You’ve probably seen him at Noah’s Bagels, working behind the counter during the lunch rush. Dave Rosen is a veteran who went to Somalia with the Marines during the humanitarian aid mission that led to the Black Hawk Down conflict in Mogadishu. A Mercer Island High School graduate, Rosen enlisted in the Marine Corps at age 24. He initially intended to get aircraft mechanic certification, but then the Gulf War started, and he became a data systems maintenance technician who attained the rank of sergeant. After six years of military service, he became a sheriff’s deputy in California. He returned to Mercer Island three and a half years ago.
What was your role in Somalia?
My role was in data systems support. I was a computer technician, and we had just begun using a brand-new, never-been-deployed system before, along with operational duties of providing security for convoys that were taking humanitarian aid and security for military sites that we had.
When were you there?
From Christmas Day, 1992, until April Fools’ of 1993.
Did you see combat?
Yes, we did. Seeing that we were quartered in hostile territory, we received fire — intermittent gunfire aimed our way. They would try to shoot at our helicopters and airplanes in our compound, but in terms of sustained attacks, there were none. It was only after we left when the very serious ground fighting — Black Hawk Down — happened. There were several times when there were ambushes on our convoys. Other than taking incoming fire, our rules of engagement were extremely tight, meaning unless we could actually see the person who was firing at us as opposed to knowing which building the firing was coming from, we were not allowed to engage.
Had you been in other combat situations before?
Did you need to improvise when you were there, to protect yourselves?
Well, fortunately, to improvise other than hide behind the nearest large, solid object: No. You’d be amazed at how high a little mound of dirt can be when you are diving behind it, when someone is shooting at you. Anything that was near, you dove behind. But it’s certainly no Vietnam, Desert Storm type of experience or anything like that.
Were you and your fellow troops surprised about the animosity toward you?
It was a very black and white proposition; the vast majority of people were so extremely grateful for us being there. We would hear that every day. We would feel that every day. There was a small percentage — the militants and rebels — that didn’t want us there, and those were the people who were turning out the fire. When we left we had been given many hours of instruction on what to expect, but of course nothing ever prepares you for what it is. When you get there, you see the suffering that is happening.
What stood out for you the most during that experience?
Probably the fact that even as a supporting force, as a group of people coming in to help — we were living in camp conditions, we were living in tents, we had limited field showers available; what we had even under those conditions was so far beyond what the people in Somalia lived with on a day-to-day basis. The tremendous disparity stuck out. This is a poor country. We’re complaining about having to eat three square meals a day, take a shower every couple of days, and we’re grumbling — these people, they’re happy to get a couple of cups of rice and some milk. I could say the crappy brown, red dirt I was still scrubbing off my body a month after I got back! It’s such a world away from anything. It makes you very appreciative, being in the United States, especially for being on Mercer Island.
What do you think of now when you hear about the situation in Somalia?
It’s frustrating to know that we went in there with the right reasons and right intentions, yet for all those things, we’re powerless, really, and now to see it that way, it’s frustrating there were military members who gave their lives over there for these people — not for freedom as those guys gave when they went on the beaches in Normandy, and the Pacific, in World War II. We weren’t able to effect a lasting change there, and I hoped we would.
What do you want people to know about Somalia and the role of the United States there?
We went in for the right reasons. We were there for the right reasons. As Americans, we should be proud to know that we aren’t always looking in and just focusing inward. American lives were lost in a humanitarian mission. The military members who were there were proud to be there, wanted to be there, and just because it was a humanitarian issue they shouldn’t be forgotten on Veterans Day or Memorial Day either. Active duty personnel are still over there, in the Middle East. Just remember that the military member, the soldier, sailor, airman, Marine, is to be respected, revered and cherished. You may not like and military members don’t always like the policies that the government makes, but military members, it’s our responsibility for us to enforce and carry out those decisions. If there’s one thing I wish people would do, it is when you see somebody who is wearing a World War II ball cap or Vietnam cap, take half a second, walk over to them and say thank you. That makes all of those probations, being overseas, living in a tent, being shot out, being injured — that’s what makes being a veteran worthwhile.
What do you do now?
I sling bagels at Noah’s Bagels. I work at the best job I could possibly have, which is being back in my hometown, being able to see the people I grew up with and around, and interact with them on a daily basis.
What does Veterans Day mean to you?
It means that you take a moment, kind of like Thanksgiving, when you think about all those people that went before you who served so that we have the safety and security that we have. We have the ability to go to school, have good jobs, raise our families in peace and security. That’s what Veterans Day is — the introspection, and definitely a time to say thank you.