the Pakistanis knew he was there.”
(From left to right, top to bottom) Admiral William McRaven; panelists; former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright; and Newsweek & The Daily Beast editor in chief Tina Brown, at The Hero Summit in Washington D.C. at the United States Institute of Peace and the Newseum. (Scott Henrichsen (4))
McRaven was followed by the four-member crew of Dust Off 73, the Army medical evacuation team that spent three days in a continuous rescue operation in Eastern Afghanistan. The members, speaking with ABC News senior foreign affairs correspondent Martha Raddatz, shrugged off the "hero" label, stressing that they were doing the job they'd been assigned. Sgt. Julia Bringloe, the team's medic, also dismissed the idea that being a woman on the front lines distinguished her, saying: "it's a job, not a gender."
The evening concluded with U2 frontman and co-founder of ONE and (RED) Bono interviewing his hero, two-time Pulitzer Prize winner and New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof. The singer, playing up his role as interviewer, pressed Kristof on his own life, and even worked in a Petraeus joke:
"I think women notice that you work with your wife--you sleep with an activist," he said to the journalist. "Only one," Kristof replied. "I'm delighted to hear that, as we know this week what happens when it's two," Bono shot back as the crowd cracked up. Later he noted that Kristof also "slept with George Clooney," referring to a trip the two took to Darfur.
He has sprinted toward turmoil in war zones, jungles, and disaster areas from Iraq to Peru. This past week, Howard “Ford” Sypher did it again—in D.C. Abigail Pesta reports.
Howard “Ford” Sypher specializes in chaos. A former member of the elite Army Rangers, he served three tours in Iraq and two in Afghanistan. Now a civilian, he and a team of war veterans chase disasters—tornadoes in Tuscaloosa, hurricanes in New York—to help people in the aftermath. He is used to the unexpected.
Sypher in South Sudan, where refugees battle floods, malnutrition, and disease. (Matthew Brudnok)
And so he was ready for action this week in Washington, D.C., when he came upon a sudden crisis on a busy city street. A car had swerved out of control, plowing into two other cars, then smacking into several people on the sidewalk. One woman was hit so hard, he says, “it blew her shoes and socks off.”
Sypher was in town for Newsweek and The Daily Beast’s inaugural Hero Summit, honoring military leaders and other people of courage. He had spoken at the summit about how veterans are coming together by the thousands through his nonprofit group, Team Rubicon, to serve as volunteers in disaster zones.
He didn’t expect to find himself in the middle of a disaster on the streets of the capital city. But when it happened, he knew what to do.
In a taxi on Friday when the accident occurred, he jumped out and ran to the people lying sprawled on the sidewalk. “I thought I was gonna find people in pieces,” he says. “I expected to find hamburger all over the place. Luckily, no one was dead.”
Sypher, who had trained as an emergency medical technician in the military, performed an immediate triage on the two people who’d been struck, checking them for injuries and broken bones; then he calmed the shocked group of bystanders. The paramedics came and whisked the victims away; it was unclear why the driver had lost control.
At the scene, he says, a homeless veteran walked up and offered to help. Sypher handed him his card.
The president digs the much-buzzed-about film, its screenwriter, Tony Kushner, says at ‘Newsweek’ and The Daily Beast’s Hero Summit.
Kushner would know. Just before arriving at the summit, he had dashed across town from a private screening he attended with Obama and the film’s director, Steven Spielberg, among others, at the White House.
Kushner joined moderator Tina Brown on a summit panel about the making of the film, saying he thought Obama “really liked it." The president's entourage also "seemed to like it," he said. "They all stood up.” Then he joked, “Maybe they do that every time.” Clearly having an unusual evening, he added with a laugh, as if to explain his somewhat harried state, “I just literally walked out of the White House. I couldn't find the limo.”
Kushner, who won a Pulitzer Prize for his play Angels in America, said he wrote three drafts of the Lincoln script, which ultimately zoomed in on the president’s life during the passage of the 13th Amendment abolishing slavery. The film is based in part on the book Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln, by Doris Kearns Goodwin.
Kushner said he “picked over words” in the final script with actor Daniel Day-Lewis, who plays Lincoln in the film, “trying out different sentences—what if we did this, what if we did that.” Kushner called the back-and-forth a lot of fun.
When it came time to start filming, however, Day-Lewis explained to Kushner that it was time to move into a new mode. “He said, ‘I hope you won’t feel bad when I stop speaking with you on the set. At that point, I can only have a conversation with Steven.’”
Kushner said, “We texted.”
Family members of wounded and fallen soldiers share strategies for surviving loss.
In one of the most poignant moments of Newsweek and The Daily Beast’s Hero Summit on Thursday, Patti Walker described the day she saw her husband after shrapnel had shot through his brain in Iraq.
From left: Deborah Roberts, Patti Walker, Bill Norwood, Lori Bell, and Kim Ruocco discuss losing loved ones. (Scott Henrichsen)
"The only way I recognized my husband was from the tattoos on his arms, because he was so incredibly swollen,” she said. The doctors told her to get busy and find a nursing home, as the prognosis was “a vegetative state at best.” Walker thought it was too soon for the doctors to determine her husband’s fate.
“I left the room,” she said, in a show of defiance.
Today, her husband, Kevin, sat in the audience at the summit, drawing a standing ovation. He has had a phenomenal recovery. “The vegetative state they thought he was gonna be in was not,” said Walker, who now works as an advocate for the U.S. Army Wounded Warrior Program, which provides services for severely injured soldiers.
Walker was one of four panelists who described the toll war takes on families, and the grassroots groups that have cropped up to help.
Panelist Kim Ruocco said her family suffered a devastating blow when her husband took his own life after serving in Iraq. “My husband lived a heroic life but died a not-so-heroic death,” she said. “My fear was that the way that he died would wipe out the way that he lived.”
Having lived through such tragedy, she now works with other families who have lost a loved one to suicide, serving as a director at the Tragedy Assistance Program for Survivors. “When someone dies by suicide, the family has a completely different kind of grief process,” she said. “My passion was to figure out how to help other families once I finally got through it.”
At The Daily Beast's Hero Summit, Sen. John McCain took a break from criticizing President Obama's policies in Egypt, Libya, and Syria to denounce the discord in his Republican Party. 'It's the first time I've ever seen Republican senators running ads, raising money that is used to attack other incumbent Republican senators,' said McCain.
Twenty years after the infamous military operation in Somalia, former Army Brigadier General Craig Nixon told the audience at The Daily Beast's Hero Summit about the 'quick reaction force' that was assembled to rescue survivors from the two downed helicopters. 'It was cooks,' Nixon said. 'It was anybody who could carry a rifle.'
From Adm. William McRaven to columnist Nicholas Kristof to Bono, WATCH VIDEO of the summit’s must-see moments.
During The Daily Beast's Hero Summit, New York City Police Commissioner Ray Kelly detailed the mistakes made by Kenyan officials who were dealing with al-Shabab's recent mall takeover in Nairobi. Among other errors, 'they did not handle witnesses well who were trying to get out,' said Kelly, and they misused rocket-propelled grenades.