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Retired Army colonel offers insight on war

Published: Friday, September 8, 2006

Updated: Wednesday, July 25, 2012 20:07

In the first eight minutes of the battle, two aircraft were lost to rebel rocket-propelled grenades - speed was of the essence - retired Army Col. Thomas Matthews said of his experience as a commander in the Battle of Mogadishu.

Matthews shared lessons learned from being in charge on the ground in Somalia in 1993 to being in the Pentagon on Sept. 11, 2001, on Thursday at the George Bush Library.

The Somali rebels held the advantage during the day, when the sun was out, and they knew the lay of the land, he said. But, once it was nighttime, the advantage fell in the Americans' hands with the night-vision goggles and other technology they had.

He said he learned the intricacies of urban warfare and how proper training is vital given the current world situation.

"Getting in and getting out is important," Matthews said.

When the first plane hit the World Trade Center on Sept. 11, 2001, Matthews said he was working in the Pentagon, in the department investigating the potential danger of weapons of mass destruction for the Joint Chiefs of Staff. He said the day after 9/11, Washington looked like something "out of a science fiction movie" because it was so eerily quiet.

Five years after the attacks of 9/11, Matthews said the nation is better off, but the military has to restructure itself because the greatest threats don't come from other nations, but from people.

"Are we better off? Absolutely," he said. "The biggest threat to our government doesn't come from nation states; it comes from groups, networks and cells.

We have to be ever vigilant because [terrorists] only have to be right once to attack us. The fight we are in now is not about finding formations - it's about finding people."

Julie Curry, a graduate student at the Bush School of Government and Public Service, said she found Matthews' recollection of the events in Somalia incredibly compelling.

"I thought he was a good storyteller, recounting what happened in the Battle of Mogadishu and then, making sure the American people got a somewhat accurate story of what happened," she said.

She added that it's very interesting to get "an insider's view" from someone in the Pentagon because of the current security situation.

Bush School graduate student Meghan Hokum said the insights Matthews provided from his vantage point as someone working in the Pentagon post-9/11 are valuable to her because she plans to work in government after she graduates.

"As someone in the Bush School, hoping to devote my career to government work, I feel that protecting the people of this country is necessary," Hokum said. "To meet and listen to someone actually working to achieve this is very inspiring to me."

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