Garand Thumb – The Randy Shugart M14

Black Hawk Down, the movie and book that immortalized the events of operation Gothic Serpent, has many poignant events that stick in the discerning minds of the viewers. The difference in attitudes between the casual but mature Delta operators contrasted against the younger Rangers. The Ranger’s own brash elite attitudes in the mix too, a concoction of deployment lethargy, apprehension, and the seeped in opinion that the “skinnies” of Mogadishu weren’t that real of a threat. On an intellectual level, of course, they were. But the actions they had taken up to that point had never put either force in strong prolonged contact with full raw power of war torn Mogadishu.

One of the strongest and most heartfelt moments of the entire movie, a climactic act on its own before the ending events, is when Shugart and Gordon hop off their circling helicopter and run to check on Mike Durant’s downed Blackhawk.

Durant’s was the second helicopter to fall to enemy fire that day, and it was the one that the Ranger’s and Delta were havingthe hardest time pushing support towards. Clifton Wolcott’s Blackhawk had hit the ground first, leaving dead and wounded inside, and the operation had begun pushing Ranger’s and Delta to secure and evac that crash site. That tasking left Durant alone, in a different part of the city, with nobody able to push to the second crash… his crash.

Except Shugart and Gordon.

The Delta operators, assigned to provide sniper cover for the original operation, knew the stakes as well as they knew what was happening around the compound that had been hit, and at the first crash site. They knew that the convoy wasn’t getting there and the ground troops were hard pressed already. They hit the ground anyway, refusing to leave any possible wounded alone in the second downed Blackhawk. They got Mike Durant out. Then they fought off the tide of the Mogadishu militia forces until their last breath.

It is a scene in the film that stands alone, apart, and with a focus and purpose separate from chaos happening at the convoy and crash site. Shugart and Gordon know exactly what they are about, what they must to do, and they do it. Mike Durant was still captured, but he survived. He survived the crash and he survived the on rush of the Somali’s thanks to the actions of Shugart and Gordon.

Iconic to that scene is Randy Shugart’s M14.

Equipped as a rapid close-to-mid distance precision rifle, that M14 is perhaps the M14. One that, like the actions of Shugart and Gordon themselves, defies what was going on around it. It stands apart from the M16A2’s, which were still fairly new in ’93, and the Colt carbines with early RDS’s and taped on flashlights or cranked up rear sights for CQB. The rifle is as part of the scene and sequence as Durant, Gordon, and Shugart are. A powerful, reliable, and potent weapon that dispenses defiance into the riled Somali militants.

I have criticized the very existence of the M14. That is, and always has been, an argument built in hindsight. I once thought the M39 the pinnacle of what a rifle should be…

That attitude was shaped, in part, by that scene of Randy Shugart firing effective shot after effective shot in his last stand with Mike Durant and Gary Gordon.

I was, objectively speaking, mistaken. The M14 is every bit the pricey problem child we know it to be, but one thing it did do was run. When built and maintained, it was every bit the capable 7.62 NATO hammer of righteous fury that 22 inches of barrel allowed it to be. Despite being obsolescent from the day it was produced, that did not stop the M14 from doing work when called upon. Shugart was called upon, he and that M14 answered, and not he nor Gordon nor the M14 I so academically criticize failed Mike Durant. They saved his life.

That is something apart, something removed from logical critique, something entirely unassailable because there is nothing to assail. The M14 was a crucial participant in that selfless act, a fact that will never change.

So, God Bless Shugart and Gordon, and those like them past and present… and God Bless that M14.

Keith Finch
Keith is the Editor-in-Chief of GAT Marketing Agency, Inc. A USMC Infantry Veteran and Small Arms and Artillery Technician, Keith covers the evolving training and technology from across the shooting industry. A Certified Instructor since 2009, he has taught concealed weapons courses in the West Michigan area in the years since and continues to pursue training and teaching opportunities as they arise.